Blanchet’s Mission to Vancouver, 1841

Reverend Blanchet traveled to Fort Vancouver after his mission to the Clackamas. In Vancouver, there was much more orderly town life, the chapels in the fort being served by the Anglican priests. Nevertheless, he is likely politely invited to give sermons in the various chapel locations. The Chapels are likely based on the highly segregated populations at the fort, one for the officers, one for the white laborers and one for the Natives who provided the vast majority of labor for the fort, yet most were never allowed to enter the fort and lived instead in the Kanaka village.

Blanchet mentions a meeting with Commodore Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Corps, but Wilkes in the expeditionary book, Volume IV, does not mention the meeting, only that there are numerous representatives of church missions in the fort. It is in Vancouver that the Wilkes expedition splits into two main parties the first commanded by George Emmons travels down through the Willamette Valley and into California. Charles Wilkes takes the expedition up the Columbia to map and explore the largest river in the region. They barely spend two days in the Fort before setting out.

Blanchet, too, spends very little time in the fort on this occasion, as he is drawn to visit the Cascades and meet with Tamakoun who turns out to be a remarkable chief and man in his time. Blanchet as well mentions his work on translating sermons into Chinook, meaning Chinuk wawa, a language which was used in part by most tribes in the region, which would be his main way to communicate with all the tribes in the region for years. In fact, the majority of visitors and newcomers to the region would pick up the language, in order to trade with the tribes or hire them for some purpose, to the point that it was likely that into the 1850s, it was the most widely spoken language in the region. His fluency at this point is very good, as when he gets to the Cascades he carries on a conversation with Tamakoun for hours one evening about religion.

Fort Vancouver

The Mission at Vancouver

On the first of September began the mission at Vancouver, which consisted of saying mass every day in the chapel at the fort, of giving catechism in the morning to the girls and women that reside there, and in the afternoon to those from outside and including our children from the school. Public prayer took place every evening and was accompanied by exhortations, readings, and singing of canticles. I had, besides, natives to receive, children to baptize, adults to instruct, sick people to visit, etc.

During the visit I made to Commodore Wilkes, who commanded the American squadron sent to explore the Columbia River, I learned that he had named Cross Island, an island where he had found a cross placed. Dr. Holmes and W. Walden, one the surgeon, the other the treasurer of the squadron, took pleasure in being present at the evening prayer. These gentlemen might not know what progress the ministers were making, but ours was apparent. On one of their visits each left me a note of ten piasters for the mission.

The commodore went on Sunday to mass with Governor McLoughlin, accompanied by several of his officers, as well as by Dr. Holmes and Mr. Walden. These gentlemen did not withdraw until after baptism given to one of Mr. Douglas’s children.

Mr. Kitson, still confined to his bed of pain, had the consolation of hearing mass and receiving holy communion. The following Saturday Minister Hins [Hines] arrived at the fort. He believed himself called to hold services for the American squadron; far from that, he was not invited to the dinner given to the commodore and his officers.

The following Sunday, apart from the absence of the commodore, was a solemn as the preceding one. Having succeeded in translating the prayers into full Chinook, I rendered thanks to the Lord for the success of a work which I had so many times tried in vain. I knew in that language the sign of the Cross, the Lord’s prayer, the Angelic Greeting, the Apostles’ Creed, God’s Commandments and those of the Church. I lacked time to translate the other prayers. But I had enough to encourage me to go up to the Cascades to visit good Chief Tamakoun and his tribe who had not yet seen priests at their home.

Wilkes’ 1845 U.S. Expeditionary map of the lower Willamette Showing Champooing


this book is on

Landerholm, Carl , tr., Demers, Modeste Bp. 1809-1871., Blanchet, Francis Norbert 1795-1883. Notices & voyages of the famed Quebec mission to the Pacific Northwest: being the correspondence, notices, etc., of Fathers Blanchet and Demers, together with those of Fathers Bolduc and Langlois. Containing much remarkable information on the areas and inhabitants of the Columbia, Walamette, Cowlitz, and Fraser Rivers, Nesqually Bay, Puget Sound, Whidby, and Vancouver Islands, while on their arduous mission to the engages of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the pagan natives, 1838 to 1847. With accounts of several voyages around Cape Horn to Valparaiso and to the Sandwich Islands, etc., Oregon Historical Society [by the Champoeg Press, Reed College] 1956. (pp 80-120)

The letters are directly transcribed by me form the English translation offered by Carl Landerholm. There were a few errors in the printed text, which were corrected in this text. All transcription errors are mine alone.

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