Sheldon Jackson
Sheldon Jackson was a Presbyterian missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 who also became a political leader
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

. During this career he travelled about 1 million miles (1.6 million km) and established over 100 mission
Mission (Christian)
Christian missionary activities often involve sending individuals and groups , to foreign countries and to places in their own homeland. This has frequently involved not only evangelization , but also humanitarian work, especially among the poor and disadvantaged...

s and church
Church Body
A local church is a Christian religious organization that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by pastors or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek seek non-profit corporate status...

es in the Western United States
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

. He is best remembered for his extensive work during the final quarter of the 19th century in the massive, rugged and remote U.S. territory which in 1959 would become the 49th state, Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...


Youth, education, early career

Sheldon Jackson was born in 1834 in Minaville
Florida, Montgomery County, New York
Florida is a town south of the Mohawk River in Montgomery County, New York, United States. The population was 2,696 in the 2010 United States Census. The town was named after the state of Florida...

, Montgomery County, New York
Montgomery County, New York
As of the census of 2000, there were 49,708 people, 20,038 households, and 13,104 families residing in the county. The population density was 123 people per square mile . There were 22,522 housing units at an average density of 56 per square mile...

. His mother Delia (Sheldon) Jackson was a daughter of Speaker Alexander Sheldon
Alexander Sheldon
Alexander Sheldon was an American physician and politician.-Life:...


Jackson graduated from Union College in 1855, and from the Presbyterian Church's Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton Theological Seminary is a theological seminary of the Presbyterian Church located in the Borough of Princeton, New Jersey in the United States...

 in 1858. He became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

As he began his extensive missionary career, Reverend Jackson first worked in the north-central and western United States, which were still vast and lightly populated areas during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 (1861–1865) and in the years soon thereafter. His work there helped establish dozens of new congregations churches. However, an area of the United States even more challenging awaited him.

North to Alaska

Reverend Jackson found his major life's work in the new territory of Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

. In 1867, US Secretary of State William H. Seward
William H. Seward
William Henry Seward, Sr. was the 12th Governor of New York, United States Senator and the United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson...

, during the administration of President Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

, had negotiated the Alaska Purchase
Alaska purchase
The Alaska Purchase was the acquisition of the Alaska territory by the United States from Russia in 1867 by a treaty ratified by the Senate. The purchase, made at the initiative of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, gained of new United States territory...

 from Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. The huge territory, with 20,000 miles of coastline, was initially called by many skeptics "Seward's Folly".

In 1877, Jackson began his work in Alaska. He became very committed to the Christian spiritual, educational, and economic wellbeing of the Alaska Natives
Alaska Natives
Alaska Natives are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. They include: Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures.-History:In 1912 the Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded...

. He founded numerous schools and training centers that served these native people. His protégés included the Rev. Edward Marsden
Edward Marsden
The Rev. Edward Marsden was a Canadian-American missionary and member of the Tsimshian nation who became the first Alaska Native to be ordained in the ministry....

, a Tsimshian
The Tsimshian are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Tsimshian translates to Inside the Skeena River. Their communities are in British Columbia and Alaska, around Terrace and Prince Rupert and the southernmost corner of Alaska on Annette Island. There are approximately 10,000...

 missionary among the Tlingit.

Reverend Jackson had considerable common ground with another important American in the region. Captain Michael A. Healy of the United States Revenue Cutter Service
United States Revenue Cutter Service
The United States Revenue Cutter Service was established by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in 1790 as an armed maritime law enforcement service. Throughout its entire existence the Revenue Cutter Service operated under the authority of the United States Department of the Treasury...

, commander of the USRC Bear, was also known for his concern and caring for the native Alaskan Eskimos
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

. During this time, Captain Healy, who had been the first African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 to command a U.S. ship, was essentially the federal government’s law enforcement presence in the vast territory. In his twenty years of service between San Francisco and Point Barrrow, he acted as a judge, doctor, and policeman to Alaskan Natives, merchant seamen and whaling crews. His ship also carried doctors and provided the only available trained medical care to many isolated communities. The Native people throughout the vast regions of the north came to know and respect this skipper and called his ship "Healy's Fire Canoe". The Bear and Captain Healy were reportedly inspirations for author Jack London
Jack London
John Griffith "Jack" London was an American author, journalist, and social activist. He was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone...

's famous novels of the Alaska Territory.

Captain Healy and Reverend Jackson became allies of a sort. During visits to Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 (across the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

 from the Alaskan coast), Healy had observed that the Chukchi people
Chukchi people
The Chukchi, or Chukchee , ) are an indigenous people inhabiting the Chukchi Peninsula and the shores of the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea region of the Arctic Ocean within the Russian Federation. They speak the Chukchi language...

 in the remote Asian area had domesticated reindeer
The reindeer , also known as the caribou in North America, is a deer from the Arctic and Subarctic, including both resident and migratory populations. While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and one has already gone extinct.Reindeer vary considerably in color and size...

 and used them for food, travel, and clothing. With the reductions in the seal and whale populations which had arisen from growing commercial fishing activities, and to aid Eskimos for transportation, Reverend Jackson and Captain Healy made numerous trips into Siberia and helped import nearly 1,300 reindeer to bolster the livelihoods of Native people. These became valuable tools in the provision of food, clothing and other necessities for Native peoples. This work was noted in the New York Sun
New York Sun
The New York Sun was a weekday daily newspaper published in New York City from 2002 to 2008. When it debuted on April 16, 2002, adopting the name, motto, and masthead of an otherwise unrelated earlier New York paper, The Sun , it became the first general-interest broadsheet newspaper to be started...

newspaper in 1894.

While Captain Healy was more of a law enforcement officer, Jackson was a humanitarian. Convinced that Americanization was the key to their future, Jackson actively discouraged the use of indigenous languages, traditional cultures and spiritualities. Because he was worried that Native cultures would vanish with no records of their past (a process which ironically his own educational efforts would accelerate), he collected artifacts from those cultures on his many trips throughout the region.

Jackson believed that political means would further his goals for the Alaskan people. He became a close friend of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd President of the United States . Harrison, a grandson of President William Henry Harrison, was born in North Bend, Ohio, and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana at age 21, eventually becoming a prominent politician there...

. He worked toward the passage of the Organic Act of 1884, which ensured that Alaska would begin to set up a judicial system and receive aid for education. As a result, Sheldon Jackson became the First General Agent of Education in Alaska.

Death, legacy

Sheldon Jackson died in 1909. Sheldon Jackson College
Sheldon Jackson College
Sheldon Jackson College was a small private college located on Baranof Island in Sitka, Alaska, United States. Founded in 1878, it was the oldest institution of higher learning in Alaska and maintained a historic relationship with the Presbyterian Church. The college was named in honor of Rev...

 in Sitka
Sitka City and Borough, Alaska
The City and Borough of Sitka, originally called New Archangel under Russian Rule, is a unified city-borough located on Baranof Island and the southern half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean , in the U.S...

, Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 is named after him.

Also, the Sheldon Jackson Museum, located on the Sheldon Jackson College grounds, is the oldest concrete
Concrete is a composite construction material, composed of cement and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate , water and chemical admixtures.The word concrete comes from the Latin word...

 building in the state, and houses much of Sheldon Jackson's collection as well as other examples of Tlingit, Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

, and Aleut culture.

Sheldon Jackson Street is found in the College Village subdivision of Anchorage, a neighborhood next to the University of Alaska Anchorage
University of Alaska Anchorage
The University of Alaska Anchorage is the largest school of the University of Alaska System, with about 16,500 students, about 14,000 of whom attend classes at Goose Lake, its main campus in Anchorage....

 campus where the streets are named for colleges and universities (the street forms a loop with Emory
Emory University
Emory University is a private research university in metropolitan Atlanta, located in the Druid Hills section of unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, United States. The university was founded as Emory College in 1836 in Oxford, Georgia by a small group of Methodists and was named in honor of...



Additional reading

  • Alaska and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service: 1867-1915, By Truman R. Strobridge, Dennis L. Noble, Published by Naval Institute Press, 1999, ISBN 1557508453
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