This letter was written by American missionary to China, Ira Carter Tracy (1806-1875) — the son of Joseph Tracy (1763-1829) and Ruth Carter (1772-1845). The following biography is from the History of Vermont by William H. Tucker (1889):
Ira Carter Tracy, when fourteen years of age, made a public profession of his faith in Christ, and at about the same time the reading of a tract entitled “The claims of six hundred millions”, kindled that missionary zeal which was the inspiration of his whole life. After graduating at Dartmouth College in 1829, where he stood first in his class, and having completed his theological studies at Andover in 1832, he was ordained as a missionary in Hartford, Sept. 28, 1832. On Sabbath eve, June 9, 1833, in the Murray street church edifice, New York city, he and Mr. S. Wells Williams, received their instructions as missionaries to China. They sailed from New York, June 15, 1833, and arrived in Canton, October 26.
Mr. Tracy was the second missionary of the American Board in China. Singapore was considered an important point from which to reach many people and to circulate christian literature. Mr. Tracy arrived there July 24, 1834, and very soon made his home in a Chinese family, the more quickly to learn the language, and the more thoroughly to study the people. It indicates the zeal with which he set about his work, that in less than ten months he was able to preach in Chinese. He baptized the first Chinese convert of the American mission.
Miss Adeline White, born in West Brookfield, Mass., Sept. 25, 1809, left Boston July 2d, 1834; reached Singapore in January, and was married to Mr. Tracy, January 15, 1835. Overwork and exposure to the intense heat prostrated Mr. Tracy in ’39, and in November of that year he went to Southern India; but he was obliged to leave India for the United States, to which he returned August 8, 1841. After four years of patient waiting, doing the little his health would permit, seeing no hope of resuming his work abroad, he was released from his connection with the American Board, and commenced work as a home missionary in Ohio, preaching in Franklin, and Streetsborough, from 1846 to 1851. In 1851, he went to the town of Patch Grove, WI though his field covered what is now Bloomington, also. As pastor of the Congregational church, he was untiring in his efforts for the spiritual welfare of the community, preaching in the school houses, visiting the families and distributing religious books. He also secured the erection of a church edifice. His wife having died before he went to Wisconsin, he married in October, 1852, Mrs. Elizabeth Charlton Gleason, of East Windsor, CT.
In the spring of 1856, after a precious revival of religion, and large additions to the church, he went to Spring Valley, MN and organized the first Congregational church in Fillmore county. Here he did his last work as pastor. In the spring of 1861, after another marked revival, his health failed, and he was compelled to relinquish the active duties of the ministry. He returned to his old home in Bloomington, where he spent fourteen years on a small farm, but preached occasionally as his strength permitted, and was always a devoted friend and helper of the church with which he was identified. Doing good was his ruling passion, and his usefulness as a man and christian ended only with his life.
Missionary Ira Tracy wrote the letter to Rev. Lewis Pennell (1803-1883) of Brunswick, Maine. Pennell graduated from Bowdoin College in 1830 and was ordained in 1833. He labored as a missionary among the churches in Maine until 1836 when he went to the South and to the West doing missionary work. He served as pastor of a church in Northbridge, Massachusetts from 1839 to 1843 and in Weston, Connecticut from 1844 to 1849. He subsequently served in New Fairfield, Connecticut; West Stockbridge, Massachusetts; and then Southport, Connecticut.
In the letter, Tracy itemizes various curiosities he has collected in Singapore that he intends to send in a box to Rev. Pennell, presumably for the purpose of using in his efforts to raise money among Americans for furthering the spread of Christianity among the Chinese.
Addressed to Rev. Lewis Pennell, Brunswick, Maine
October 12, 1836
I have been sick lately & consequently very busy when I became able to attend to my affairs. I have a good opportunity now to send a box to you & therefore do it, tho’ it cannot be so well filled as I could wish & could make it if I had time. As to the Chinese notions of sacrifice, I think very few in China & none of the low class that come here have any notion of their being vicarious. They suppose most of the Gods to have been men, or women, & that their spirits feed on the sacrifices. This is the only view of them that I find here. Probably some of the more learned priests have higher ideas on the subject & I presume as few regard them as vicarious, but this is only my presumption.
I inclose a paper to show what books the box of articles for you cottons. If they have been put up as I directed. You will find a quantity of coral at the bottom & some small pieces at the top, which last were put in to fill up only, & you may give them to whom you please as momento’s of me or otherwise; also some shells. Then you will find articles in wrappers with nos. on the cover & a piece of paper inside with nos. also.
No. 3 — Sand stone &c. from the Singapore Institution ground.
No. 4 — ditto used for building &c. here.
No. 5 — Flint from China
No. 6 — Alum from China apparently crystalized by a natural process.
No. 7 — Antimony from Bomes where are mountains of it.
No. 8 — White stone used as medicine or mingled with bean flour & eaten by the Chinese, from China.
No. 9 — Pebble stones &c. from Singapore beach. There are also a few other stones of kinds common here.
No. 10 — Chinese razor. I have seen no other kind.
No. 11 — Chinese Almanac.
No. 12 — Chinese copy books for boys.
No. 13 — Chinese Arithmetic.
No. 14 — Chinese work on morals, 3 vols.
No. 15 — ditto
No. 16 — Chinese classics for advanced scholars & full of philosophical absurdities & fancies. 4 Vols.
No. 17 — Ditto, classics for young boys, 5 vols., both by Confucius & Mencins.
No. 18 — Chinese fiddle. It wants a bit of wood on the snake skin under the strings. This is a common use. The Chinese have no printed music, no sol___ation, & a strange taste for music, if any. They seem to tone harshness & the greater the clatter & jingle the better. I could not easily obtain other instruments of which they have few.
No. 19 — Back fin of a curious fish.
No. 20 — Chinese money, about 10 for a cent. The only coin in China.
No. 21 — Paper, gilt & silvered, which they burn for the dead supposing it to become as much real metal as there is paper, probably, but I am not sure of the value. Paper burned spirits & genii to procure long life. The gilt letter on it meaning “;ong life.”
No. 22 — ditto; for what specific purpose I cannot tell.
No. 23 — ditto, with intended pictures of clothes, furniture, &c. into which it is supposed to be transforming for the use of the deceased relatives for whom it is buried.
No. 24 — Two images of Buda, or Fo, who is more worshipped by the Chinese than any other God.
No. 25 — A Budist priest in proper dress.
No. 26 — Picture of Buda.
No. 27 — Incense rods burned morning & evening & when they worship at the doors of their houses & in the temples, at graves, & wherever they would please “the spirits.”
No. 28 — Kwan tey ya, the Norther Emperor, who is much worshipped & this kind of picture is seen in most Chinese houses being used by those who cannot or will not buy an image.
No. 29 — ditto
No. 30 — Buda with Twa pen kong, who is worshipped very much indeed & a doctor.
No. 31 — Christian books made here.
No. 32 — Sermon on the Mount by Mr. Dyer with his new made metal types.
No. 33 — A bottle containing nutmegs, 2 plantains or bananas, tea having one seed & several buds, & perhaps a blossom or two, withered, and coffee, green, or springs. You will probably know them all by their appearance.
I have paid between 5 & 6 dollars for the box of articles beside the books. You would probably pay the Board 7 or 8 as my hired man has spent some time. Use them well for the heathen & may you be blessed. — Mr. I. Tracy