Billy Graham Center

Missionary Letter, 1856 - Text Only

Joseph K. Wight was an American missionary returning to China from the United States in 1855-56. All the information that the Archives has about Rev. Wight is from the letter that follows. It appears that he and his wife had been working in southern China, probably DShanghai, up to the summer of 1855, when they returned to New York because of health reasons.

The letter that follows was written by Joseph to his brother William, who lived in Troy, New York. In it he describes a little of his sailing voyage, the condition of Shanghai, reports of the Taiping rebellion and the state of his own health. The letter makes very clear the hardships and seperations often imposed on missionaries by the difficulties of travel and communication at the time. The letter also underlines Wight's own faith and dedication. Comments made in brackets [] were added by the archivist. Spellings of people and places are left the way that Rev. Wight wrote them. The names of ships have been put in italics by the archivist.

[Start of Document]

At Sea Bark Maury
January 26th, 1856

Dear Bro. Wm

It was 3 months Yesterday since I parted with you at New York. The last sight I caught of you was on board the Steamer as she left us to go to sea on our own bark. Since then we have been travelling [sic] on our way over a path which I need hardly describe, as it is the same route over which we passed 7 years ago. We are now a little ahead of our passage in the Valparaiso being sane 200 miles south of Boro [sp?]. We passed through Tombock [sp?] Straits to the westward of the route we went before and have been more in sight of land with rather more intricate navigation, Thus far however vie have came safely and pleasantly. I have busied myself in reading and studying. We have also a pleasant company of passengers, a Captain who is a good sailor and a good new vessel, Our best sailing was South of the Cape [possibly Cape Good Hope?] in running down our Casting as it is termed. We made 7000 miles in 35 successive days. Here the Islands we have had what is expected rather slow work, though we are looking forward to being in Shanghai by this time next month.

In point of health I think I have been somewhat on the gain. If appearances do not deceive me I am fleshier than when I left New York. I had an attack of bleeding about the 1st of this month owing to over exertion one day. One pump to the tank of fresh water worked rather hard and I was working with the Capt to see what was the matter and the strain in pumping brought on the bleeding wh [sic] was more copious than lost summer though otherwise similar. I have had no return of it. I have since been more cautious. It does not affect me to speak having before this and since preached on deck when the wind was blowing quite fresh. I hardly know what to think of myself being sometimes inclined to think my days on earth are few, + then again that I an thus reminded of my mortality that I may be led to trust not in myself but in the living God. It is best for us that we do not know the future--present duty is made plain + the rest God will care for + provide. Thus far I feel that I have been sustained, though at times lonely, yet at no time have I regretted the step I have taken. And He who has thus called me to wife + little ones will I am sure take care of them. It is no small care and responsibility for my dear wife, but God will give her strength + wisdom. I know also that you and other friends will do what you can to assist and help her along.

I have often thought of dear Father whom we left sick at the American [sp?]. I have felt very anxious to lmew how he was. I hope the cool weather may have strengthened him, but above all may he be strengthened with might in the inner man + for that change wh [sic] I fear will come before I am permitted to see his face again in the flesh. Heaven however is increasingly near + could we look more within its gates, we should long more to depart be with God.

Feb. 22. I see I began this note to you before we reached Boro [sp?] We put in there for water--the same place we stopped at 7 years before in the Valparaiso. The Governor[?] who still holds his place recognised me and showed me the old record of our arrival. It was pleasant to look upon the spot again, for though having been there but a short time yet many things looked familiar. The Gov's house, the old fort + the rich vegetation. Was sorry to find a few Chinamen whom I inquired after with some interest all opium smokers and that they had introduced its use the Malays. We fell in company with a couple of vessels, after we had left the Islands who were much longer getting through. One of them was 140 days from London. We are now 120 from New York and on soundings off the China Coast, through not yet in sight of land. We hope however to anchor tonight and get up the river tomorrow. We have had some rough weather since we left the Straits though have gone along very well. I had another attack of bleeding more copious that the first the day we passed through the Straits, no return of it since. I feel quite well, The blood was very dark and I am still somewhat inclined to think it came from my stomach, as I have no pain about my lungs and scarcely any cough at least no more than when I left home. I will consult a physician however when I get to Shanghai and his opinion will be more satisfactory.

Shanghai Feb. 29th I finally reached here the 25th inst. We arrived at Woosung [sp?] the 25th but it being Sunday I remained on board + next day Mr. Rankin and Mr. Lonnie [sp?] came down to meet me and I went up in a boat. Am now in my old quarters in the house wh [sic] I built on the South side of the City. It has been repaired and looks very much as it did before. Mr. and Mrs. Lonnie [sp?] gave me a very cordial welcome and I think I shall feel very much at home with them. Mr. and Mrs. Rankin of [Ningpo?] are here with their children and have engaged their passage in the Ship N. B. Palmer for the U.S. Expect to sail about the middle of next month. They are going on account of Mrs. Rankin's health who has been suffering much as Lydia Ann has, The physicians fear another summer here would be bad for her + recommend her going home. You may perhaps see them as they say they are going to Sand Lake to see my wife. I told them you would help them on the way from Troy.

There have been great changes in Shanghai since I left, Some missionaries who were then absent have returned + some who came out since I left have gone home. The missionary force has however considerably increased + they have been able to push much farther into the interior than ever before. This I think is owing partly to the fact that the gov's [sic] are so occupied with the rebellion that they have not time or at least do not think it policy to interfere with foreigners. As to the rebellion we have very contradictory reports. One says the Insurgents are closely besieged in Nankin [sic] + that the Imperialists are only waiting to starve them out. Another report is that 2 or 3 provinces are entirely under their influence + that there are frequent disturbances in as many more provinces. It is certain the old govt is greatly in want of funds, There are some officers there now attempting to get subscriptions from the people to carry on the war.

As to the doctrines of the Insurgents there is nothing more satisfactory. They appear to be very much at a stand still. They have not so far as I can learn [unclear word] any more books nor gone on printing the Bible. As an intelligent Chinese told me, that of ten parts of the true doctrine, they understand about two. With their time occupied about political matters they appear to rmke no progress in spiritual understanding.

Here at Shanghai everything appears to have returned very much into its old channels. The Chinese have built on the former [?] ruins in many places + have set up their shops in the old places, though there is sufficient evidence everywhere of the ruin and destruction wh [sic] the war has caused. The foreign community has increased in size, nearly one half I should think since I left. In fact on some of the back streets I can find no old landmarks. The streets too have been named [?], lights put up at the comers and a police organized, so that it has quite the look of a foreign town.

March 5th I have consulted Dr. Lockhart as to what he thinks of my case. He thinks for the present I ought not to attempt preaching in Chinese and that I should avoid exposure about taking cold or violent exercise. He thinks that after that slight attack of bleeding I should have staid [sic] in the U.S. longer and until entirely free from my cough. Has not seen enough of me to tell where the blood came from. Thinks there is no actual disease of the lungs but that I am very much in the state I was when I went home, though he thinks I look rather better in the face. The only way is to wait and see. It is somewhat trying thus to be put off from one's work when just ready to engage in it. I hope however to do a little in the way of study and indirect labor. Whatever God has before me I feel that he will fit me for. I know I need afflictions to purge out the dross which clings to my corrupt nature. I hope that God will give me grace to bear it with patience + be better fitted by it for life's duties or for its end. It grieves me at times exceedingly that my first letters must be the bearers of such unpleasant tidings. I had hoped that this voyage would have entirely restored my health + that I should have been able to once work at once with vigor. But the Lord seeth not as man seeth + we know his way is best. I felt that I was following the path of duty when I came + it has seemed to me that whatever is the result this will be manifest. If I have been mistaken I pray that the way may be made plain - at least in the sincerity of my heart I did it.

I hope the Lord will sustain and comfort my dear wife. I have feared that she will be more alarmed than there is occasion for. I have written to her fully all particulars not attempting to disguise by any false coloring - in fact I feat at times I have written too gloomily when I have been too much cast down. The future at present is uncertain - at least I can make no plans. I hoped to have been able to write for her to come out to China if suitable arrangements could have been made for the children, but at present that does not seem desirable. The future however in the best of hands - he who will order all things for our good and to his glory. On him do I wait to mark the path of duty plain and to strengthen me for his service.

Did not hear from any of you by last mail. Perhaps you thought we should not get here so soon. Before the middle of this month we hope however to get dates [s?] from you to the middle of Dec. Give much love to Lydia Ann and the children. Hope that she is in better health than last summer. Shall not be able to write to Father this mail. Give much love to him mother also to Ed [sp?] + Alice. Has Father got settled yet or does he still board at the American.

Remember me also to enquiring friends in Troy to Dr. Smalley Dr. Kennedy and Mr. Robinson. One good thing I hope will result from my visit to the U.S. I feel a deeper interest in the churches + hope also that their interest may be increased in the work of spreading the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour throughout the world.

Your aff [sic] brother,
Joseph K. Wright

[On the back of the page is written:]
J. K. Wight
January 26 +
March 5th

Mr. Wm W. Wight

[Written on side of last page:] Please enclose in envelope from mission persons

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Last Revised: 2/27/99
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