Thomas H. Starbuck Early Willamette Valley Leader
The spread of the Adventist message throughout the Pacific Northwest can be traced back to the blessings of God and the dedication and hard work of individuals like Thomas H. Starbuck. Through his life he served as a church elder, builder of both an academy and church in Portland, college professor, academy principal, Book and Bible House worker, and minister.
When Thomas was a teenager, his parents joined the Adventist movement after attending evangelistic meetings in Iowa conducted by B.F. Snook. The children, however, did not embrace their parents' new beliefs.
Several years later, in 1863, the Starbucks traveled over the Oregon Trail and settled in Salem.
While living in this frontier town, Thomas’ father, Elisha, received letters from Snook, who had left the denomination and started a dissident group. As a result of these letters, Elisha turned away from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Thomas moved to Windsor, California, in 1869, the same year John Loughborough and Daniel T. Bourdeau, the first Adventist ministers to work west of the Rocky Mountains, arrived in California and conducted meetings in Windsor. Thomas attended but did not join the church.
After moving back to Salem in 1871, Thomas married Almira Gibson, who had crossed the Oregon Trail with her parents in 1852. The young couple purchased land west of Salem where Thomas farmed and taught school.
Three years later James White started Signs of the Times in Oakland, California. Thomas subscribed, even though his wife wanted nothing to do with religion and a God of "love" who could burn people in hell forever.
One day Almira picked up Thomas’ magazine while he was at work. Inside she found an article on hell that agreed with her views. From then on, she began to secretly read every issue of the Signs of the Times and became convinced that she should join the Adventist Church, but she wondered if Thomas was as opposed to the denomination as his father was.
In 1876 Isaac Van Horn and Alonzo T. Jones, first Northwest Adventist ministers, brought their tent to Salem and conducted evangelistic meetings. Since Thomas thought Almira was opposed to the Signs of the Times and she had a new baby, he did not invite her to attend with him. After a number of meetings he became convinced of the Sabbath.
When he told her of his convictions she began to cry. Through the tears she explained that she too wanted to keep the Sabbath, and the Starbucks were baptized in 1877 and became members of the first Adventist church in the Willamette Valley. Thomas was also appointed elder of the church.
Seven months later, the five churches and 200 members in the Pacific Northwest organized as the North Pacific Conference. At that time, the delegates elected two men, Stephen Maxson and Thomas Starbuck, to serve as the “Conference Committee.” Thomas, a quiet man from Quaker stock, would go on to serve the church in many additional ways.
The delegates to the North Pacific Conference territory west of the Cascades asked Thomas in 1887 to start and lead the North Pacific Academy in Portland. He served as principal until the school of 100 students closed in 1891 to make way for Walla Walla College.
Next Thomas worked as a minister in western Oregon, professor at Walla Walla College and finally in the Book and Bible House in Portland. His efforts played a significant part in advancing Adventism in the Pacific Northwest.