Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Jason Lee memorial addresses

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Oregon Historical Quarterly Volume 7 Number 3  (1906) 
Jason Lee memorial addresses: Editorial introduction

See also Jason Lee's diary entries as published in Vol. 19, Quarterly.


of the

Oregon Historical Society.

Volume VII.]

MARCH, 1906

[Number 3


Editorial Introduction, with Extracts from the Journal of Jason Lee.

Jason Lee was born at Stanstead in what is now the province of Quebec, on June 28, 1803. (Stanstead is situated just across the line from the State of Vermont on the east shore of Lake Memphremagog.) There, after his second return from Oregon, he died on March 12, 1845, and there his remains naturally had their sepulture. His life work, however, had been done in what was then the wilderness of Oregon. Hither he had led the van of missionaries in 1834. Here he had wrought with unremitting labors and had had a large part in planting the seeds of a new civilization. Here, too, in the "Lee Mission Cemetery," near Salem, lay buried his first wife, Anna Maria Pittman Lee and their infant son; also his second wife, Lucy Thompson Lee and their daughter Lucy A. Lee Grubbs. What could be more natural then than that, when changed circumstances had made it practicable, the purpose should be formed to have his ashes brought to Oregon for their final resting place. The Methodist Episcopal Church, under whose auspices he worked so indefatigably, took this upon itself, and on June 15, 1906, the mortal remains of its heroic "missionary colonizer" were deposited in the "Lee Mission Cemetery" at the side of those he loved and in the midst of the scene of his labors that were to have results so momentous.

The interment was made the occasion by Willamette University for holding memorial exercises. This number of The Quarterly is largely devoted to giving permanent form to the valuable historical addresses delivered as a part of those exercises. For the privilege of thus bringing them into the publications of the Oregon Historical Society it is under obligations not only to the authors of the several papers, but also to Dr. John H. Coleman, President of Willamette University, under the auspices of which the exercises were held. Three sessions were held. In the morning the addresses of Hon. W. D. Fenton and Dr. J. R. Wilson showed the honor due the church that called and sustained Jason Lee in his service because of the far reaching significance of his work. The afternoon exercises were under the auspices of the Oregon Pioneer Association, and the remarks of Hon. J. C. Moreland on taking the chair are given as well as the addresses of Hon. H. W. Scott and Judge R. P. Boise. The evening session was occupied with addresses by those representing the three states formed wholly out of the old "Oregon Country." Judge T. G. Hailey of the Oregon Supreme Court spoke for Governor Chamberlain, who was unavoidably absent. Hon. Allen Weir represented Governor Mead of Washington. Lieutenant Governor L. B. Steeves spoke for Idaho.

These addresses give characterizations of the man in the light of what came of his labors and interpret the significance of the events and movements in which he had a large part. It would seem an appropriate introduction to them to let the spirit of Jason Lee speak directly through the words of representative extracts of the journal he kept at intervals after taking up the Oregon mission work. This document is the most important single source record of his life and services. There are three portions to it, but they are recorded consecutively on the pages of one book.[1] The first is a narrative of the experiences of his first outward trip with Nathaniel J. Wyeth's second expedition, and of the trying time while fixing upon a location for the mission and constructing the necessary buildings. After an interval of nearly three years, but probably his first respite, while he and Cyrus Shepard were making their way through the mountains towards the Pacific seeking repair of the broken health of both, he puts the pen again to his journal. But he took them up only once. He speaks of the irksomeness of the task of writing when not in regular practice, and his action at this time speaks louder than his words. On the 28th of July, 1838, while on the North Fork of the Platte, making his first return trip to the East, he opened the third portion of the journal. After stating the causes compelling him to undertake so arduous a journey, and his preferred plan to go with the Hudson Bay Company express, he goes into a memoir of his life up to that time, dwelling particularly upon his domestic interests, and, finally, he gives a resume of the trip not quite up to the stage then reached, and stops abruptly.

On a fly leaf there is written: "Left Stanstead, L. C., Aug. 19, 1833." This no doubt marks the date from which on he gave himself to the Oregon mission work.

The opening entries of the journal proper which give the incidents of the preparation for and starting on the long journey are as follows:

Sunday, April 20, 1834, arrived at Liberty, Missouri, on my way to the Flat Head Indians.

Sunday evening attempted to preach in the Court House, but when about half through the wind frightened the people away and I dismissed by pronouncing the blessing, though I did not apprehend any danger.

21. Mon. P. M., rained very hard. Daniel[2] went to look for Br. Munroe and if possible persuade him to go with us.

22. Went 9 m. to Independence and found Brother Shepard[3] and slept very comfortably with him in the tent designed for our journey. Felt thankful that we had arrived safe without accident to the [place] where we were to prepare for our overland trip.

23. This [day] has been spent in making preparations for our departure.

24. This evening D. returned though he could not suc[c]eed in getting the man for whom he went yet he engaged two others[4] one of whom I had conversed with on the subject and think he will do well to teach the Indians.

April 25. Went over to Liberty and finished our business and accompanied our two friends to our encampment. Took leave of Mr. and [Mrs] Kelly who kindly and gratuitously entertained us while at Liberty.

Sat. Purchased some Cows and more Horses and removed 4 m. from the river with the intention of camping with Capt. Weyth about 9 m. from the river but was belated and accepted an invitation to turn in and lodge with a man by name Bickman pitched our tent part lodged in the house and part in the Tent. He took nothing for our entertainment.

Sun., 27. Prayed with the family and took our departure as soon as possible after an early breakfast being fearful that the Company would start early and we be left behind, but they did not decamp. Had we known that they would not we should not; but should have complied with the pressing request of many and preached in Independence.

Mon., 28. After seeing the animals packed ready for starting returned to Independence to attend to some things which in our hurry we had neglected. Came back and dined at Br Ferril's a local preacher who kindly gave us corn for our horses and entertained some of us; and then rode on and came into camp at dusk thankful that we were on our way to the farthest West."

The routine of the trip across the plains with the fur trading company had little in it that was congenial to Mr. Lee. He heard and saw things among the men that pained him and he longed to officiate in services proper to a missionary but found no opportunity. The record on the second Sunday out is typical:

"Sun, [May] 11. Decamped early this morning, but lost the trail; came to a stop about 11 o'clock. Capt. Thing took an observation and found we were [in] 40°, 18" N. Lat. This [day] has been spent in a manner not at all congenial with my wishes. Traveling, labouring to take care of the animals by all and cursing and shooting, &c., by the Company. Read some Psalms and thought truly my feelings in some measure accorded with David's when he longed so much for the House of God. I have found very little time for reading, writing or meditation since I reached Liberty, for I was almost momentarily employed in making preparations previous to leaving the civilized world, and we now find constant employment from daylight till it is time to decamp, and then I am engaged in driving cows till we camp; to pitch our tent and make all necessary arrangements for the night fills up the residue of the day. But still we find a few moments to call our little Family together and commend ourselves to God."

Again when spending a Sunday at Fort Laramie he writes:

"We have very little prospect of doing any good among those with whom we journey, our time while in camp being almost entirely taken up in taking care of our things, horses, cooking, etc., so that it is with difficulty we find time to write a little in the journal."

What Jason Lee the man was, however, came out at the crisis when the company arrived at the rendezvous. He writes:

"We call this the Rendevous or the place where all the companies in the Mountains, or in this section of them, have fixed upon to meet for the transaction of business. Some of the Companies have not come in, yet most of them are a mile above us on the same creek. They threatened that when we came 'they would give them Missionaries hell,' and Capt. W. informed us and advised us to be on our guard and give them no offense and if molested to show no symptoms of fear, and if difficulty did arise we might depend upon his aid for he never forsook any one who had put himself under his protection. I replied I was much obliged to him. I feared no man and apprehended no danger from them when sober and when drunk we would endeavour to [be] out of their way. I judged it best, however, to go immediately to their camp and get introduction to them while sober, and soon as possible went accompanied by the Capt. Found Wm. Sublett and was warmly received with all that gentlemanly politeness which has always characterized his conduct towards me. Sup[p]ed with him. Was introduced to those who had threatened us and spent some time in conversation with them on the difficulties of the route, changes of habit, and various topics and made such a favourable impression on them and was treated with such politeness by all that I came away fully satisfied that they would neither molest us themselves nor suffer their men to do so without cause. How easy for the Lord to disconcert the most malicious and deep laid plans." * * *

About this time he met some Nez Perces and Flat Head Indians, who, he says, "came and shook hands very cordially and seemed to welcome me their country." The next day they had a visit from them. A man who had just come from Walla Walla "gave us," he says, "some very encouraging information. Blessed be God. I feel more and more to rejoice I was ever counted worthy to carry the glad news of salvation to the far western world."

Hardly until their arrival at Fort Vancouver is there the same feeling of elation.

"Arrived at Fort Vancouver 3 o'clock [September 15, 1834]; found the Governor and other Gentlemen connected with the Fort on shore awaiting our arrival and conducted us to the fort, and gave us food, which was very acceptable, as we had eaten our last for breakfast. We received every attention from these Gentlemen. Our baggage was brought and put into a spacious room without consulting us, and the room assigned for our use, and we had the pleasure of sleeping again within the walls of a house after a long and fatiguing journey replete with mercies, deprivations, toil and prosperity."

He is served delicious viands and admires the high state of cultivation of the orchards and farm.

Doctor McLoughlin, "the Governor of the Fort," he says, "seems pleased that Missionaries have come to the country and freely offers us any assistance that is in his power to render. It is his decided opinion that we should commence somewhere in this vicinity. O Lord, do thou direct us in the choice of a location. This evening we received the joyful intelligence that Capt. Wyeth's Brig was in sight. It is a matter of joy because the last we heard it was on a sandbar some 70 mi. below and we feared we should be obliged to go down for our goods. Is not the hand of Providence in all this? Would to God that I could praise him as I ought for his gracious dealings with us."

The choice of a location is now his main concern. He is immediately on his way up the Willamette. Ten days later he still writes:—

"My mind is yet much exercised in respect to our location. I know not what to do." Two days later he says: "After mature deliberation on the subject of our location and earnest prayer for divine direction I have nearly concluded to go to the W[illamette]. "

To that determination he held.

"Monday, Sep. 29, 1834. This morning began to make preparations in good earnest for our departure to the W. and after dinner embarked in one of the Company's boats kindly man[n]ed for us by Dr. McLoughlin who has treated us with the utmost politeness, attention and liberality. The Gentlemen of the Fort accompanied us to the boat and most heartily wished us great success in our enterprise." * * *

Soon the duties of establishing themselves and in beginning their work as missionaries are so engrossing that the first portion of the journal ends.

The second portion consists of a single entry on August 18, 1837:

"It is now nearly three years since I have kept any record of the dealings of God with me, or of the events that have transpired around me. Indeed, I have written exceedingly little during my life, except what I have been impelled to write, by the imperious hand of duty. Hence I kept no journal except while crossing the Rocky Mountains. And, indeed, such is my aversion to writing that when my time is chiefly occupied in worldly buisness, and in manual labor (as has been the case the three past years), it is even a burden, to me, to sit down to write a letter on buisness, or answer one of a friend. But when I have become a little familiarized to it by practice it is comparatively easy. Had I kept a regular memorandum the three years past, I could have recorded little in reference to my own conduct, that would have afforded pleasure and satisfaction to myself, in the review; or, that I should be willing to exhibit to others, for their imitation. Yet many things might have been recorded that would most strikingly have illustrated the goodness of God to me. I think I may safely say concerning my own conduct, that the more prominent features, or rather the general outlines of the picture, have been such as would be, in the main, approved of by even the judicious. But the filling up, the FILLING UP, there is the difficulty. I know full well, that the main object I have kept in view has been the glory of God in the salvation of souls, and having judged it expedient under existing circumstances to employ much of my time in manual labour, I pursued it with diligence and energy for the first twelve months which I have reason to believe superinduced the Intermittent Fever."

Following on the same page is the beginning of the last portion of this record:

"North Fork Platte River, July 28, 1838.

The above paragraph was written in the wilderness, between the Willamette and the Pacific, when on a journey to the latter, with Bro. Shephard for the benefit of our health, accompanied by our companions, and a neighbour. I wrote the above with the intention of taking notes for the rest of the journey. Was obliged to break off suddenly to move on, and being rather feeble, I did not resume my pen. I have since kept no journal, except for a few days when on a trip to the Umpqua.[5] * * * Previous to leaving for Umpqua I had written Dr. McLoughlin requesting a passage [back East] in the companies Boats, with himself, by the Hudson Bay route. This I greatly preferred to the route I came, as less fatiguing, less dangerous, better calculated to restore my debilitated system, and much more likely to afford new and interesting and useful information. The answer * * * I did not get till my return. The Dr. could not grant my request and expressed himself "doubly mortified;" because he could not do me the favour and should also be deprived of my company."

In this portion he becomes reminiscent. Into this mood he was drawn by his yearning and tender concern for her whom he had left behind. The fact that Messrs. Edwards and Ewing were going back across the plains this year overcame his reluctance to take this route and to go at all. It was the "firm conviction of many of the Brethren that it was his duty to go," and he speaks "of many other weighty considerations," which "if they did not remove" all of his objections, "finally counterbalanced them." If the idea of colonization was entertained, or any special political purpose, it did not find definite expression in his journal. This last portion was all written in one day—on July 28, 1838.

Nothing stands out more strongly in the document than the author's uniform affability and frank good will towards all with whom he came into personal relation, which evoked their kindest regard and friendship.

  1. It is a large pocket book 8½×5½ inches and one inch thick, bound in calf with folding flap. It was given to the Oregon Historical Society by Mrs. Harvey K. Hines.
  2. Daniel Lee, his nephew, who was associated with Jason Lee through the whole of the latter's labors in Oregon, having charge of the Wascopam Mission (The Dalles) from 1838 to 1843 with which he was very successful.
  3. Cyrus Shepard, who became the "mission teacher" and one of the mainstays of the mission until his death on January 1, 1840.
  4. Philip L. Edwards and Courtney M. Walker. Edwards was engaged to teach in the proposed mission and Walker for other labors. See the address by Mr. Scott for estimates of these two men.
  5. Note.—The notes taken on Umpqua trip were not recorded in this book.