|Abstract or Summary
- In 1986, researchers from Oregon State University, led by Dr. David
Brauner, came to the small Catholic community of St. Paul, Oregon as part of ongoing
research on the French-Canadian inhabitants of the Willamette Valley between
1829 and the mid-1860s. They were searching for the remains of the first Catholic
Mission in the Pacific Northwest. What they found was a cellar belonging to nuns
who ran a boarding school for the daughters of the French-Canadians between 1844
and 1852. These women were upper-middle class Belgians belonging to the Sisters
of Notre Dame de Namur order.
The purpose of this research was to examine the archaeological data
recovered from this project to see whether this novel situation was recognizable in
the archaeological record. Secondly the objective was to intensively review the
written record to determine details regarding the daily lives of these women. The
final objective was to see what the combination of literature and archaeology can
reveal about the texture of their lives.
The research was divided into three phases: field archaeology, literature
search, and artifact analysis. Field archaeology was accomplished over two field
seasons and included pedestrian survey and surface collection and test pit and block
excavation. Artifact analysis was loosely structured on a functional classification
developed by Roderick Sprague. Artifacts were broken into three study units:
block excavation, surface collection, and test pit excavation.
Six Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur set foot on the shores of the Oregon
Territory on August 1, 1844. They were the first Catholic nuns to come to the
Pacific Northwest. Coming at the invitation of Father Francis Norbert Blanchet,
they set up a boarding school for the daughters of the retired French-Canadian fur
trappers who had settled in the Willamette Valley. Their school was in the small
Catholic community of St. Paul. During their short stay in St. Paul they taught
school while learning to survive. They developed skills such as bread-making,
clothes washing, carpentry, livestock husbandry, and gardening. They left the
Willamette Valley in 1852 and moved to San Jose in California where they
established a college.
The written record shows that the site where the Sisters lived served a dual
function as a religious and educational facility and as a homestead. Archaeological
evidence exists for the educational facility and homestead, but the religious aspect of
the site was not apparent. The historical record shows that the inhabitants of the
site were unique individuals within the location of French Prairie. The archaeology
supports this, but does not definitively indicate gender, class, or ethnicity.