Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An Extraordinary Woman



Narcissa Prentice Whitman
By Nancy J. Farrier

One of the things I enjoy about researching for historical fiction is the interesting people I read about. Sometimes I can use them in my books; other times I can’t. This year in my blog, I thought I would share some fascinating stories of real people. The first is a woman who has the distinction of being one of the first two women to go west on the Oregon Trail. She is also the first white woman to give birth in Oregon Country.

Narcissa Prentice was born March 14, 1808 in Prattsburg, New York, the third of nine children. At the age of 11, Narcissa gave her life to Christ and became a devoted Christian. At 16, she heard about the missionary life of Harriet Boardman in India and knew God was calling her to the mission field too.

A few years later, Narcissa wrote to the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM), to inquire about being a missionary with them. With her education, which included “normal” school, or teaching school, Narcissa wanted to teach on the mission field. Narcissa didn’t get accepted at this time, but later, with the help of a Pastor, she reapplied after hearing of the need for missionaries out west.

She wasn’t sure if the ABCFM would accept a single woman as a missionary, but in 1835, Marcus Whitman, a missionary with ABCFM, proposed to her. In February 1836, Marcus and Narcissa were married. They began their journey west the following day. For most of the trip, they traveled with another couple, Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife. (Henry had proposed to Narcissa before she met Marcus, but she turned him down.) The two couples split up once they reached the Northwest. The Spaldings went to Idaho to start a mission and the Whitmans began their mission in Waiilatpu in the Oregon Country.

In March of 1837, Narcissa gave birth to their only natural child, a daughter named, Alica Clarissa. Narcissa loved and doted on her daughter, but Alice died young. At the age of two, she drowned in the Walla Walla River. Narcissa was heartbroken and often became depressed. She would write long letters to her family back home, but didn’t want to interact with anyone.

The next few years were hard for Narcissa. She became discouraged over the lack of response the Cayuse Indians showed for the Gospel. She missed her family and Marcus often traveled, leaving her at home. She had no friends. Then, in 1844, Narcissa and Marcus took in seven children who were orphaned on the Oregon Trail. The Sager children ranged from John, a teenager, to Henrietta, an infant. Narcissa loved children and even adopted some of the native children who were orphaned.

Whitman Mission
In November of 1847, men came to the Whitman mission on the pretense of seeking medical aid. Instead, more than sixty men took hostages and killed both Marcus and Narcissa, along with eleven other emigrants who were with them at the time.

Whitman Memorial
Narcissa’s letters have been put together in a book. Her words encouraged many young girls to go to the mission field, much as Harriet Boardman’s story influenced Narcissa. In her letters she shares the joys, sorrows, and dreams of her years out west. She is remembered as an woman who faced extraordinary circumstances. The fact that she opened her heart to so many children after losing her own child is a testament to her heart for God. Today, you can visit her home, which is preserved as a museum near Walla Walla, Washington.




Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest and interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.

14 comments:

  1. I forgot to include a question, but here is what I'd love to know. Have you ever considered being a missionary, or been on the mission field? Have you ever been discouraged when sharing your faith - perhaps over a lack of interest in the people you are reaching out to? I'd love to hear from you.

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  2. Thanks for posting, informative and very interesting.

    I personally never considered being a missionary but my husband and I are really hoping to help in a sports mission fields through our church.

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    1. J. Grace, I think helping in a sports mission for your church is missionary work. That is a great idea to help out and reach people. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Thank you for this interesting post. I was unaware of any of this history. So sad she lost her own daughter, but the children she took in were blessed to have her.
    Thank you

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jackie. I think Narcissa found comfort in helping other children.

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  4. I enjoyed reading Narcissa's story. She certainly faced many extraordinary circumstances!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

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    1. Thank you, Britney. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. Nancy, what an interesting post. Thank you for sharing Narcissa's story.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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    1. Melanie, so glad you stopped by and enjoyed Narcissa's story. Thanks for commenting.

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  6. WOw, what a strong woman, and a big heart, for GOD, missions, and family. Sad that she died so young. And makes me wonder what happened to all of those poor orphans. Wonder if they died too or taken for slaves. Very interesting Nancy. Thanks for this article. More history learned. I would love to have the book of her letters. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Maxie, the children did live. The girls all remembered her with fondness. Narcissi was strict, but fair and loving. Thanks for asking.

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  7. Interesting post about the missionary lady. I am an MK and 2 brothers are missionaries. Love to win and read your book, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Sharon, I am not doing a giveaway this time, but will have one coming up. How wonderful to have missionaries in your family. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. What a sweet yet heartbreaking story! I bet she did get depressed after Alice drowned, but what a tender and loving thing to take in seven children that weren't hers, biologically! And how awful to have died under the circumstances that she did! Thanks for such an interesting post Nancy!

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