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 Narcissa <I>Prentiss</I> Whitman

Narcissa Prentiss Whitman

Prattsburgh, Steuben County, New York, USA
Death 29 Nov 1847 (aged 39)
Walla Walla, Walla Walla County, Washington, USA
Burial Walla Walla, Walla Walla County, Washington, USA
Memorial ID 1097 · View Source
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Missionary, Folk Figure. Born the eldest daughter of Clarissa and Stephen Prentiss in Prattsburg, New York. At a revival in 1819, part of the Second Great Awakening, she was swept up and received as a member of the Congregational Church. In 1834, she heard a call for missionaries, and began considering the possibility of that life. She applied to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) who told her no single persons would be accepted as missionaries. A physician, Marcus Whitman, who was in the same position, wrote her, and they began corresponding. Eventually he proposed marriage, they were married in February 1836, and were accepted as missionaries. The newlyweds then traveled overland to Oregon. She and Eliza Spalding became the first white women to cross the Continental Divide. She also kept a journal, which was the first documented crossing of the plains by a woman of European extraction. At Walla Walla Fort, she and her husband split from the other travelers, and settled at Waiilatpu. In 1837, she gave birth to the first child born of American parents in Oregon Territory. After her daughter drowned two years later, she began taking in orphaned and abandoned children including a Nez Percé girl, a Cayuse-Spanish boy, and the seven siblings, whose parents had died on the Oregon Trail. She taught Bible study classes at the mission, but never learned the native languages, and was by most accounts rather ill suited for her chosen role. Both sides thought the other 'haughty,' and the influx of more settles increased tensions. A measles epidemic in the winter of 1846 pushed tensions to the breaking point. The Nez Percé and Cayuse accused Dr. Whitman of giving preferential treatment to settlers when it was they who were hardest hit by the illness. In November, a group of Cayuse were driven to violence. In an assault at the Whitman house, 13 settlers were killed; Narcissa was stabbed to death. Harsh reprisals followed, and five Cayuse were eventually executed for the massacre.

Bio by: Iola

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1097
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Narcissa Prentiss Whitman (14 Mar 1808–29 Nov 1847), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1097, citing Whitman Mission National Historic Site Cemetery, Walla Walla, Walla Walla County, Washington, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .