Author: Lucy Woodcock

Recipient: Henry Woodcock

Date: 3 October 1858

Location: Henry Edwin Woodcock Papers, Record Group 30/81, Series 1. Correspondence, Oberlin College Archives

Document Type: Autograph Letter Fragment



This is the earliest of Lucy Woodcock’s letters to Henry in the Oberlin College Archives. Like all her letters, it shows an exceptional willingness to confide in her brother. Not only did she discuss her own feelings; she was more than willing to discuss her opinions (and certainly her complaints) particularly in the second and fourth paragraphs.


3-1Eliot Mission Station

Jamaica WI

Oct 3rd /58

Dear Brother Harry

Yours of July 2nd came to hand Sept 14 by the Sea Lark.1 it came in company with other letters, and some from Bro & Sister Thompson.2 These were our first letters from them. They had been gone just five months. We began to be some what anxious about them.

Mr & Mrs. Beattie have arrived the long expected teacher for Richmond.3 Mrs Beattie formaly [sic] Angelica Strong. They are both sick and not at all what we want for R__ [sic].  He seems tobe [to be] going into consumption, he cannot speak loud.4 Mrs B__ [sic] is no more or less than bundle of nerves, and as excitable as can be..[sic]5 Persons coming to Jamaica needs strong and steady nerves. It is not every one that is adapted to a Missionary field. I am getting tired out. My labors are too much for me this summer, and I am rather sinking under them

3-2I am strongly thinking of taking a vacation from Christmas to April. I think I must have it, when I consult my own feelings. But when I think of the children and know where and what will become of them I say no, but will try to go on. I suppose you had a visit from Mr & Mrs Thompson. He wrote me that he spent a sabbath with you. I shall be glad when they return to take off many of my cares.

He has left all his things in my care except his horses.6 One of his horses died three weeks ago. Mr Beattie rode it up here from Richmond as he came up to spend the sabbath, and one of the cows hooked it. It did not live but two days. It was not a very valuable one. We need more help very much, and we want the right kind those that are willing to pull with us, it is hard working with offsided [sic] ones. We want those that can pull up hill and also those that can hold back in going down. The people of Jamaica are not the most hapless ones. There are many things that are very encouraging. I hope you enjoyed your visit with bro & sister Thompson.

I think bro Thompson [sic] heart is in the work. I am looking for the time when they will return to their island home and field of labor. refreshed strengthened and a reinforce ment [sic] to our number. I am getting tired and want a few months rest. My [extra?] cases this year are too much for me, although I get along as well as could be expected. [blue X in margin] The backwardness of many of the churchmembers try me exceedingly, they are so loath to keep up the Prayer meetings of the church. I have to carry them almost. The meeting of the church is kept up monthly by a few of the young members of the church.

Often Myself and family7 con stitutes [sic] one half of the number that attends the weekly Prayer meeting which is Wed eve. [blue X in margin] If I had not the rich promises of Christ to lean upon I should soon give up. Christ says Lo I am with you always.8

These words are comforting to me as I am toiling on here alone endeavoring to sow the good seed of the word of God.

I do see that some have fallen when good ground and all bearing fruit. others are enquiring [sic] the way [end of letter, second page appears to be missing]

Transcribed by Rebecca Debus.

3 Sarah Penfield
Title: Photograph of Sarah Ingraham Penfield, an Oberlin Missionary in Jamaica Source: Charles G. Gosselink, Letters from Jamaica 1858-1866 : Thornton Bigelow Penfield, Sarah Ingraham Penfield.
3 Thornton Penfield
Title: Photograph of Thorton Bigelow Penfield, an Oberlin Missionary in Jamaica. Source: Charles G. Gosselink, Letters from Jamaica 1858-1866 : Thornton Bigelow Penfield, Sarah Ingraham Penfield.

1Likely the name of one of the steamships that regularly went between Jamaica and New York, where Henry was living at the time (the letter was addressed to West Greece, Monroe County, New York).

2These are probably Reverend Loren Thompson and his wife Nancy, some of Lucy’s fellow missionaries in Jamaica. Loren was the minister at Eliot Station for part of the time Lucy lived there, though he died a few years after this letter was written (Gale L. Kenny, Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834-1866. Race in Atlantic World 1700-1900. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010, 108, 136).

3The American Missionary Association’s Jamaica Mission had seven stations and three out stations at the time of this letter. During her time on the island Lucy taught at three of them, Eliot, Sea View, and Richmond. There also appears to have been an industrial school at Richmond that the missionaries were associated with, which may have been where Mr. Beattie was supposed to be teaching (The American Christian Record: Containing the History, Confession of Faith, and Statistics of each Religious Denomination in the United States and Europe, a List of all Clergymen with their Post Office Address, etc., etc., etc. New York: W.R.C. Clark & Meeker, 1860, 307).

4Though the handwriting is unclear at this point, Lucy is likely saying that Mr. Beattie is ill with consumption (tuberculosis) and is currently unable to talk due to his illness. Her statements are corroborated by the letters of Sarah Ingraham Penfield another Oberlin missionary in Jamaica. In a letter to her mother in February of 1859, Sarah mentions that Mr. Beattie is very ill and unlikely to live much longer. In the same letter she compares his likelihood of dying with that of her sister Mary’s, who had consumption. Based on Sarah’s later letters, Mr. Beattie died on a Sunday sometime between 4 March and 11 April 1859. Shortly after, his wife left the mission and returned to America (Charles G. Gosselink, Sarah Corban Ingraham Penfield, and Thornton Bigelow Penfield, Letters from Jamaica:1858-1866: Thornton Bigelow Penfield, Sarah Ingraham Penfield. Silver Bay, N.Y.: Boat House Books, 2005, 32-67).

5Sarah Penfield seems to have shared Lucy’s rather uncomplimentary opinion of Mrs. Beattie, stating that “she is a little inclined to let her talk run on herself and her own troubles” (Sarah Penfield to her Mother, 15 December 1859). A later letter, reveals that Mrs. Beattie also forgot that she was supposed to pass on the news to Sarah’s mother that Sarah was pregnant. Sarah’s letters state that Mrs. Beattie was quite pleased to leave the mission and had not enjoyed her stay there, so the ill feelings appear mutual (Gosselink, Letters from Jamaica, 32-67).

6In other letters, Lucy mentions that this was something of a financial burden to her, since she was not paid for her care (Oberlin College Archives, The Henry Edwin Woodcock Papers. Series 1. Correspondence. 1987/67. 1989/141. RG 30/81.).

7When Lucy says family here she is discussing a group of Jamaican children whom she essentially adopted and taught until they were both old enough and educated enough to find employment. This sort of adopted family seems to have been a regular practice among the Oberlin missionaries, as Sarah and Thorton Penfield mention both their own adopted children and those of several other missionaries in their letters (The Congregational Quarterly, Vol. 19 1877, 434; Gosselink, Letters from Jamaica 26; Oberlin College Archives, The Henry Edwin Woodcock Papers, Series 4. Files Relating to the Woodcock Family, Microfilm).

8Matthew 28:20