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Missionary Letter, 1836 - Text Only

Mary Jane and Alexander Erwin Wilson were missionaries with the American Board of Commisioners for Foreign Missions. They were sent by the board to start a mission among the Matebele people in what is present day South Africa. Also in the same party were Daniel and Lucy Lindley, George and Susan Champion, Henry Issac and Martha Venable, Aldwin and Hannah Grout, and Newton and Sarah Adams. The party sailed from Boston on December 3, 1834 and arrived in Captetown February 6, 1835. After about six weeks, the Lindley's Wilsons and Venables went on to Griquatown (where they started learning the Tswana and Ndebele languages) and then on to Kuruman, the home of missionary Robert Moffat. There the Wilsons and Mrs. Venable and Lindley remained, while Mr. Lindley and Mr. Venable went on to make contact with the Matabele leader, Moselekatse. Just before they left, the Wilson's daughter Martha was born. It is at this point that the letter begins. By July, the entire party had moved to Mosega. Mrs. Wilson died of of rheumatic fever in Moseqa on September 18, 1836. More of the history of this party can be found in the book Letters of the American Missionaries, 1835-1838, edited by D. J. Kotze and published by The Van Riebeeck Society of Capetown, South Africa in 1950.

The letter that follows was written by Mary Jane to her uncle, Michael Gretter, in Richmond, Virginia. The letter describes the new baby born to her and her husband; the attempt of missionaries Daniel Lindley and Henry Venable to establish a mission station in a southern Africa territory (Moseqa) under the protection of a Matabele tribal chief (Moselekatse); local marriage customs; severe drought in Grinquatown; and her impressions of missionaries Robert Moffat, Robert Hamilton, and Roger Edwards. Comments made in brackets [] were added by the archivist. The "Dr." referred to throughout the letter is Mary Jane's husband, Alexander. Spellings of people and places are left the way that Mary Jane wrote them.

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Kruman S. Africa
March 21st 1836

My Ever Beloved Uncle

One of your kind and interesting letters I received in November, and the other in December for which I do heartily thank you. They cannot be too long for me while the matter which they contain is so interesting. I feel greatly revived and quickened by them. May this be an inducement to you to write often. I do highly appreciate you as a faithful correspondent. Doubtless before this you have learned from the Dr's letters to Ma and Sister of God's goodness to us in bestowing upon us a precious little gift. Our dear little Martha Smithey was born on the 15th of January, and is of course regarded by her Father and myself as a very sweet and interesting child. The Dr. enclosed some of her hair in his letter that you all might see its color. She has so much hair that we laid aside her caps at 3 weeks old. She has black eyes, and a pretty prominent nose, but she very strikingly resembles her dear Aunt Susan. We do daily I hope in the sincerity of our hearts consecrate her to the service of our Redeemer. Will you pray that she will be made a blessing to the poor heathen if her life should be spared? Lucy also has a sweet little daughter 3 months older than mine. I cannot express to you my beloved uncle the gratification which I felt at hearing that my dear Mother and Sister were cheerful and that you were all happy in each other's society. May the Lord continue to bless you abundantly, and grant you a rich regard for all the kindness and affection which you show to the beloved ones in your family. I confidently believe that you and Aunt Joanna do and will continue to enjoy a foretaste of the compensation God bestows upon those who show kindness to them who love him. There is no family in America in which I would so much love to live as in yours and I feel truly happy that my own dear Mother and Sister are there. I thank you very much for the extracts from your Journal. I would so much love to read all your journal. Is it too much to ask you for it? Your little prayer meetings are precious privileges. If I could enjoy them, how highly I feel I would appreciate them. Besides our little female prayer meeting (Which we do very much enjoy) the Brethren have a prayer meeting every Thursday night. I suppose you will be surprised to see from this letter that 16 months after leaving home we are yet 200 miles from the place of our destination. The Brethren Lindsey and Venable left us about a week after the birth of our little daughter for Mosiko [sic], the residence of Moselekatsi for the purpose of building a house for us all. From letters which we received from them about a week since we learned that they are making such progress in their work that they hoped to be able to accomplish it and return to us about the close of next month, when we shall make ready to proceed immediately to our new home. Three French Brethren who are still labouring in different parts of Africa once commenced a station at Mosiko . As some of the walls of the house which they left, the Brethren Lindsey and Vendable found still good they concluded to rebuild it. They have not seen Moselekatsi as he was three days distant from Mosiko , his home, but they sent messengers to acquaint him of their arrival, who on their return brought with there one of his principal counselors, named Kalipi, who welcomed them very heartily and said that Moselekatsi's heart was glad, glad, glad. The Brethren asked Kalipi where Moselekatsi wished them to live, he replied, wherever you choose. Mos. sent them an ox to slaughter and told Kailpi to provide them with food for the work; he also sent them word that as he would remain where he was for some time, they could visit him there, or finish their work, and then visit him, as they pleased. They told Kalipi they wished to see him before they commenced their work, but Kalipi told them that he must accompany them, and he was move tired and wished them to wait till he had rested, and prepared some food and some beer for his majesty. It is customary to send him beer from every village wherever he may be. Kalipi visits them almost every day and is quite familiar. He and a very interesting young man Tibere, who is said to be Moselekatsi's brother, have dined with them once or twice. To use Bro. Venable's own words he says "Kalipi is a very gentlemanly savage, and had he been brought up in civilized society might have made a figure in the world." The people seem confident that they are preparing to live among them and many of them carry them thick milk and beer. They say nothing of the quality of the beer, or whether they drank it.

You would probably like to know something about the house. I shall be better able to tell you when I get into it. It is however made of brick, with a thatched roof, has 6 room, 2 for each family. The Brethren could form no estimate of the number of inhabitants within the territory of Moselekats , but they say there are 10 or 12 verfs (or villages) within a few miles of the house, containing 80 or 100 houses each. The native houses are made of mats generally, in the form of a haystack with a door large enough to get in by creeping on your hands and knees. At this place however the doors are much larger, but none of them have windows. The houses are built by the women, indeed they do all the drudgery, the men hunt, and sew, but they do not seem to consider their wives their equals nor treat them with much affection. They do not however (with the exception of church members) here regard polygamy as sinful. It is quite common for a man to have 4 or 5 wives, and sometimes more.

The drought of which I spoke in one of my letters, which has prevailed for many years past, is very distressing. Many of the fountains by which irrigation was carried on have failed, and many very many of the people in this region, and in the vicinity of Grigua Town are suffering for want of food. The interesting station at Grigua Town is about to be abandoned on account of the failure of their last fountain. The Missionaries with all their people are removing near the Great [words missing] river and hope to be able to settle there. Moselekatsi's country is well watered and the people have an abundance of food. Bro [word missing] says he has seen no country like that in South Africa.

I said nothing about this station I believe in my letter to my dear Mother and Sister because I had been here so short a time that I had not an opportunity of forming any judgment of the state of things here. There are 3 Missionaries here. One (Mr. Moffat) is a licensed preacher. The other two came out as artisans, but they preach. Mr. Hamilton is an old man, very fatherly and affectionate in his manner and appears to have much love for the souls of his people. Mr. Moffat is an interesting man with a beard 1/4 of a yd in length. The [words missing] endured many privations and hardships. Mr. Edwards is a younger man and besides other labours teaches school. His wife also is very active. We have been treated with great kindness by them all. They have a printing press here, and they kindly invited the Brethren of our Mission to print lessons in the Sitabele language(the language of Moselekatsi's people.) that we might be prepared to begin schools immediately, which they accordingly did. During our stay at Grigua Town, the Dr. found a run who was acquainted With the Sitabele language, and got from him 1700 words which he has formed into a vocabulary and which will be of great assistance to us in the study of that language. The Dr. is able to converse with the natives in the Lichman language. We all talk a little in that language. Now my dear Uncle may the Lord make us useful to the souls of the poor Africans. May your efforts for the salvation of your servants be abundantly blessed. I have set at the table of the Lord both here and at Grigua Town with some aged persons who reminded me so forcibly of Aunt Joan, and Aunt Lucy, and the question has often arisen shall I ever hear that they are the friends of Jesus? Their course is nearly run. O, have they a place in those mansions that the blessed Saviour has gone to prepare for them that love line.? Are Maria and Eliza still ranked among the emmies of him who laid down his life for them?, Tell my dear Mother and Sister that I intend to write to them soon. My dear Sister's precious letters. afford me no little comfort. Tell my own beloved Mother that I often think of the gratification which would be hers to press my little darling to her bosom - but if she lives and I live she shall be taught to know and love you all. My dear Uncle we have and do pray for David's conversion, and cannot but hope he will yet be a missionary. Give my love to him, and urge him for me to embrace the Saviour as his portion. Remember us both also to dear Aunt Joanna, Aunt Polly, Aunt Charlotte, Sister Ellen, Cousins John & Mary, Washington, little Joanna & Mrs. Barclay and family and all who inquire after us. Do send m a long long letter again. Tell im about each I r of your dear family, the state of the churches and whether your church is yet supplied with a pastor. Tell my dear Eliza Duval, that she shall hear from me soon, but she must not neglect to visit you all. It will grieve me very much to hear that she and Sister are not very intimate. Give my love also to Margaret Brooking, and all the members of that little meeting, to Mr. Gordon's family, to my dear Mr. and Mrs Armstrong. I am very thankful for their letters and shall tell them so soon. Do write every spare moment that you have and my dear Sister also, and try to persuade others to write. 0 if my friends only knew with what avidity I seize letters from America, and what Joy they create in my heart, they would write. Will not John and Mary write to me? You are regarded with much affection by all the members of our Mission. The dear Sisters have said to m repeatedly since I commenced this letter "Be sure to give my love to your Uncle and family, including particularly Mother and Sister," and the Brethren would say the same were they here. My dear husband joins me in all the requests which I have made here. The Lord make us meet for his kingdom is the sincere prayer of your affectionate niece.

[Written on the side of the first page]Remember the Dr. amd Myself affectionately to Bro. Martin and beg him to continue to pray for us - also to Mr. amd mrs. Plamer[sp?]. Mary Jane Wilson

[The second page of the letter was so folded as to make an envelope for the entoire letter. The address read:]
Mr. Michael Gretter
Richmond
Virginia
U.S. America

Care of H. E. Rutherford, Esq.
Capetown
________
Wilson

[The other half of the "envelope" has this endorsement:] Forwarded from St. Helena [unclear] respectfully
[Name unclear, perhaps "W. S. Carrol]


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