The Story of Henrietta Hall Shuck,
the First American Woman Missionary to China
Chapter 1: The Louvre
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19–20 KJV
Gathering her skirts, Henrietta Shuck stumbled up the steps to the deck of the Louvre, fighting to keep her balance as the vessel lurched through the rough Atlantic toward the coast of Africa. She forced her hand into a leather strap like a prisoner accustomed to being shackled and, once secure, leaned over the railing to allow the spray to bathe her face. It was the only relief from the desperate seasickness that had consumed her since boarding ship in Boston with her husband Lewis on their voyage to China. Henrietta’s eyes stung, and her hair was dripping wet from the cold salt spray, but any relief from the unrelenting nausea was welcome during what would become a yearlong, nineteen-thousand-mile voyage to the other side of the globe. Shortly after leaving Boston, she had first leaned over the railing with her toes barely touching the deck when the first mate of the Louvre, George McIntyre, grabbed her around the waist with one arm and plunked her down hard on the deck as though she was a rag doll.
“Mrs. Shuck! For Mercy’s sake! What are you thinking! I’ll have no one falling overboard on me! I’d never get the skiff in the water before you’re drowned!”
Still on all fours, she struggled to rise before him when her gut violently twisted, and she showered his boots with her breakfast. Other crewmen roared at the sight of the little woman, barely four feet and ten inches tall, on her hands and knees retching like a dog choking on a bone and the first mate dancing a high step to shake the remains of Henrietta’s meal of beans and salt pork off his boots. Ordinarily, the seasoned sailor would have spewed a succession of blasphemous oaths at every step, but he and the rest of the crew had been unexpectedly polite and accommodating to the Shucks and to the other twenty missionaries on board on their way to Asia. One withering look from McIntyre as he stormed toward the main mast sent the crew back to their duties while Henrietta was left to fend for herself. Moments later, he reappeared swinging a massive hammer round and round in his right hand and a leather strap in his left stomping straight for Henrietta. Still kneeling and feeling the vibrations of his stomps drawing closer, she swallowed hard and wiped her hair from her face, dreading what he had in mind for her. Tucking the hammer under his arm, he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her to her feet, recoiling a bit from the shock that she weighed so little and that her wrist was no bigger than that of a child. Still holding her wrist, he looped the leather strap once around her hand and then let her go. Henrietta fought to maintain her balance and didn’t know what to think as he pounded the leather strap to the railing with two heavy nails and said, “Mrs. Shuck: you’re to pull your hand through the tether and hold tight should a wave sweep you overboard. I’ll not have you swimming in the deep.”
Relieved as much that the mate meant her no harm as grateful that she would not end up drowned with an unexpected lunge into a wave, she looked up at the massive man to say, “Thank you. I will, Mr. McIntyre, and I’m so sorry I fouled your….” The corners of Henrietta’s mouth suddenly turned down, and the mate sidestepped as she forced her hand into the loop and again nearly threw herself over the rail retching helplessly. The few members of the crew who had gathered to watch his hammering parted and ran back to their stations as Mr. McIntyre stomped back across the deck, again swinging his hammer.
Henrietta would find comfort in the salt spray more times than she could count during the nine months on the ocean. To reach the Orient, ships sailed towards the coast of Africa, then back towards Brazil, and then, turning again, sailed far to the south using the trade winds to skirt around the Cape of Good Hope. On this seemingly interminable trip, dolphins that would share the ship’s wake on occasion mesmerized her and suspended the debilitating nausea. She fancied that the same group had joined them on and off during their trip to Macau, China, the small island occupied by the Portuguese and English traders from the East India Trading Company and her future home that, unlike the main land, was tolerant of “Europeans.” To the Chinese, these included Americans as well as the English, the French, and the Portuguese.
As the Louvre cruised south hugging the coast, Henrietta at times pondered the possibility of returning to the faint shadows of land still occasionally rising on her right before Captain Brown would launch out into the vastness of the Atlantic on her left. That was a possibility for the other passengers on board, perhaps, but not for her. Jehu Lewis Shuck, only twenty-three, had responded to a plea for contributions to fund missionaries to China by placing a note in the offering plate of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, that read, “I give myself.” Henrietta, a seventeen-year-old minister’s daughter devoted to the evangelical campaign of the 1830s, had already pledged herself to a life of missionary service when Lewis proposed they marry and set off to China together.
Henrietta had stayed late after the sermon one hot August day to store the materials she had used to teach Sunday school that morning. As she was closing a cupboard, Lewis stepped into the room nervously turning the brim of his hat round and round in his hands. She was surprised to see him.
“Lewis, are you lost?” she asked, although she knew immediately that he had deliberately sought her out after the voices of everyone else had faded from the halls.
“No—I wanted to speak to you about something very important. Would you like to sit down?” Lewis had motioned to the chairs clearly before he realized they were intended for small children. Nevertheless, Henrietta elegantly arranged her broad skirts and floated down effortlessly, but Lewis nearly toppled over trying to target the small chair while bending his long legs as deeply as he could manage. Henrietta looked away for a moment pretending to smooth her skirts so that he could not see her smile at his efforts to target the chair with his bottom.
“Henrietta … as you—as you know, I have applied for a position with the Triennial Board to establish a mission in China … well, in Macao, which really is China even though the Portuguese have a colony there. I was wondering if you would consider going with me—as my wife, I mean. I don’t expect you to answer me just now, and I won’t speak to your father until you have had some time to think about it, but I … uh … Henrietta…, would you please consider me? I would be honored if you would have me, but I think it wise for you to have some time to think and pray about it.”
Henrietta looked directly into his eyes but was completely silent. After a few awkward seconds, he said, “Couples have married with less in common than we have in our goals for mission service, and I think we could find happiness in time. I have great respect for you and I know you would make a good helpmate, and I would be devoted to your….”
Henrietta interrupted, “Let me pray about it. I hadn’t imagined going as far as China, but I’ll pray about it.”
“You will? I mean … I thought you would refuse me outright.”
Henrietta stood up easily, but Lewis struggled to stand and dropped his hat.
“I’ll pray about it. How long do I have to give you an answer?”
“Take as long as you like. It’s a big commitment. You will consider me, truly?”
“I will. When will you need to leave?”
“I’ve heard the optimal sailing time for the Orient is September.”
“That’s in two weeks!”
“No, September a year from now. You will have plenty of time to think and plan—if you will have me, that is.”
“Well, I suppose next September will give you and me adequate time. It will give me time to think about it, and it will also give you time to find someone else if I refuse you.”
“Oh, no, Henrietta, I can’t think of anyone else to go with me—who … whom I want to go with me, that is.”
“I see. I’m the only one there is to ask.”
Lewis began to pace as he said, “No, I didn’t mean to put it to you like that. I’m sorry I’m not handling this very well. I’ve never asked anyone to marry me and travel to China before.”
Henrietta muffled a smile, determined to maintain her mock seriousness with him. “Well, considering your lack of experience in these matters I’d say you’ve done fairly well, although, clearly, you are a novice. If you should have to repeat it with someone else, I’m certain you will give a more polished performance.” Lewis was stunned at first. “As I said, I’ll think about it.” Henrietta enjoyed teasing him and saw in his eyes that he liked her teasing him as he composed himself and smiled softly down at her. He realized this was the first of many mock exchanges they would share knowing the other was in on the ruse.
“I’ll speak to your father if you accept me. I didn’t want to ask him until I was sure of your response.” He reached for her hand, which she gave willingly, and he kissed it slowly. “I’ll wait for you to decide.” Henrietta remembered the touch of that kiss for the rest of her life.
She did decide to commit to Lewis and to this mission to China and steeled her resolve to press on into the unknown with a confidence that she was moving forward in her destiny to plant a seed of Christianity among the lost millions in the ironically named “Celestial Empire.” She had the certainty of untested, youthful vision that she was following God’s will for her and no doubt that she and Lewis were capable of accomplishing great things for the Lord. They were young and strong and willing to travel thousands of miles in a wooden sailing ship to reach an exotic land in need of saving grace. They knew they could die, they knew they would probably never see home or their families ever again, but they were convinced that giving themselves served the purposes of an omniscient God and that He would provide. They believed that their combined, determined wills would surely preserve them to carry out His purposes. Before leaving, Henrietta had written to a friend, “I feel contented and happy. Happy because I expect ere long, should my life be spared, to be surrounded by heathen children, and oh! What a delightful task to teach them and point them to the Lamb of God!” In the innocent confidence of their youth, they were off together on a crusade of love for Christ but, in time, they would learn that their desires to save the lost would be tested by God’s timing and purposes and that their wills, no matter how genuinely intentioned, would, in all things, be subject to His.
September 22, 1835
On the morning of September 22, 1835, a somber chorus of hundreds of voices rose from the crowded Boston wharf singing the last verse of “Go Missionaries and Proclaim.” Everyone stood completely silent as the song ended and Elder Keeling from the First Baptist Church in Richmond pronounced a final blessing on the twenty-two missionaries setting off on their voyage to Asia aboard the Louvre. As he prayed solemnly over the passengers for perseverance and safety, it was so quiet that observers on other ships moored nearby heard his every word. Waves gently washed against the sides of other ships and the pilings of their moorings while a few seabirds called overhead, taunting the members of the crew who had crawled up into the rigging to get a better view of the proceedings. Everyone on the dock knew that in all likelihood they would never see these devotees again, not in this life.
Henrietta’s father Reverend Addison Hall and stepmother Catherine had traveled with the newlyweds from Richmond down the James River on the steamer the Patrick Henry to Hampton Roads where they boarded the Pocahontas to Baltimore, then on to New York by train and steamer and, finally, to Boston where they would say their final goodbyes aboard the Louvre, the ship that would be their home on the seas for the next nine months. Ordinarily, seeing a young, newly married couple off on a voyage would have been a happy occasion filled with hopes and wishes for prosperity and joy anticipating the time when they might meet again, perhaps at Christmas or Easter or a birthday, perhaps to bring home a new baby to meet family. Not on that day. As he sang “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” Reverend Hall silently searched for any suggestion of fear or regret on his daughter’s delicate face, a face he had studied so well in their classical debates in his study back in Richmond.
As he leaned back balancing precariously on only two legs of his massive mahogany chair, he had often challenged his “Net” to argue claims she did not personally believe in to urge her to see multiple facets of an issue and to test her resolve in supporting her own personal beliefs. While delivering refutations of claims and counterarguments in defense of a position she ordinarily would never defend, she had usually betrayed her true stand on the issue with a nervous smile or by diverting her eyes to her fingers tracing the tufts of the velvet brocade on her chair. He had hoped at that moment to see some little sign that she was masking her true feelings, a sigh, a little twitch, a shifting of her weight from side to side.
Back at home in Richmond he had vigorously challenged her with every argument that he could muster for not going on this impossible mission and had insisted that if she were to commit to the mission board, she would never be able to come home again, although the thought of that possibility was more than he could allow himself to accept.
“Henrietta, do you understand that Catholic priests were kept for months in moldy, claustrophobic holes in the ground surrounded by soldiers and tormented by biting insects and hordes of rats? Those who didn’t die in those holes then had to endure repeated flaying of the flesh on their backs before being beheaded for refusing a final time to renounce their faith.” But Henrietta had remained resolute.
If she would not listen to reason, surely he could chisel away the edges of her resolve by appealing directly to the softest parts of her heart. “You do realize that you will never see me or Catherine or your brothers and sisters ever again? You will never see Virginia again. You can die over there, and we can die over here. It would be a year before any of us would know about the other.” She had dutifully listened to his arguments but had remained undeterred, even though she had shivered at the thought of her battered body in a dungeon cell waiting for the executioner.
He had also enlisted her stepmother Catherine to try to persuade Henrietta that this was an unrealistic, romantic enterprise and that she was too young to know the full gravity of the decision she had made. Although only three years older than Henrietta, Catherine knew the dangers any woman faced in childbirth even with a properly trained physician. “You have to know that you will not have the kind of medical care you will need as such a small-framed woman bearing a child with only well-intentioned missionaries as midwives to attend you. And you must know there are the dangers of cholera, smallpox, malaria, and yellow fever and the likelihood Lewis could be struck down by any one of these diseases since he would be travelling to rural areas alone. How would you cope with no husband and sick children should he perish? What if, God forbid, you and Lewis were both struck down leaving children destitute on the other side of the planet? It would take nearly a year for your father to get to you and another year to get home.”
Catherine had argued for at least a postponement, arguing that Henrietta could serve God in other opportunities just long enough to be certain that marrying a pastor so young and sailing for China was God’s calling her and not an impressionable young girl’s infatuation with stories of faraway missions she had heard beneath the tents at revival camp meetings.
“You could travel around the eastern seaboard raising much needed money and supplies for missionaries in India and Burma. You could even serve as a missionary to American native tribes on the frontier. That experience would serve you in a later mission to China when you are older, when you are better equipped to survive.” However, nothing and no one had been able to dissuade Henrietta from the decision she had made.
Although Catherine vigorously opposed her plans, she also admired the strength and depth of faith in a girl so young and so resolutely convicted to serve as she had felt led to do. Catherine suspected that it would have been easier to convince her not to go had she been older and more aware of all the hardships ahead. But, after uncounted attempts to persuade Henrietta to abandon this mission, eventually Catherine realized she was at a crossroads. Neither she nor Addison could persuade her to change her mind, so she resolved instead to help Addison accept that they had both done the best they could to convince Henrietta to give up or postpone this enterprise. Given Henrietta’s determined desires despite their objections, acceptance was the only path open to them. It would be a heartbreaking loss to see Henrietta off to China, but Catherine could not bear the thought of how her husband’s grief would be magnified should they part with any degree of animosity between them.
Standing on the deck of the Louvre, Rev. Hall still held out hope for even the faintest sign of regret on his daughter’s face. Despite the caustic admonitions he had written in his farewell letter, if he had seen any whisper of reluctance, no matter how slight, he would not have told her she was too late to change her mind, he would not have encouraged her to be strong nor to follow through with the commitment she had made to Lewis or to the mission board. One wince, one clench of her jaw and he’d have swept her through the crowd and found their way back to Richmond the quickest way possible, denying any and all objections from Lewis. That is what he would have done as the father of a beloved daughter, but as Henrietta Hall Shuck’s father, he had resigned himself to remain the reluctant supporter of her wishes to make this voyage into the unknown. When all he saw on Henrietta’s face was quiet serenity, his heart fell. At that moment, he resigned himself to the knowledge that he would never see his daughter again.
The service continued with a reading of Psalm 67: “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.” Nearly a thousand voices slowly rose again above the harbor singing “Yes, My Native Land, I Love Thee” as well wishers filed by shaking hands and embracing the passengers one last time. This hymn, sung perhaps a thousand times before as a matter of tradition at partings, on that day served as a sincere petition to God to preserve those about to embark on this mission so filled with unknown dangers that none of the others present on the dock would ever have considered it.
Henrietta had known this parting would break another part of her father’s heart as her mother’s sudden death had three years ago. She was glad he had remarried a gentle, pious woman to help salve the wound her loss would sear on his heart now that his daughter was leaving him, in all likelihood, forever. Henrietta knew Catherine’s sometimes fierce arguments to persuade her to give up this missionary escapade were motivated primarily by her concern for the reverend who she knew would struggle to find his equilibrium once his firstborn was on her way to China. Henrietta was grateful Catherine loved and cared for her father so intently. There was no question of forgiveness for the constant attempts to dissuade her since it was all motivated by deep, abiding love for her father. Any resentment she had felt for being treated like a child who wasn’t capable of knowing her own mind dissipated into the fog in the harbor. Catherine was trying to spare her father a loss that he might forever regret.
Before her parents stepped down the gangplank to the wharf, Henrietta embraced her stepmother one last time, urging her not to cry. “Catherine, I need you to dry your eyes.” Henrietta laughed to hold back her own tears and pressed her forehead to Catherine’s as she said, “I can barely hold myself together.”
Smiling through her tears, Catherine said, “Go with God, Net. May He bless and keep you.”
Henrietta then turned avoiding her father’s eyes and buried her face in his chest, breathing in his smell of tobacco and smoke as she always did when she needed his strength. She knew he would hold on to her as long as she would allow as he had always done before, so she composed herself and broke away from his warmth. She gave him a leather-bound New Testament that contained a lock of her hair pressed between the pages and a last letter for at least a year, possibly two. Finally looking into his eyes, she said, “Please do not open it until you are on the trip back to Richmond.” She knew he would not be able to contain his genuine emotions, so she hoped to spare him the indignity of tears streaming down the cheeks of a man usually so publicly composed when arguing before a jury or preaching to a congregation. She then continued, “I want you to know how much I love you and my brothers and sisters, but I am answering a call deep in my soul. Words fail me to be able to explain this move, but there is a faint, persistent voice that instilled an unexplainable confidence and still urges me forward.”
Rev. Hall straightened his back and clenched his jaw as he handed Henrietta a letter and a beautifully bound Bible. Feeling Lewis’s tug on her elbow, she stepped back and watched as her father and Catherine returned to the wharf. As the Louvre sailed out of Boston harbor, Rev. Hall clasped the Testament and the letter and stood motionless, stoically watching the ship for two hours as the harbor pilot finally left the ship to return to port and his Net disappeared from view. He would recite to himself several times a day for the next ten years the closing of her letter, I am now, and forever shall be, dear Father, your most affectionate and devoted daughter. Henrietta. The Louvre quickly sailed into a group of mackerel schooners aligned so thickly along the horizon that one passenger said they resembled streets of stately white houses, but these faded into the mist as evening fell. The passengers had little to say as they readied their cabins for the voyage and retired for the night.
Chapter 2: Preparations
The mission board had ordinarily urged men seeking a post in the mission field to marry, since the structure of the Christian family and the relatively elevated social status of Christian wives served as models for attracting female converts in pagan cultures. However, the board urged men going to China not to marry since wives would have difficulty adjusting to the isolation and distract the men from their duties. European men in general were tolerated as business employees if they could enrich the Chinese, but only in Canton and only for certain months of the year. They were not actually welcome, even held suspect in their enterprises by the Mandarins, and their women were strictly forbidden on the mainland. Even after considering the obstacles a wife might face in China, Lewis still saw in Henrietta a committed helpmate and a fellow zealot in the mission to convert the Chinese.
A year earlier, Rev. Hall had received an appointment as the general agent of the American Colonization Society for the state of Virginia and moved his family from their farm, Waverly, in Kilmarnock to Richmond where they became members of the First Baptist Church. Lewis had been a student in seminary preparing for service on a foreign mission field. Although he exasperated his faculty at times, he was admired for the strength of his single-minded focus on the study of other missionaries who had gone before him. He had met Henrietta in an evening Bible study, but there were no immediate flutters of desire or secretive glances. He simply realized that over time his attention kept falling on this young girl, only sixteen when they had met, and her determination to serve in foreign missions had impressed him.
Lewis had been encouraged to learn Henrietta had committed herself to mission service at the age of thirteen when Miss Little, a teacher at her young women’s seminary in Fredericksburg, had asked her students to write a response to the question, “Where will I be one hundred years hence?” This question had deeply and profoundly moved her, although other girls interested only in feminine manners and letters had regarded it as simply an amusing diversion. They had all read Hanna More’s Scriptures on the Modern System of Female Education that encouraged young women to enter lives of service, but her friends were more focused on serving in the future as a gracious hostess and wife and mother or possibly a teacher. Henrietta had developed a sense of accountability to God and a conviction of her need for salvation that had led her to genuine, personal repentance and created in her a deep-hearted hunger for more knowledge of the gospel. Consequently, she had delved into religious studies and stories of foreign missionaries, particularly those of Ann and Adoniram Judson, missionaries to Burma. While home in Massachusetts on a medical furlough, Ann Judson had written a widely published book of her experiences, and Henrietta had already decided to answer Ann’s call for women missionaries to work among the oppressed women in Asia when Lewis proposed they marry. He had grown fond of Henrietta, but when he had asked her to marry him and accompany him to China, it was not a love match as much as a match of hopes for a future shaped by determined visions of converting the subjects of the “Emperor of Heaven” into followers of Christ. This determination had assured him that despite her youth and petite frame, she would be an ideal mate to help support him in carrying out his vision to establish a post ultimately on mainland China, although he hadn’t actually expected her to accept him and had even less idea how the emperor would be persuaded to swing open the massive doors he and his predecessors had jealously erected to guard against barbarian influences over the centuries.
In his visits to meetings at the First Baptist Church, Henrietta had become impressed with his deep devotion to service in the ministry, and she had known he was seeking a helpmate equally as committed to accompany him to the mission field, although she never imagined he would consider her. He knew she was an impressionable young girl infatuated with stories other missionaries had brought back from Asia, but he wanted a wife. Absorbed in his own evangelical zeal, he was confident that he could overcome any obstacles that might arise and that Henrietta could as well. Besides, how would Chinese women confined by the oppression of men who bound their lives in centuries of traditions as brutally as they bound their feet come to know their value as children of a loving God without a woman to minister to them? Western men would have no access to Chinese women, but a Western woman might.
During the year he had given her to consider his proposal, he had assured her that she was free to change her mind, although he had held his breath every time they spoke, afraid she was about to announce that she had reconsidered. However, Henrietta became convinced that his destiny was hers and both ordained by God. They shared the idealism of the new missionary off to convert the heathen subjects of the three-hundred-and-sixty-two million-member “Celestial Empire” in China, but they would both find that being about God’s work, even with the support of a devoted spouse as well as that of missionaries and Western traders already established in Macao, they would endure sickness, unbearable heat, typhoons, political unrest, and even death.
When not tethered to the railing, Henrietta and Lewis, along with other missionaries destined for different stations in the Far East, made plans for their new missions and routinely inspected the printing press they had brought along with them, an act of rebellion against the Chinese should they have taken it into the mainland. The Chinese had forbidden the distribution of missionary tracts and publicly strangled many of their own citizens who had professed Christianity to earlier Roman Catholic missionaries, some of whom, themselves, had been barbarically tortured and publicly martyred. Some more fortunate converts had been exiled and others sold to Muslims as slaves in the distant provinces as deterrents from diluting the Chinese culture with Western religion. Chinese rulers could not have their subjects pledging loyalty to anyone but the Celestial Throne. The empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome had passed away, but China had survived and was more ancient and more formidably massive than any other in the world and intensely suspicious of outsiders, especially missionaries.
While on the voyage, Lewis and another missionary, Allanson Reed, worked to learn the notoriously difficult Chinese language that took most Europeans years to learn. However, Lewis did not have years to spend acquiring fluent Chinese before reaching their post. The less daunting Malay language would have to serve in all initial conversations with Chinese officials and locals, thus Henrietta, Lewis, and Allanson prioritized studies in that language. Malay would also serve Henrietta in making arrangements necessary to establish a school for the local children who, it was hoped, would influence their parents to receive religious instruction or, at least, accept the presence of Christian missionaries with less suspicion. Mastering Chinese with its thousands of written characters and multiple dialects would come later with a native speaker, but Louis and Allanson also dabbled in Chinese as well as they could with a basic dictionary while traveling on the ship.
The prevailing thought was that women could not learn the Chinese language because it was too difficult, and they should, therefore, be content to learn Malay. Henrietta and her sisters had laughed at the notions that their brains would atrophy or that their ability to bear children would be impaired if they overtaxed their intellects. Although annoyed at these assumptions, Henrietta had initially acquiesced, but she was nevertheless determined, at some point, to master Chinese since she looked forward to her role in educating the children in their own language, especially the girls of the poor who had few prospects for a future of anything but drudgery in Chinese culture. She also expected a dispensary would follow at some point and that she might be of service there, although earlier Episcopal missionaries who had tried to establish one in Canton had left within a year after becoming wracked with disease and exhaustion. Reverend Shuck was about to lead his new wife, still a teenager, into an environment of oppressive heat, smallpox, cholera, and dysentery that strong, adult men, despite their religious zeal, could not survive.
She had already acquired a classical education in her father’s library at Waverly, the family’s farm in Lancaster, and had continued her studies after they moved to Richmond. Rev. Hall had advocated for liberal, even progressive, views on the education of young girls, and under his eye, she had read extensively and developed arguments on various subjects that he had proposed. He had insisted that Henrietta learn to frame a convincing, classical argument to make her cases on topics that challenged even the former lawyer. She teased her father by comparing their relationship to that of Sir Thomas Moore and his daughter, Meg, except that they were Catholics and Henrietta and her father were firm Baptists whose lives had been forever transformed by a sincere conversion experience. Despite their religious foundations, Meg had provided a sound role model for a strong-minded, astutely trained daughter who could battle wits with, even frustrate, her father using sound logic grounded in Biblical theology. Henrietta’s deepest wish with regard to her studies and her intellect was to excel in order to please her father and win his favor. When Rev. Hall ultimately gave up his law practice and entered the ministry, he saw to it that Henrietta was trained as a quality Bible scholar in her own right. She made her heartfelt profession of faith sitting on the knee of her pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Jeter, who would later write her memoir, and was baptized shortly before her fourteenth birthday. She knew that rather than living a genteel life focused on raising children and painting delicate roses on china teacups as her friends would, she was destined for a life of missions, even after her mother died two years later, leaving her as the older sister responsible for helping her father to raise two younger sisters and three younger brothers.
None of the romantic notions of service to God had blinded Rev. Hall to the dangers and difficulties Henrietta and her new husband would face in China. He was also perfectly aware that his daughter was only seventeen and would not reach her full emotional and spiritual maturity for some years to come, and that he would be available to her only in letters that could take as long as a year to arrive at her new home in China. As a result, he had challenged her ruthlessly for that year during their debates in his study about her true motives and her confidence in Lewis to undertake such a bold mission to live and die among the uncultivated heathen. He also carefully crafted the last of his fatherly advice to her in the brutally honest letter he gave her along with the new Bible the day the ship left Boston for the other side of the world:
The desire of distinction, love of novelty, are such insidious motives that sometimes they assume the name of philanthropy, and it requires great caution and much self-examination to detect them. You have, as I trust, prayerfully and deliberately considered the subject, in all its bearings, and you have in making this decision subjected yourself to many unkind remarks from the illiberal, the ignorant, and the wicked, some of which may have reached your ears, but by far the greater part have been uttered out of your hearing. To say that I have no fears whatever for you would be untrue. 'Tis what, I presume, you would not venture to say for yourself. We should distrust and jealously watch every motive which has so much to do with self. While I would not myself, nor would I have you, indulge a confident boasting of in regard to this matter, at the same time, I am free to express the opinion that so far as we can judge, it is the will of God that you should take this step. If we be mistaken, I trust that he will pardon our blindness, and overrule all for good.
By patient, continued, and faithful labor in the cause of Christ must you win and share the honors of a missionary life. Whilst the result of your toils in this cause may confer some degree of honor upon yourself, let it not be forgotten that this is the least consideration which should animate you. The glory of God, and the good of souls, should move you to the same exertions, were you confident that in this world your motives would be impugned, and your name brought into disrepute. For the sake of the cause, however, in which you are engaged, it should be your care to gain a standing with the world (at least the Christian world) for a high degree of moral and religious worth. Aim at high attainments in personal piety — not such as will cause you to feel like the Pharisee when he said, ‘God, I thank thee,' etc., but rather such as will humble you and bring you to the foot of the cross, and cause you to adopt the prayer of the publican, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Monday, Sept. 21, 1835.
There is one thought that I would here impress deeply upon your mind, and that is, that you have enlisted for life; and that unless extraordinary occurrences of Providence shall otherwise indicate, you are never to return to America — NEVER, unless the Board here shall advise and require it, I part with you with all the feelings of nature, and shall, when let down to the feeling point, (for I am now above it,) weep on account of our separation; but I assure you that I do not regret that you are going. Assure me that all is right in motive with us all, and that God requires it, and I rejoice in the prospect of your living and dying on heathen ground. I should look upon it as a lasting stigma were you to become tired of your vocation, and quit the service in which you have engaged.
You will have much time during the voyage and afterwards, it is probable, for devotion, reading and reflection. Endeavor to improve it. Lay in a good stock of useful knowledge, and do not consider your education as yet complete. Take care of minutes, and have system in all your affairs. Remember those you leave behind; — your brothers, sisters, friends. Pray for them, and write to them. I find I have not opportunity to write more. We part in a short time, to meet no more on earth! But we shall meet again — SHORTLY — in Heaven! Till then, Farewell!
A few private thoughts for Henrietta.
Never oppose the will of your husband. You may reason with and persuade him, but do not attempt to dictate to him. “I will” and “I won't” are words which should not be found in a wife's vocabulary. Never use them to your husband, or you may force him to adopt such as he may lawfully do, but such as he should never have occasion for — “You shall” and “You shall NOT.”
Improve your handwriting — it needs it. Do not be impatient when you are sick — you are rather predisposed that way. Take great care of your health: avoid the sun when it is hot, and the dews, and all improper food, and don't take medicine too freely, and without great caution. Avoid careless habits in every respect. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
Boston, Sept. 21, 1835.
Reading this letter in her cramped cabin on board the Louvre, Henrietta relished the voice of her father on the pages even as she bristled at the directness of his admonitions and advice, especially since, now that she was on the ship, she had no opportunity to volley her own counterargument at his assertions. She never enjoyed giving him the final word on anything. The irony of needing her father’s approval of her choices, while insisting she be allowed to follow her own path in life, did not escape her. She had willingly submitted herself to walking through life in the roles and responsibilities of both a missionary and a wife. She had also submitted herself as a dutiful supplicant to God, to the mission board that now controlled her destiny, and to Lewis, and would try her best to conduct herself according to the demands of each institution to which she found herself tethered as to the leather strap on the railing of the Louvre.