Father Francis (or Francois) N. Blanchet visits Whidbey Island on May 26, 1840.

  • By Patrick McRoberts
  • Posted 2/21/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5258
On May 26, 1840, early missionary Father Francis N. Blanchet (1795-1883) comes to Whidbey Island at the invitation of Chief Tslalakum.

From a rough altar, Father Blanchet administered to a crowd of Indians. He hoisted his Catholic Ladder, an instructional diagram measuring 6 feet by 15 inches, from a high pole and held services. Blanchet was impressed by the ability of the Indians to sing hymns in Chinook Jargon, obviously having already received religious instruction.

During the service, other tribes arrived, including a band from another part of the island led by sub-chief Witskalatche and a group of Skagits led by Chief Netlam (also known as Snakelum or Snetlum).

On the following Sunday, the priest held more services and there was a feast of salmon and venison. The peace pipe was passed among the various chiefs, who had been warring. After the meal, the gathering was interrupted by a loud noise, as a group of Indians entered dragging a huge cross, 24 feet long. They raised it and planted in the ground, and the priest prostrated himself before it as the Indians followed suit.

Blanchet remained on the island for nearly a year, administrating to his converts. He was said to have baptized 218 persons, and "Whtiby" became a Catholic mission. The cross stood in its location until the 1900s, when a settler pulled it out and made it part of a fence. Later the remnants were salvaged and placed in a blockhouse on Coupeville's Front Street.


Sources: Dorothy Neil and Lee Brainerd, By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came: A History of Whidbey Island (Spindrift Publishing Company, 1989), 7.

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