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[Letter from Young John Allen to his parents, January 6, 1861]
Jan 6th 1861
My Dear Pa & Ma.
I ought to have written you a birth-day letter-- I know you will be glad to hear from me anytime, however, so I will write the sooner now as I did not then-- I wish you all a happy New Year.
We are still in Shanghai; with but little prospect of getting away soon. In company with Brother Lambuth a few weeks ago I visited the place where we were expected to live-- It was one year ago one of the largest, most populous and beautiful cities in all China. It is quite as large in extent as N. York city and contained twice as many inhabitants; but it is now almost entirely destroyed, burned up, and very nearly all the people have left-- There were forty thousand soldiers there when we were there-- On our way back to Shanghai we met a very large rebel army marching directly to the city, with full intent to complete its overthrow and
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entire destruction-- We met the army in the grand canal, which is about one hundred feet wide-- We were in a small boat and the army had boats-- We did not have much apprehensions of danger as they profess and show great respect and kindness to foreigners-- When they first perceived our boat, they began to make preparations to capture us. Bro- L and I were sitting on the bow of the boat watching the whole maneuver-- When they came quite near us, they soon perceived their mistake--that we were not Chinese but foreigners, whereupon they cried out to one another "foreign devils," "foreign brethren" had a hearty laugh and passed us without interruption-- We stopped alongside the bank for two hours hoping they would soon pass, but at the expiration of that time there seemed to be no abatement in progress or dimminution in numbers; in other words we concluded there was no end to them and went on-- We found them densely crowded and rapidly marching in a line for twenty miles-- Had we remained stationary where we first met them they could not have
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passed us all that day-- The rear camps one night where the first ranks did the night before-- In other words the army about measures its full length during one day's march-- We had the pleasure, or rather I should say the necessity, of calling on board the General's boat-- He informed us that he had upwards of ten thousand boats-- We supposed not less that twelve thousand, the very least; upon these we counted from three to twenty seven men; that is, making a reasonable calculation, somewhere between sixty & seventy thousand soldiers-- Through all this immense, amazing mass of boats and men we had to make headway for twenty miles-- Would that I had the time and ability to portray to you something of the scene-- It cannot well be exaggerated-- Glad indeed and thankful too were we when they were all passed-- We barely succeeded passing them in time to camp that day, notwithstanding we were both in motion-- You may think we travelled slowly; it is true we did-- You must however remember that large bodies move slowly and so do small ones against such fearful
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odds. All these were bound to the great city of Hang Chow which we had just two days before left-- You can well imagine now, that it is doubtful now [deleted] how long before we leave here if we depend on Hang Chow for an opening. ~
With the above facts before us and in view of a continuance of the same and perhaps worse circumstances in the future, it was concluded, at our last mission meeting, to be best not to bind our hearts and hopes to that one place; but now look out for an open door and a home somewhere else-- Bro L and I therefore have under contemplation a visit to Su Chow and Nankin, both held by the rebels at this time, and will perhaps leave here week after next--15 or 17th of Jan-- We are very pleasantly situated here; could not be more so at home, but we are anxious to secure a place to work and a home amidst the people--
There are hundreds of little things I would like to tell you had I time--things new, strange and heathen-- I have seen much that I used to read of and much
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that's not in books but little to make one glad and much to make one sad.
There never was a more distressing time nor a more distressed country than China at present-- My heart grows sick and tired of the scenes of desolation and ruin that I saw-- but oh! how infinitely worse than what I saw is the reality-- Hundreds and thousands, yea hundreds of thousands of people are destitute of house and home and many of them of the necessaries of life-- besides, a grievous famine now threatens the whole country and this vicinity in particular-- the rebels have devastated the country, leaving but comparatively few people where they have been to make crops and supply the markets, and a flood last fall overwhelmed the rice fields and destroyed the [deleted] much of the main dependence of the poor Chinese.
I hear a drought has cut short the crops at home-- but oh! how happy and well supplied are our people at home [deleted] when compared with these?
How could we complain if we but knew how it was with [added] thousands and tens of thousands who suffer unpitied and die uncared for unnoticed.View image of page
My dear Pa and Ma, I must now hasten to conclude this letter-- I hope you are all quite well-- I would like so much to have a letter from you.
We are now very well indeed-- Dollie has altogether recovered-- My health never was better-- Our Little Mellie is now quite well cheerful and happy-- While I write she is sitting by the fire trying to sew-- She has nearly all her teeth-- Can talk some English and quite as much Chinese. This is our mid-winter now and it is sometimes very cold. The changes are rather sudden and disagreeable here-- Remember us to all our friends especially to Sister Mellie & family & Uncle Carlis & family-- Tell Allen, 'Gustus and William to write me, if only a short letter-- How are Johnie & Jimmie
May God bless you all and finally bring us together again in our Fathers house above-- My dear Pa and Ma, let us live for heaven-- I never expect to see you again on Earth below--but Oh! I do hope and pray to meet you again in heaven above.
Dollie and babie send much love with your's very affectionately,Young J. Allen