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Salem Pioneer Cemetery ~ Tabitha Brown ~ part of the Marion County Pioneer Cemeteries of Oregon
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Tabitha Brown
MAIDEN NAME: Moffatt AKA 1:  AKA 2:  AKA 3: 
BORN: 1 May 1780 DIED: 4 May 1858 BURIED: May 1858
ETHNICITY:   OCCUPATION:  Educator; Housewife; Business Woman
BIRTH PLACE:  Brimfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts
DEATH PLACE: Salem, Marion Co., Oregon

Name of father Joseph Moffatt

Tabitha Brown was an 1846 immigrant who had married Clark Brown and was widowed. She taught school at Forest Grove-- which later became Pacific University. Tabitha was age: 78 years, 0 months, 3 days at the time of her death.

Tabitha Moffat Brown - A Pilgrim in the Wide World
by Mary Jo Morelli
(Courtesy of the Washington County HIstorical Society & Museum,

Despite her children’s protests, in 1846, 66-year-old Tabitha Moffatt Brown joined a wagon train from Missouri to Oregon. Tabitha had made up her mind: She would travel with most of her family to a land that so intrigued her son.

The journey took far longer then the family anticipated and left them near starvation. Deep into the trip, they were abandoned by a man they hired to lead them on what he billed as the Applegate Trail short cut. They lost almost everything but eventually made it to Salem, arriving on Christmas day of 1846.

With her last six cents, the ever-resourceful Tabitha bought three needles and traded some clothes for buckskin. Thus began her first business of fashioning gloves for the men and women of her adopted state.

Tabitha Brown, who taught school in the Midwest to support her family after her husband died, joined with Rev. Harvey Clark to build a home and school for orphans in Salem. She also helped start the Tualatin Academy in Forest Grove to educate young children. The academy’s charter later expanded to launch Pacific University.

Many came to know the small frail woman with a big heart as “The Mother of Oregon.”

Tabitha Brown’s eloquent writings provide insight into the remarkable woman who moved through life's “vicissitudes and dangers” with dignity, grace and no small amount of determination and fortitude.

Tabitha’s depiction of Forest Grove is one that is still accurate today. Read this excerpt and then take a drive. Approach Forest Grove from the north or south and think about her words:

“... Now I must give you a short description of the beautiful scenery of this delightful and healthful country. The whole of Oregon is delightful, especially the plains, of which there are many, but this West Tualatin is the most beautiful of all others. The outskirts of the plain are circled around with hills, a few miles distant, covering their summits with fine bunch grass, fir and oak timber. Near to the edge, the plain is circled clear around with beautiful fir trees, green all the year, standing three hundred feet high. In front of them, in contrast with the green, there are large spreading oaks casting their shade over the farmers’ white houses, as there are many in full view. Grass is green here all winter, and cattle get their living without being fed. Snow seldom lies on the ground longer than a few days...”

The 300-foot Douglas fir may be gone but many other features remain. The purpose here is to experience the world as Tabitha Brown saw it. She loved Oregon! She was happy on the West Tualatin Plains and was happy with her decision to emigrate. In another letter she describes spring in Oregon to her niece in Ohio.

“... the earth has been carpeted all winter with green, and beautiful flowers of every hue and colour rise above, dancing in the breeze and glittering in the sunbeams...”

Tabitha Brown did regret the great distance between herself and family who did not make the trip. Her son Manthano and his family remained in Missouri, and she maintained correspondence with her brother and his family in Ohio. In May of 1854 Tabitha wrote her granddaughter Mary Brown in Missouri.

“I occasionally have an opportunity of seeing letters sent from Missouri to the friends in Oregon. I pity their blindness - they have no knowledge of any other place in this world and believe that that miserable, sickly, frozen place is paradise. They have no conception or idea of the advantages, growth, and beauty of Oregon.”

There is a transcendent quality to her writing as displayed by this letter to her niece Mary Moffat:

“Not withstanding that we are absent in the flesh, not a day has passed since I received your last letter that I have not been with you, though not seen, ... Oh, that it were possible for me to fly, like Peter Parley, in his dreams, across the Rocky Mountains!” (Peter Parley was a character in a series of books by Samuel G. Goodrich (1793 - 1860).

Tabitha Brown corresponded with many, including S. H. Marsh, first president of Pacific University. He credits her with keeping him from becoming dispirited in the consuming task of leading the new school in its early years. He even encouraged her to travel east at the age of 74 to raise funds on behalf of Pacific University. She wrote many letters, some of which were published in eastern newspapers. However, she never made the trip to see family and friends she remembered so fondly.

In 1856 Tabitha wrote the following to her niece:

“How delighted I should be, dear niece, if you and I were so near that we might enjoy each other’s society. There is great disparity of age between us, yet, notwithstanding my advanced age, I still retain the lively habits of youth. I am thankful that I was blessed with a cheerful disposition, for I heartily believe that this is a tendency to prolong life; whereas, a gloomy, desponding being will cut short the thread of life many years.”

In a letter Tabitha wrote in 1854, labeled ‘the Brimfield Letter,’ she describes her own and fellow travelers sufferings on the South Road (aka, the Applegate Trail or the Scott-Applegate Trail); her arrival in Salem; finding her only remaining money, a coin that she had thought to be a button in the finger of her glove; and her reminiscence of a conversation with Rev. Harvey Clark that resulted in a school. The adventures, phrasing and spirit of the Brimfield Letter and all of her correspondence -- much of which was published in the Brown Family History II (Judith Young & Celista Platz, 1992) -- tell us a great deal about this “pilgrim in the wide world” as she called herself.

About the author:
Mary Jo Morelli is an avid Washington County historical researcher who is especially interested in educational history. Mary Jo, who lives in Forest Grove, is a native Oregonian descended from a pioneer family that settled in east Multnomah County in 1852. She is a founding member of Friends of Historic Forest Grove.

SEE ALSO: The Brown Family History II traces the ancestors and descendants of Tabitha Moffatt Brown and her husband Rev. Clark Brown. It has photos and illustrations. 499p. Indexed.

See also: MOTHERS of ACHIEVEMENT in AMERICAN HISTORY by American Mothers Committee, pg. 445 TABITHA BROWN'S WESTERN ADVENTURE by Ella Brown Spooner, pub. 1958.
THE BROWN FAMILY HISTORY II, Tracing the Clark Brown Line, by Ella Brown Spooner, rev. by Judith Young and Celista Platz, 1992, The Mennonite Press, Newton, KS.

MARKER PHOTOGRAPH NOTE: The DAR Commemorative Plaque was placed onto the base of the Tabitha Moffatt Brown gravemarker in May of 2020.




by Jerry Easterling of the Statesman-Journal --
Oregon now has a symbolic mother, decreed as such by the legislature this year [1987]. She is Tabitha Moffatt Brown, a pioneer woman who symbolizes the strength, the courage and compassion that is associated with motherhood. The Legislature adopted her as the Mother Symbol of Oregon because, according to the House resolution, "she represents the distinctive pioneer heritage and the charitable and compassionate nature of Oregon's people." She was 66 when she came to Oregon in 1846, after a long and perilous journey from Missouri. She weighted scarcely 100 pounds, according to THE WOMEN, a book about pioneers published by Time-Life books. But her spirit was big as the Oregon country to which she had come as a widow with 6 cents. She demonstrated her versatility when she converted the leather she bought with the money into a profitable glove-making business. Nearly everyone who came West by wagon train suffered. Children whose parents died enroute probably suffered most of all. As they became victims of disease, accidents or Indians they were buried along the Oregon Trail. Brown heard about the orphans while visiting her son in West Tualitin Plains, which would later become Forest Grove. In 1848, when she was 68, she started Tualatin Academy with the help of the Rev. Harvey Clark, a missionary from New York. It was the first place in the territory where children could live and study. It was begun for orphans, but enrollement increased rapidly when parents learned that their children could be educated at the academy. Those who could afford it paid $1 a week per child. She worked the first year for nothing, but she was efficient and the school began paying its way. In 1851, 40 students were enrolled. Bigger things were to come her way. In 1854, the territorial legislature altered the academy's charter to allow the creation of Pacific University, which is still operating in Forest Grove. Due to the guidance of Grandma Brown, which is what her students called her, the academy and the university thrived side by side. But they weren't financially blessed. In 1854, Grandma Brown thought about going back East to see if "the rich nabobs and charitable Christian people in the cities" could be talked into making contributions to the struggling Oregon schools. But she ultimately decided that such a trip would be too much for a 74-year old woman to tackle. When she retired she told her brother: "I have labored hard for myself and the public and the rising generation. I now have quit hard work and live at my ease." In tribute to her, a giant Mothers Day card that legislators and visitors may sign will be displayed from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today in the Capitol. Tonight and Friday morning the card may be signed in Washburne University Center at Pacific University in Forest Grove. At 12:30 p.m. Friday, Tabitha Moffatt Brown will be remembered in a brief ceremony at Old College Hall on the campus of the university that she started 153 years ago.

BROWN LEFT HER MARK by Gloria Bledsoe Goodman of the Statesman-Journal --
The name Tabitha Brown may not mean much to many area residents, but the names of her descendants are familiar. Names such as Pringle, Bush, and Ohmart are among the many who count the newly designated Mother of Oregon as a blood relative. Tabitha Brown is buried in Salem's Pioneer Cemetery on Commercial St. S. Her grave marked with a simple stone, is near that of her daughter, Pherne, who married Virgil Pringle. Pringle School, Pringle Park Plaza and Pringle Parkway all bear Virgil's family name. The Lee Ohmart family of Salem are direct descendants of Tabitha Brown through Pherne Pringle. One of the most active in keeping the family's genealogy is Dorothy Allen Kelsay. She is six generations removed from Tabitha Brown. Kelsay's direct connection with Brown is by way of Orus Brown, Tabitha Brown's first son. Salem physician Dr. Phillip Porter also is descended from Orus Brown. Craig Smith, reference supervisor at the Oregon State Library, is a seventh generation descendant. Tabitha's daughter, Theresa, married into the Zachary family of Forest Grove, and Craig's mother was a Zachary. The name Bush, which figures prominently in Salem history is also connected to Tabitha Brown, Smith said. In 1921, Emma Pringle Hughes's obituary was published in the Oregon Statesman. A daughter of Pherne Brown Pringle, Emma had traveled across the prairie to Oregon. He daughter Lulu Hughes, married A. N. Bush, son of Asahel Bush II. Also among thos counting Tabitah as an ancestor are Teddy Thielsen and his sister, Nancy Fisher, of Salem. They are descendants of Tabitha by way of Manthano Brown, Tabitha's second son. Statesman-Journal, Thursday, May 7, 1987, Section C-1. Tabitha Brown -- Of the 158 names that encircle the Oregon State Capitol Chambers, only six are women. Among those six women is Tabitha Brown, emigrant of 1846. Born in Massachusetts in 1790, she had already led a full life by the time she came to Oregon at the age of 66. Even at this age, she was not the oldest emigrant to cross the Oregon Trail--not even the oldest in her party. Tabitha's 77 year old brother-in-law, sea captain John Brown, made the trip with her, riding his horse all the way to Oregon. The most noteworthy aspect of their journey began on August 9, 1846, near American Falls on the Snake River. There, they met Jesse Applegate, well-known emigrant of 1843, who convinced Tabitha and her family that he knew a faster, shorter, and easier route to the Willamette Valley. What happened next and who was to blame is a controversy that started in the pages of the "Oregon Spectatior" in 1846 and early '47. Suffice it to say that the Southern Route (as Jesse called it; today, it's commonly known as the Applegate Trail) did not live up to its billing. The terrain was dry, the trail was tough going, and the party had to clear it as they went in order to get their wagons through. Hard feelings continue to this day. A Congregational school teacher in Massachusetts, Tabitha founded a school in Forest Grove for children who had lost parents during the arduous trek to Oregon. In the years to come, her school would grow into Pacific University. Tabitha died on May 4, 1858 at the age of 78. In her own words, as spoken to Indians in Chinook jargon, "Niker hias scocum Tillscum, Close Tumtum." (Roughly, "I am a very brave, good-hearted woman.") "Trails End Tribune" Oregon City, Fall 1997.


Tabitha Brown
May 1, 1780 - May 4, 1858


DAR pg 29
"Trails End Tribune" Trails End Museum in Oregon City, Fall 1997
S-J, 7 May 1987, Sec. C1

LOT: 044 SPACE: SW LONGITUDE: 123. 02' 49 LATITUDE: 44. 55' 11

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