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John Smith Griffin Papers

Identifier: MS-103

Scope and Contents note

The collection includes original correspondence, writings, household accounts and notes related to John Smith Griffin, many of which are related to article in his newspaper, the Oregon American in 1848-1849, and to his work with the Congregational Church of Tualatin Plains in the 1840s-1850s. Notable items in the collection include:

- Several letters and essays related to the Whitman Massacre written down within two years of the event. They highlight the viewpoint of Henry H. Spalding, Griffin's friend, who believed that Catholics had instigated the killings of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman by the Cayuse at their mission near Walla Walla, Washington.

- The manuscript of William H. Gray's "Sketches of Oregon," an account of his overland journey to Oregon with the Whitman-Spalding group in 1836.

- A photograph album containing approximately 100 portraits of friends and family of the Griffins.

- Documents related to the establishment and governance of the Congregational Church of Tualatin Plains in the 1840s-1850s.

This collection consists of the original manuscripts held at the Pacific University Archives. The collection was microfilmed for the Oregon Historical Society, and exists in facsimile form in several other archival repositories. Additional loose photographs related to the Griffin Family are located in the Pacific University Archives and are available online at


  • 1839-1890


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Pacific University owns the copyright to some, but not all, of the materials housed in its archives. Copyright for materials authored or otherwise produced as official business of Pacific University is retained by Pacific University and requires its permission for publication. Copyright status for other collection materials varies. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical note

Reverend John Smith Griffin was born in 1807 in Vermont. He received a formal education in New England and Ohio before becoming an ordained minister for the Congregationalist Church. When he was 21 years old, Griffin was sent by his church to Oregon Country as an independent missionary. On his way out west, Griffin married his first wife, Desire C. Smith, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Griffin arrived at the Whitman Mission near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, in 1839. He stayed for a year prior to moving to Fort Vancouver. Griffin tutored children and served as the fort’s chaplain for a year before moving to the Tualatin Plains, west of present-day Portland, Oregon. In 1842, Griffin established the first church on the plains, located at East Tuality Plains, in what would later become the town site of Hillsboro. In 1843, Griffin participated in the Champoeg Meetings that established civil government in Oregon, where he represented the Tualatin Plains. In the 52-50 vote, Griffin voted in favor of forming a provisional government even though he did not fully agree with the measure.

During his time on the Tualatin Plains, Griffin would document the arrival of settlers in the area. He also started a newspaper called the Oregon American and Evangelical Unionist, which he printed on the same portable press that missionaries had used at Lapwai a decade earlier. Among other articles, Griffin published accounts of the Whitman massacre and a series called "Sketches of Oregon," which recounted Griffin's journey to the west. Griffin’s subscribers included people from the Oregon region, the eastern United States and Americans living abroad.

After Griffin’s first wife died in 1884, he married Lina Harvey Kenyon of Three Oaks, Michigan. Henry H. Spalding, a fellow missionary and a friend of Griffin, married Griffin’s sister, Rachel Johonet Griffin. Griffin continued to live in the Tualatin Plains region until his death in 1899.


0.7 Cubic Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials



Reverend John Smith Griffin was a missionary who emigrated to Oregon with the Whitman-Spalding group in 1839. In the 1840s, he participated in the Champoeg Meetings, founded the Congregationalist Church of Tualatin Plains, and published a newspaper. This collection of original letters and documents includes material related to the early settlement of Oregon, to the Whitman Massacre, to the Griffin Family, to the Congregationalist Church in Tualatin Plains, and to his newspaper, The Oregon American and Evangelical Unionist.


No accruals are expected.


Guide to the John Smith Griffin Papers
Amy Middleswart
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Sponsored by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission

Repository Details

Part of the Pacific University Archives Repository

2043 College Way
Forest Grove OR 97116 United States