Oregon Focus: People to Know: Jason Lee

About Jason Lee

statue of Jason Lee in long jacket
The Jason Lee statue on the grounds of the State Capitol. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
The Reverend Jason Lee, his nephew Daniel, and two other Methodist missionaries came to Oregon and set up a mission station and school near present-day Salem in 1834.
They came in response to an unusual request. In 1832 four weary and starving Native Americans arrived in St. Louis, Missouri after a long walk overland from the West. Three of the group were from the Nez Perce tribe and one was from the Flathead tribe. They came looking for a copy of the white man's "book of Life." People of the St. Louis were very moved by the determination of these Native Americans. In response, Lee's Methodist missionary group went to the Willamette Valley in 1834 to bring the "Word of God" to the Native Americans. However, the missionaries failed in their conversion efforts and concentrated instead on serving the white settlers.
Lee tried hard to convince the United States to make Oregon a territory. He traveled to the East to talk to government officials but without success he returned to Oregon leading a party of 51 settlers.
As of 1840, this was the largest group of genuine settlers to arrive and start farms.
As the years passed, Lee suffered many disappointments. He was removed from being head of the mission. Both his first and second wives died. In 1845 he died in the East on a trip to raise money for an Oregon university.
Jason Lee is now recognized as the founder of Oregon's capital city of Salem, and the founder of Willamette University. Statues of Lee stand on the state Capitol grounds in Salem and in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
Also see a notable Oregonian description for Jason Lee.

Suggestions for Teachers

white two-story Jason Lee House
The Jason Lee House at the Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill in Salem was built in 1841. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
Ask students to:
Take a tour of the Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill in Salem, including the Jason Lee House.
Construct a sandbox map of Oregon. Place mission, Native American settlement, and early trails on it.
Research missionaries to the region during the mid-1800s.
Discuss the importance of missionaries in the founding of Oregon. How did Catholic missionaries vary from Protestant missionaries?
Make a mural showing various stages of Oregon settlement or depicting outstanding events and people.
Visit a historic church in the area.
Illustrate the interior of a pioneer church. What was in it?
Find out what happened to the Nez Perce and Flathead Indians.
Next Focus: Meriwether Lewis >