The letters of the two Wylie families who lived here at the house are a treasure-trove of fascinating information and stories. One such particular story is that of Margaret Wylie Martin and her husband, Samuel, who traveled to China as missionaries in the 1850s. Born in 1826, Margaret, or Maggie as she was affectionately known, was the daughter of Andrew and Margaret Ritchie Wylie. Maggie married Samuel Martin in 1849, and in 1850 they traveled to Ningpo, China, as missionaries. Samuel’s brother, William, and his wife also traveled to China as missionaries at the same time.
In a letter dated 1850 to one of his sons, Andrew Wylie expressed his doubts about his daughter and son-in-law’s decision. He writes, “Generally speaking: for there are cases where a man may and ought to sacrifice his happiness in this world for the cause of Truth & Right in other words for the benefit of the Race. This however requires the spirit of the martyr. The two Martins [Samuel and William] have compelled me to think of this matter. Had they and their intendeds the true spirit of martyrdom I dare not say a word against their project of going to China as missionaries. But this I doubt and yet I do not like to interpose my veto, & know not whether it would avail if I should. Were I unmarried & thought it my duty to go a missionary to a heathen land I am sure I should never think of taking a wife with me as our missionaries do.”
On May 23, 1850, Maggie wrote her parents from Shanghai to tell them that on April 29th during the voyage from Hong Kong to Shanghai, she had prematurely given birth to her first child. They named their son William Boone after Bishop Boone, a missionary whose kindness the Martins had much appreciated upon their arrival. Three other children were born to Maggie and Samuel during their time in China – daughters Susan, Elizabeth, and Emma.
During their time as missionaries, the Martins corresponded with their family and friends as much as the distance in geography allowed. In one letter, Maggie’s sister, Elizabeth, writes to their brother, John, that there had been no news from China for four months. The letters give details of the Martin’s lives in China and of their work. Maggie also writes of the local people and in one letter describes Chinese farming and harvest habits to her father. A great deal of the letters’ content is the discussion of the news concerning the health and activities of family and friends back home.
In a letter dated November 1850, Maggie writes to her parents that, “We have richly experienced the fulfillment of that blessed promise “Go I am with you” truly has God been with us in delivering us from dangers seen and unseen I wish I could tell you all He has done for me, but it would require too much time and space…. When I first came to China I was much struck with the oriental appearance of things, the temples, high walled cities & houses the lodges in the fields & now, things have become familiar.”
A niece of Maggie’s wrote in 1918 that, “While in China Aunt Martin sent a large box of Chinese curios to her sisters. We had a number of them & the Chinese articles that, as a girl, I saw in the McCalla home, undoubtedly came from her— ”
The Martins remained in China until 1858 when they returned home due to Samuel’s health. They then became missionaries to Native Americans, working mostly in the Midwest and Texas. Several years later, Samuel wished to return to China. Although Maggie’s letters home from China had described her belief in the good work that they were doing sharing their Christian message, a life of low pay, poor living conditions, and very few material comforts had apparently taken its toll.
When Samuel again applied to be a missionary to China in 1872, Maggie took matters into her own hands and wrote to the Mission Board stating her position. “Without consulting me in the least my husband has written to you in regard to returning to China. I must confess I do not look at things in the light he does. As to our children, 5 out of the 7 are still living but they are mostly very delicate…. After a prayerful consideration of the whole subject I leave it to the wise council & consideration of the board of which you are an esteemed member.”
Not surprisingly, the Martins did not return to China. Maggie died in 1898 of a paralytic stroke, while Samuel died in 1904. Additional information about the Martin family is available in the Indiana University Archives.
-Allison Haack, Graduate Student Volunteer