Affectionately, Rachel: Letters from India, 1860-84

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Rachel Kerr Johnson's lifetime collection of letters offers the perspective of a 19th-century woman, wife, mother and American abroad. Besides showcasing her talent for storytelling, they portray both the ordinary and extraordinary observations of a woman who spent more than 20 years travelling in India with her missionary husband and their children.In 1856, Rachel attended the Female Seminary in Steubenville, Ohio, where she began her correspondence with family members in Hookstown, Pennsylvania. She married Will Johnson in 1860 and after a much-noted 120 day sea voyage, established herself as a homemaker in various Presbyterian missions throughout the Northwestern Provinces of India until 1884. Her personal letters reveal the closeness she felt to her family despite the distance, and speak of the hardships of disease and the difficulties of raising children in a foreign culture. They provide colourful descriptions of the landscape, keen insights about India and day-to-day details of mission life. Her letters are additionally illuminating for their perspective on the Civil War in America and the social relationship between American missionaries and British officials. News of the war reached India months late, anguishing the distanced Americans, and expressed the anti-Union sentiments of the British press. This alienated Rachel and other Union sympathisers, demonstrating the reserve between British and American communities in India at the time. Rachel's final letters recount her time in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Will served as president of Biddle University. An epilogue gives a brief description of the activities of Will and their children after Rachel's accidental death in 1881. ""Affectionately, Rachel"" has been edited for a contemporary audience. Its focus is on Rachel's observations, descriptions, feelings and relationships rather than a scholarly reproduction of her literary style. Contemporary punctuation and paragraph markings have been inserted to produce a smoother narrative flow. The book includes 19th-century photographs of Indian servants, monuments, landscapes and marketplaces, among others depicting fellow missionaries and family members in Hookstown. Readers with a special interest in mission literature and letters should find this collection fascinating, as will 19th-century American, British Empire and Indian historians.

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Kent State University Press
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