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Edward Marsden papers

Identifier: Ax 069

Scope and Contents note

The collection comprises four boxes of incoming correspondence, arranged chronologically (and alphabetically within those years containing the heaviest volume of correspondence), five letterpress volumes of correspondence sent (including one of Marsden's correspondence as secretary for the Council of the Annette Islands Reserve, 1916-1921) and three scrapbooks. The letters span the period 1893-1928 and major correspondents include Sheldon Jackson, John Eaton, William C. Roberts, William Duncan and the Indian Rights Association. The scrapbooks contain contemporary news clippings, articles and associated materials in regard to Marsden and his work. Photographs include two images from Marsden's wedding (1890s-1900s) and two snapshots of Marsden and his family, 1919.


  • 1890-1928


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Edward Marsden, Presbyterian missionary to the native peoples of Alaska, was born in Metlakatla, British Columbia on May 19, 1869. Metlakatla was a colony founded for Christian converts from the Tsimshian tribe, by Father William Duncan. Duncan guided the spiritual, emotional and physically development of the colony, and provided its members with English names. Hence, Marsden's father, former chief Shooquanahd of the Tsimshian tribe and Duncan's first convert, was called Samuel Marsden, and his wife was named Catherine.

Edward Marsden evinced considerable talent at an early age; he played the organ for church services at age 13, learned to play every brass instrument in the band, played the piano, and became an excellent piano tuner by taking a piano apart one day to see how it worked. A mechanical genius as well, he became a licensed marine steam engineer and navigator in 1888, and had already mastered an impressive array of trades, including brickmaking, surveying, carpentry, clock and watch making, blacksmithing and machinist, to name only some. These skills were to serve him well as a missionary leader and educator in Alaska.

In 1887, Father Duncan, in an effort to avoid "British tyranny and ecclesiastical oppression," fled with the Metlakatlan colonists to Alaska. It was at this time, while attending training school in Sitka, Alaska, that Marsden attracted the notice of Dr. Sheldon Jackson. Jackson convinced Marsden to join the Presbyterian Church and to apply himself to the ministry. Under Jackson's sponsorship, Marsden entered Marietta College in Ohio in 1891, and after receiving his degree in 1895, completed his education at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, graduating in 1898. He paid his way through school by practicing his various trades.

After being ordained as a minister in 1898, Marsden returned immediately to Alaska. He was assigned to the town of Saxman, near Ketchikan, to minister to the Tlingit tribe. He married Lucy Kinninook, daughter of the Tongass tribal chief, and they adopted three children from her sister's family.

Marsden's work quickly expanded to include many of the small communities in southeastern Alaska. He built his own boats and averaged 5000 miles of travel a year in his efforts to service outlying areas. In addition to religious work, Marsden supervised and personally helped to build homes, churches, schools and orphanages for the people with whom he worked. A strong advocate of Indian rights, and a believer in higher education for native peoples, Marsden found himself firmly opposed by his former leader, Father Duncan. Duncan, who reportedly refused ordination for himself because it would require him to recognize a higher authority, apparently believed it was not appropriate to teach native people anything more than how to read the Bible and buy goods at the local store. Thus, he refused to allow Marsden to preach or assist in any way with the Metlakatla community. With Duncan's death, however, Marsden was able to found a Presbyterian Church in the colony (apparently by popular demand) and became a major leader. He died in 1932.

Source: "Called to Build: Edward Marsden." Reprinted from The Continent. Published by the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. New York, NY n.d. See file 4/9 for this pamphlet.


3 linear feet (7 containters)

Language of Materials



Edward Marsden was a Presbyterian missionary to the native peoples of Alaska. His parents were from the Tsimshian tribe. A strong advocate of Indian rights, and a believer in higher education for native peoples, Marsden founded a Presbyterian Church in the Tlingit tribe in Ketchikan, Alaska. The collection is comprised of letters, 1893-1928, scrapbooks that relate to Marsden's work as a missionary, and photographs.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Correspondence: Incoming; Correspondence: Outgoing; Scrapbooks; and Photographs.

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff. Photographs processed by Megan Dazey.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Edward Marsden papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Cheryl Roffe and Vida Germano
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA