Though the missionaries all elected to go abroad and minister to the Chinese, that did not exempt them from struggles that they would not have been exposed to had they chosen a vocation back home in America. These struggles ranged from homesickness to political strife and are detailed here with examples.


Letter from Varnum to Daughter, October 3, 1883

First, of course, is the difficulty the Noyes' found in corresponding with their family. In a letter from 1883, Varnum notes that a letter sent to him from China on September 1st reached Seville on September 29th, "I think this is the 1st instance in which letters from China were mailed and received the same month."

While the struggle of regular correspondence may seem difficult in our days of minute-by-minute updates, it was even more painful when special correspondences were recieved late. Francis Noyes' passing in December 1875 reached Harriet and Henry as they were on a boat home in March 1876. Harriet writes of this difficulty, that she "cannot realize that during all these weeks since we have left Canton while we have so often spoken and thought of him he has been at home in heaven." Further, she adds that:

Letter from Hattie to Em, March 23, 1876

"I have
dreamed almost every night
of reaching home and nearly
always of meeting Frank -
We would have felt it a great
privilege to have seen him again
on Earth and the tears fall fast
as I think that it can never
never be, Through so many
years I have looked forward to
the home coming in the hope

that we might once more be all
together again - but there will be
two vacant places one for the
dear brother in heaven and
one for the absent sister -
and not until we gather at
the river can we hope to be
all together an unbroken
circle ."

Letter from Henry to his Father, July 1, 1871

In 1871, the promise of telegraph lines in China carried the hope that family in Ohio would receive the news of any commotion in a prompt fashion. However, that clearly did not carry to regular correspondence, as we have seen from Varnum's letter of 1883.

Political Tension

"Extract from a pamphlet now being sold in the streets of Canton"

"Extract from a pamphlet now being sold in the streets of Canton"

The "pamphlet now being sold in the streets of Canton" above caused quite a disturbance. While the pamphlet itself is explicit in its sentiments against missionaries, the effects of the pamphlet, according to the Noyes' correspondences, were most harshly felt by native Christians. This does not mean that Henry and Harriet were not also persecuted during this time. This pamphlet likely came from 1884, when a surge in anti-foreign sentiment was felt in Guangzhou due to the shooting of local men and the subsequent proclamation by the Viceroy advertising a reward for the capture of French soldiers. This very quickly became confused and native Chinese sought to capture any foreign person for a chance of redeeming the reward. The Boxer Rebellion from 1899 to 1901 that saw the culmination of anger from the Chinese in regards to foreign occupation is not detailed in the letters. However, this could have been due to a lack of letters from this time either because of issues with the postal service, donation of the collection, or preservation prior to its acquisition. 

A gallery of fearful correspondences related to the response of the Chinese to foreign missionaries is below.

Natural Disasters

Along with political strife, American missionaries would not have been exposed to at home, they were exposed to natural disasters not common in the Midwest. In the letter to her brother Edward, Harriet Noyes relays to her sibling her experience in a typhoon, which she admits "I have always felt that I wanted the experience of going through a typhoon but they are such fearful things it did not seem hardly right to feel so but now as this one was to be I am so glad that I was in Macao at the time." In another letter to her sister Sarah, Harriet remarks about the incredible destruction that was wrought in the wake of the typhoon. Even Henry, still in Guangzhou, wrote to Harriet in the wake of the typhoon, remarking that he hopes "any curiosity that any of you may have had to witness a typhoon is fully satisfied."

You can read more through the tags "typhoons," "floods," and "natural disasters."


Letter from Harriet to Mary, August 8, 1915

As an unusually close family, the homesickness which the Noyes' felt was very acute. Even the periodic furloughs granted to missionaries over their years of service were not enough to keep them from missing home. In a letter to her family after one such furlough, Harriet writes that as soon as she got back to China, she began to feel homesick for her family again.

Read more about the family's homesickness in the tag "homesickness."