1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Whitman, Marcus

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WHITMAN, MARCUS (1802-1847), American missionary and pioneer, was born at Rushville, New York, on the 4th of September 1802. He studied medicine at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and practised in Canada and in Wheeler, Steuben county, New York. In 1834 he was accepted by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for missionary work among the American Indians, and was assigned to the Oregon territory, then under the joint occupation of Great Britain and the United States. He set out early in 1835, but returned almost immediately to secure other workers. In February 1836 he married and in March again crossed the continent, accompanied by his wife, Rev. and Mrs H. H. Spalding and W. H. Gray, and settled at Waiilatpu, near the present Walla Walla, Washington. Dissensions which arose among the missionaries and their apparent lack of success led to a resolution (February 1842) of the Prudential Committee of the Board to abandon the southern station. With the consent of his associates, Dr Whitman started from the station (3rd October 1842) on the perilous winter journey over the Rocky Mountains and across the plains for the missionary headquarters at Boston, to urge the revocation of the order. He visited New York and Washington also to enlist help and sympathy. On his return journey he joined a considerable body of emigrants on their way to Oregon and piloted them across the mountains. The mission, however, gained the ill-will of the Indians, and, on the 29th of October 1847 Dr and Mrs Whitman and twelve others were killed, and the station was broken up.

On the 16th of November 1864 the statement was published, on the authority of Mr Spalding, that the purpose of Dr Whitman's ride, twenty-two years before, was to prevent the cession of the territory to Great Britain. The story was amplified by Spalding and Gray in 1865, 1866 and 1870, and in its final form declared that Whitman learned at the British fort Walla Walla in September 1842 that a large number of British settlers were expected, and that it was hoped that the treaty then supposed to be in process of negotiation between Lord Ashburton and Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, would give the territory to the British. Thereupon Whitman made his way to Washington, and with much difficulty convinced Webster and President Tyler of the value of the country and prevented its exchange for fishing privileges off Newfoundland. This story has been widely disseminated, but Professor E. G. Bourne and Mr W. I. Marshall independently investigated the whole question, and showed that there is no evidence that Dr Whitman influenced or attempted to influence the State Department. For the pro-Whitman side, see W. H. Gray, Oregon (Portland, 1870); William Barrows, Oregon (Boston, 1883); O. W. Nixon, How Marcus Whitman saved Oregon (Chicago, 1895); W. A. Mowry, Marcus Whitman (New York, 1901); Myron Eells, Marcus Whitman (Seattle, 1909). On the other side see H. H. Bancroft, Oregon (San Francisco, 1886-1888); E. G. Bourne, Essays in Historical Criticism (New York, 1901); W. I. Marshall, History v. The Whitman-saved-Oregon Story (Chicago, 1904).