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COLLECTION Identifier: A/B881

Letters of Tabitha Brown, 1854-1858


Nine letters written by Tabitha Brown describing her journey to the Oregon frontier.


  • Creation: 1854-1858


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Tabitha Brown, as well as copyright in other papers in the collection, may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1 folder

The letters of Tabitha Brown consists of nine transcribed and annotated letters (carbon copies). Since the letters were sent to Brown's family in Ohio, it seems likely that the transcriber and compiler was a family member. This is also borne out by a cover page which includes an erroneous date: "Letters of Aunt Tabitha Brown, 1780-1858." The actual date range of the letters is 1854-1858 and they describe the ordeals the Brown's family experienced in the uncharted lands of Oregon and California, life in the frontier settlements, and the founding and early years of Pacific University.


Tabitha Moffat Brown was born on May 1, 1780 to Dr. Joseph and Lois (Haynes) Moffat. She grew up in Brimfield, Massachusetts and married Reverend Clark Brown in 1799; the couple had four children. Following her husband's death in 1817, Brown briefly taught school before moving to Missouri to live with her extended family. In April of 1846, when she was in her mid-60s, Brown embarked on an arduous journey to Oregon accompanied by two of her adult children, Orris and Pherne, their families, and her brother-in-law, Captain John Brown.

Orris had previously traveled to Oregon Territory following the Oregon Trail and was familiar with the route. However, Brown and other family members took the advice of another guide who suggested a shorter, alternate route with disastrous results. Stranded for months in unchartered land in Utah Territory and California, they were eventually rescued by Orris whose family had arrived in Oregon in September. In contrast, Brown and other family members reached Salem, Oregon on Christmas Day. Some months later, she wrote a series of letters to family members describing their ordeal, including dwindling provisions, the onset of winter, and their weakened state.

After settling in West Tualatin Plains, Brown found various ways to earn a living, including the upkeep of homes and the care of children and the sick. She also advanced the idea of organizing a school for the children and orphans of pioneers, despite their financial circumstances. With the support of local officials, religious leaders, and others, in the spring of 1848, Brown founded the Oregon Orphans' Asylum and School. The school was renamed the Tualatin Academy and was the first school granted a charter under Oregon's Territorial government. By 1850, higher education classes were being held. In 1854, the school was again renamed as Pacific University.

Tabitha Brown died in Salem, Oregon at the home of her daughter, Pherne Pringle in 1858. Some years later, the Tabitha Moffatt Brown Endowed Scholarship Fund was created by Pacific University to honor her legacy and provide support to members of the student body.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 78-M66

The letters of Tabitha Brown were given to Schlesinger Library by Mr. and Mrs. David Gates in 1978.

Processing Information

Processed: July 1979

By Peter V. Webster.

Updated and additional description added: August 2020

By: Emilyn L. Brown.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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