Digitizing Alaska History: The Sheldon Jackson Papers
By Rev. Larry S. Emery
June 19, 2017
Dr. Sheldon Jackson (1834-1909) was a Presbyterian Missionary as well as the United States Government’s General Agent for Education in Alaska for over twenty years. He made a total of twenty-six trips to Alaska, frequently aboard the famous United States Revenue Cutter Bear. Jackson was committed to the spiritual, educational, and economic well-being of the Alaska Natives. He founded numerous schools and training centers that served native people. The Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka, where many Native Alaskans attended from throughout southeast Alaska, was named for him.
One of the complaints about Jackson during his lifetime is that he spent more time and resources on education for the native population than for the white population of Alaska. Also, there has been controversy over his requirement that all education of native people to be in English, though some churches and schools went beyond this and forbid all use of the native languages. He and the commander of the Bear helped import nearly 1,300 reindeer for Native people to use as food, clothing and other necessities.
Documents and pictures in the Presbyterian Historical Society collection cover his educational and missionary work, his attempts to establish reindeer herds in Alaska, and portraits of native culture as well as Alaskan terrain and animals.
Eventually, the Presbyterian Historical Society staff will create individual records for each document and have a search system in place. The collection can be viewed at https://archive.org/details/sheldonjacksonpapers and other Jackson documents can also be found at https://digital.history.pcusa.org/sheldon-jackson.
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