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Friday, April 8, 2011

Tabitha Brown, "Mother Symbol of Oregon" by John Terry from The Oregonian, March 31, 2002

I am using mostly the words of John Terry, but here and there I've used my own. This is to assure Mr. Terry that his writing is superior and respected; mine is not of much use, because I am NOT a writer. Because of his story I have for these past 9 years loved verbally sharing about Tabitha Brown. When my husband and I moved to Ohio from 2003-2005, I kept this story with me and folded the newspaper clipping so as to  always have Tabitha's sweet face on my desk. For you see, Oregon is my beloved home.

Born Tabitha Moffatt on May 1, 1780 in Brimfield, Massachusetts.

Father was a doctor.

Educated as a teacher and married the Rev. Clark Brown on Dec. 1, 1799.

He died in 1817, so she taught school in order to raise her three children.

"Grandma" Brown was nearly 66 when she left Missouri for Oregon in 1846 with her son Orus, his wife, Lavina, and their eight children; her daughter Pherne Pringle, her husband, Virgil and their five children; and her 77 year old brother-in-law, John Brown, a former sea captain.

Tabitha and her brother-in-law and her daughter's family took up with a "rascally fellow who came out from the settlement in Oregon assuring us that he had found a new cut-off, that if we would follow him we would be in the settlement long before those who had gone down the Columbia River".

They were lead across the parched deserts of northern Utah and Nevada, and the frigid mountains of Southern Oregon, which culminated in disaster and destitution. The party had 98 men, 50 women and a number of children.

"I rode through (the Umpqua Mountains) in three days at the risk of my life, on horse-back, having lost my wagon and all that I had but the horse I was on," Tabitha reported. Mind you, she also had a bad hip and walked with a cane.

At one point, the captain "had a swimming in his head and a pain in his stomach" and "became delirious and fell from his horse." Tabitha made a makeshift camp and waited out the night, fearing he "would be a corpse before morning."

Eventually they were rescued by her son Orus.

She arrived in Salem and had little left in the way of possessions, but in the fingertip of a glove found a coin – "I supposed to be a button" – worth 6 &1/4 cents. She bought three needles, traded some old clothes to native women in return for buckskin and "worked them into gloves for the Oregon ladies and gentlemen, which cleared me upwards of $30."

Over the course of time, Tabitha Brown founded Pacific University in Forest Grove. She died May 4, 1858, in Salem and is buried in Pioneer Cemetery there. The legislature awarded its official recognition in 1987.


  1. You told me about her when I visited you, and her story never ceases to amaze me. What a lady!!! Why are people such wimps today?

  2. Hi Christine,
    I love this story, thank you for posting this. It makes me stop and think how good life is when I read about this brave and wonderful woman. Just the inspiration that I need right now.

    Be blessed,

  3. What an amazing woman. Admirable!

  4. What an interesting bit of history and she sounds like an amazing woman. I will have to look into her more.

  5. Thank you Christine, for sharing this beautiful story of a very strong and special lady! My goodness, she was born 231 years ago and still pages of her life still are alive.


  6. I didn't realize her age when she 'moved' to Oregon. Oh my! She was truly a strong and determined woman.

  7. Wow, what a resourceful woman! Thank you for sharing her story and history with us.

  8. Your blog gives enchanting atmospheres, is very beautiful!

    Sandy from Parma (Italy)

  9. Tabitha Moffatt Brown was my great-grandmother's great-grandmother. Tabitha's great-grand-daughter, Mary Edna Strong Kinney, was Oregon's first woman state senator. She sponsored legislation giving Oregon women the right to serve on juries. Like her great- grandmother, Mary Kinney raised her own sons (including my grandfather Robert C Kinney)as well as two foster daughters. A WWII Liberty Ship was named for her. She was called "The Grande Dame of Oregon"

  10. I wish I could respond to you directly, Dinah. I am beyond honored that you have touched my world with this beautiful history. Thank you so very, very much.