PRATTSBURGH — Imagine traveling along the wild terrain of uncharted lands on a mission to help those in need.
Narcissa Prentiss Whitman dedicated her life to this mission, and sadly paid the ultimate price for it in the Whitman Mission Massacre of 1847.
Born in Prattsburgh in 1808, she was one of the best-known and most loved characters in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Her story is well documented in letters, journals, newspapers, and books. She married Dr. Marcus Whitman in 1836 to make her dreams of being a missionary come true.
During the 3,000 mile trip to the Oregon Country, Narcissa would become one of the first two non-Indian women to cross the Rockies at a time when it was believed to be unimaginable for a woman to do so, thus opening the far west for settlement by women and children. Monuments to their achievements can be found across the country from Ithaca to Portland, Oregon.
In the early 1840s, the large influx of families made the Native Americans uneasy, and an epidemic of measles in 1847 in which many children died led to a massacre at the mission in which 13 people, including Marcus and Narcissa, died.
The Whitman mission itself may be gone but their deeds will never be forgotten thanks to the Whitman Mission National Historic Site in Walla Walla, WA and the Narcissa Prentiss House in nearby Prattsburgh.
The birthplace of Narcissa stands true today as a testimony to her mark she left on the world. It had been carefully restored in 1936 by Dr. Arthur Limouze, who presented it to the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in 1941.
In 1979, the Narcissa Prentiss house was incorporated as a non-profit, under the University of the State of New York, and under the direction of the Committee to Preserve the Narcissa Prentiss House, which is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 organization. Donations are always welcome.
Although her story had a tragic end, it continues to inspire people today. As you walk through her home nestled in the outskirts of a country road you can feel her determination ringing within the walls.
This wasn’t just an adventure into exploring history, but a promise made to my grandmother. My grandma has a lot of respect for Narcissa, and has longed to visit the place she began her heroic story. My mother was on this journey with us as well. It was three generations on a mission of our own to understand the legacy Narcissa left behind.
It was a day that none of us will forget as we found monuments by the Franklin Academy and Presbyterian Church in her honor.
It is located at 7226 County Route 75 in Prattsburgh. It is open July and August on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Groups, organizations and individuals interested in setting up an appointment to tour should contact Charlene Wilson at (607) 522-3542 or Lynn Dinehart at (607) 522-4737. If no answer, leave a message. The house is also available for special events and teas for small groups. For more information visit https://narcissaprentisshouse.com/
(Jasmine Willis is a reporter for Genesee Country Express)