Converting the West: A Biography of Narcissa Whitman by Julie Roy Jeffrey

By Julie Roy Jeffrey

Narcissa Whitman and her husband, Marcus, have been pioneer missionaries to the Cayuse Indians in Oregon Territory.  Narcissa grew up in western long island nation, her values and attitudes rigorously formed via her mom. greatly a toddler of the second one nice Awakening, she eagerly embraced the burgeoning evangelical missionary circulation. Following her marriage to Marcus Whitman, she spent so much of 1836 touring overland with him to Oregon. Narcissa enthusiastically started provider as a missionary there, hoping to work out many “benighted” Indians undertake her message of salvation via Christ.But now not one Indian ever did. Cultural obstacles that Narcissa by no means grasped successfully saved her at arm’s size from the Cayuse. steadily forsaking her efforts with the Indians, Narcissa constructed a extra pleasant ministry. She taught and suggested whites at the venture compound, a lot as she had performed in her personal church circles in long island. in the meantime, the transforming into variety of japanese emigrants streaming into the territory posed an expanding chance to the Indians. The Cayuse finally took murderous motion opposed to the Whitmans, the main noticeable whites, hence finishing dramatically Narcissa’s eleven-year attempt to be a loyal Christian missionary in addition to a loyal spouse and loving mother.In this relocating biography, Julie Roy Jeffrey brings the debatable Narcissa Whitman to existence, revealing not just white assumptions and imperatives however the point of view of the Cayuse tribe besides. Jeffrey attracts on a wealthy collection of basic and secondary fabrics, mixing narration and interpretation in her account. She basically strains the motivations and relationships, the possibilities and constraints that established Narcissa Whitman’s lifestyles as a nineteenth-century American evangelical lady.

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Rather than liberating, missionary work proved to be conservative, at least for Narcissa. Living in a foreign culture strengthened prejudices and preconceptions, as it so often does. Despite Narcissa's desire for a different kind of life, she was never able to free herself from the power of familiar social norms and expectations either in her missionary work or in her marriage. Narcissa's experience demonstrates the difficulty of moving into new social and marital roles, even when the possibility for change exists.

In keeping with his aspirations, Stephen moved his family out of the log cabin when Narcissa was still a child to a wood framed house on land purchased in 1811 from Robert Porter. " From the outside the Prentiss home, which still stands in Prattsburg, appears to be a modest story-and-a-half building. But Stephen raised the roof to allow full use of the second floor, so there is more room inside than one might guess. " Although it was neither large nor gracious by today's standards, the house was substantial and provided space and the possibility for genteel life.

But the imperative to transform the other culture is the same, and so, too, frequently is the response. If Narcissa Whitman's life reveals some of the ways in which Americans interacted with other cultures, it also illuminates important aspects of the American western experience during the nineteenth century. Often the westward movement is described from the white perspective, with the Indians appearing as an inconvenient but temporary barrier to the advance of white civilization. Narcissa Whitman's story suggests that this view is far too simple.

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