Methodist Mission

How it Started

Following the Lewis and Clark expedition and contact with other European explorers and traders, the Nez Perce sent representatives to St. Louis to learn more about the religion of these newcomers.  News of their visit to General William Clark was widely reported by the Methodist press in New England and seen by the church as a “Macedonian Cry” for missionaries in the far West.

In 1833, the Revered Jason Lee was ordained as “Missionary to the Flathead Indians” and charged with setting up a mission in the Oregon Country.  Accompanied by four men (Lee’s nephew Rev. Daniel Lee, teacher Cyrus Shepard and laymen Courtney Walker and Philip Edwards), the men traveled overland with trader Nathaniel Wyeth, several naturalists and fur trappers.  They arrived at Fort Vancouver on September 15, 1834 and were soon convinced by Dr. John McLoughlin to settle in the Willamette Valley.

Their original mission station, which came to be known as “Mission Bottom,” was located about 13 miles north of Salem at what is now Willamette Mission State Park .


How it Grew

The original party of men soon realized that they could not tend to their missionary work and support themselves and the students they took care of at the mission without help.  They soon sent for reinforcements, especially asking for women and skilled laymen to help in the mission field.  Three separate reinforcements of missionaries arrived, bringing doctors, farmers, blacksmiths and carpenters as well as single women intended to be the brides of the single missionaries.

Just as the missionary population grew, so did the mission field.  During their ten years of operation the Oregon Mission added five independent mission stations, including those at The Dalles, Clatsop Plains, Oregon City, Chemeketa (Salem), Nisqually (near Tacoma).  A sixth station was planned for southern Oregon, but was never established.

Move to Chemeketa

Persistent flooding led to relocating the mission south to a prairie called Chemeketa in 1841. Here the missionaries constructed a grist mill and sawmill, two residences and a school, which would become the nucleus for the city of Salem.  The Jason Lee House and the Methodist Parsonage were built from lumber milled at this newly established sawmill.

Learn More:

Learn more about members of the Mission Family.

First Hand Accounts of the 2nd Wyeth Expedition

Correspondence of Nathaniel J. Wyeth
1899 Oregon Historical Society Publication of his notes.  Full Text online through GoogleBooks.

Narrative of a Journey (1839)
Book published by naturalist and 2nd Wyeth expedition member John Kirk Townsend.  Full text available via Internet Archive.

Transcription of Missionary Diaries, Letters and Early Memoirs

Diary of Jason Lee (1833-1838)
As published in Oregon Historical Quarterly:
Volume I: Full Text online through Internet Archive
Volume II: Full Text online Through Internet Archive
Volume III: Full Text online through Internet Archive

Diary of Chloe Aurelia Clark Wilson (1839-1849)
Original held and digitized by Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.  View portions online here.

Ten Years in Oregon (1844)
Book published by missionaries Daniel Lee and J.H. Frost. They were stationed in Wascopam (The Dalles) Mission. Full Text online through Internet Archive. See also annotated reprint (1994) from the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the Methodist Archives.  Full Text online through Internet Archive

Ten Years in Oregon (1848)
Memories of missionary Elijah P. White and wife as written by E.J. Allen.  Full Text online through Internet Archive.

Oregon, Its History, Conditions and Prospects (1851)
Book published by Missionary Gustavus Hines with specific section on the Oregon Mission.  Full Text online through Internet Archive.

Harp of the Willows (1861)
Poetry book published by missionary Elvira Perkins.  Full text online through GoogleBooks.

Oregon and Its Institutions (1868)
Book published by Missionary Gustavus Hines.  Full Text online through Internet Archive

Other Resources

Methodist Annual Reports about Oregon Missions
Published in Oregon Historical Quarterly Full Text online through Internet Archive