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Methodist missionaries in Oregon


Methodist missionaries, Jason and Daniel Lee
Methodist missionaries, Jason and Daniel Lee

The first American to enter the Oregon country, coming overland from California, after the demise of Astor’s company was the fur trapper Jedediah Smith, whose party of trappers was ambushed by Native Americans in 1828. McLoughlin came to Smith’s aid and saw that his furs were recovered, but in return, Smith agreed to leave Oregon.

In 1829 Boston propagandist Hall Kelley established the American Society for Encouraging the Settlement of the Oregon Territory and lobbied the Congress of the United States for funds to launch his venture. Kelley’s publicity efforts influenced Nathaniel Wyeth, a Boston merchant who traveled to Oregon in 1832 and again in 1834. However, Wyeth’s attempt to establish a fishery and trading post at the mouth of the Willamette River was hindered by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s ability to undercut Wyeth’s production and prices.

Two Methodist missionaries, Jason and Daniel Lee, responding to a letter circulating throughout the East which claimed that Native Americans in Oregon desired instruction in Christianity, joined Wyeth’s caravan in 1834. McLoughlin persuaded Jason Lee to abandon his objective of working exclusively with Native Americans and to establish a mission in the Willamette Valley among both the native peoples and American settlers. Later, other missionaries arrived in the Oregon country and established missions among Native Americans in the areas that are now Washington and Idaho. Initially, the Christian gospel appealed to many Native American peoples; however, some soon became disillusioned. Missionaries did not understand the Native Americans’ cultural beliefs or lifestyles, and the Native Americans did not gain the material wealth or physical health promised by the missionaries.

If the missionaries converted few Native Americans, they did succeed in inspiring a large-scale migration to Oregon. Wyeth and Kelley continued to propagandize about Oregon after returning to the East. Marcus Whitman, a missionary in present-day Washington, and Jason Lee encouraged settlement in the Oregon territory in their writings and speeches on trips east. Their task was made easier by the restlessness, especially in the river valleys of the Midwest, brought on by the panic of 1837, an economic depression that made agricultural prices slide and lowered the price of land. In 1842 more than 100 pioneers crossed the Oregon Trail to Oregon. The next year the Oregon fever really took hold, and the number of immigrants was close to 900. More immigrants arrived yearly. "Oregon" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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