The History of the Presbyterian Church on the Pacific Coast
Whitman Mission 1836

Presbyterian missionaries established a Hawaiian mission in 1820. Shortly after they learned about the tribes living on the North American Pacific Coast. The missionaries decided to send a minister to investigate the possibility of founding either a mission for the natives or a colony. Reverend Jonathan Green was chosen for the task. He sailed on the trading ship, the Volunteer, which visited trading posts from Sitka, Alaska to Monterey, California. Green's conclusion in his 1830 report to the Hawaiian Church was that a colony could be established near the Columbia River, but he advised against a mission for the natives. The missionaries decided to proceed no further.

Around the same time, however, a young Spokane Indian called Spokane Garry was returning to his home in Washington from a mission school near Winnipeg. He and another Spokane boy had been sent to the mission school in 1825 by Hudson's Bay Company employee, Sir George Simpson. Spokane Garry returned to the Winnipeg mission school with five Spokane boys in 1830. The evidence of interest in Christianity sparked missionary plans for the West Coast in Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. Four years later, Methodists sent missionaries to Oregon. In 1835, Presbyterians began missionary work when a Presbyterian elder, Dr. Marcus Whitman, and a Congregational minister, Reverend Samuel Parker, crossed the Rocky Mountains. The next spring Whitman brought four more members of the Presbyterian Church: his wife Narcissa, William Gray, and the Reverend and Mrs. Henry Harmon Spalding. These women were the first to make the overland journey to the coast and in 1837 the women made history again by giving birth to the first white American babies born on the Pacific Coast. In August of 1838 the Presbyterian group officially announced they were "the First Presbyterian Church of Oregon." Six years later, a second Presbyterian Church was organized at Oregon City. However, in 1847, a measles epidemic struck around the Whitman's mission killing almost half of the local Cayuse Indians. Sadly, the Cayuse blamed the Whitmans for the epidemic and killed them. ( )

In 1848 missionaries came to California's Pacific Coast when news of a gold discovery reached Americans in Honolulu. The congregation left for San Francisco with dreams of gold, and the Reverend Timothy Dwight Hunt followed his congregation and established the first Presbyterian Church there a year later.

Presbyterians took a leadership role in establishing missions on the Pacific Coast. Theirs was the first church West of the Rocky Mountains, the oldest church in California and the missionaries' wives were the first white women to travel overland to the West Coast. Sadly, Presbyterians also became the first Christian martyrs on the Coast.

Source: The Beginnings of the Presbyterian Church on the Pacific Coast, Clifford M. Drury, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (June 1940), pp. 195-204.