Presbyterians of the Past

John Rogers Peale, 1879-1905

john-r-peale-thumbnailJohn Rogers was born to Samuel Alexander and Elizabeth (Mclntire) Peale on September 17, 1879, in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, which is located northwest of Harrisburg. He studied to prepare for college in a local academy and professed his faith in Christ in the Presbyterian Church at the age of twelve. For his college education he moved east from New Bloomfield just over a hundred miles to Lafayette College in Easton. At the time Lafayette’s president was Ethelbert D. Warfield who was the brother of Professor B. B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary. John was president of the YMCA, a member of the Dramatic Association, and a brother of Delta Upsilon fraternity. He also edited the college annual and won the Coleman Biblical Prize in his freshman year.  He graduated Lafayette with honors in 1902.

That fall John moved to New Jersey to study for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. Among his extracurricular activities on campus were leading the student band and participating in just about anything related to missions. During his years in divinity school John had displayed a map of the world on the wall of his dormitory room exemplifying his interest in foreign missions. His seminary friends commented that they would often visit his room and find him with his Bible open and in prayer. He was a quiet and reserved person that was greatly admired by other students as well as the faculty. John often scheduled opportunities for his fellow students to preach in area churches on the subject of missions. He completed his Princeton Seminary studies in May 1905 and the previous year he had earned a Master of Arts from Princeton University.

rebecca-gillespie-peale-died-1905Before John could leave for the mission field he had a few things to do. As a Presbyterian minister it was necessary for him to be licensed and ordained by his presbytery. On April 11, 1905,  just before he graduated seminary, the Presbytery of Carlisle of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) licensed him and then on May 15 he was ordained an evangelist to serve on the foreign field. However before moving overseas, John Peale and Rebecca Gillespie were married June 29, 1905, in Maryland. The newlyweds had to quickly adjust to life together because in August they sailed for China from the port of San Francisco. Before leaving the United States for Lienchou, Kwangtung Province, Rev. Peale expressed his hope that he and Rebecca would be allowed to serve the Lord among the Chinese people for forty years.

At the time China was in transition from the ways of the past into the ways of the modern world. The nation had been defeated in the Sino-Japanese war, 1894-1895, at least partially due to the superiority of Japanese weaponry and their better acquisition of modernization in general. Part of the Chinese move to update their nation involved bringing foreign advisers and businesses from the West into the country. Parallel to the modernization efforts was the considerable work of already established missionary organizations, including the Presbyterians, to take the gospel to the Chinese people. As often happens when other ethnic groups enter a country for business or advisory china-c-1906-with-korea-and-indochina-12-13-2016reasons their presence and practices are not well received by all the citizens. Growing resentment towards foreigners among some of the nationals led to the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century. It is believed that most of the roughly 200 to 250 foreign individuals murdered by the Boxers were missionaries, but the greatest death count by far included thousands of Chinese Christians. In Paotingfu in the summer of 1900 a total of sixteen missionaries including family members were murdered, eight of the dead were from the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, PCUSA. It was the worst massacre of PCUSA missionaries since killings in India in 1857. The other eight that died in Paotingfu worked with either the American Board of Foreign Missions or Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission. The Presbyterians that died included Rev. and Mrs. Frank E. Simcox and their three children, Dr. George Yardley Taylor, and Elsie and Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Hodge, MD, who was the grandson of Princeton Seminary Professor Charles Hodge’s brother, Hugh Lenox Hodge.

In the few intervening years between the Boxer Rebellion and the arrival of the Peales in China, the nation had stabilized somewhat following the defeat of the Boxers in Peking by a coalition of nations, but tension was increasing particularly in the larger cities near the coast because of a move to boycott American goods as a protest against the treatment of Chinese in the United States.

john-r-peale-with-boater-dock-in-san-francisco-1905The journey to China for the Peales began when they sailed from San Francisco in August. They likely arrived in Hong Kong by September 28 because John sent a letter bearing that date to his friend, A. Lee Wilson, who was a student in Princeton Seminary. Peale mentioned to Wilson that the boycott movement against American goods in China was taking hold in the area because he commented that heretofore, “the Americans always enjoyed special favor, and to fly the American flag meant protection; but it is different now,” then he continued saying that no “personal violence has been attempted, but the people are less cordial and more suspicious.” From Hong Kong, John and Rebecca traveled to Canton and continued the journey for about 150 miles up the Pekiang River to the Lienchou River from which they accessed the town of Lienchou. The journey must have been a difficult one because it is said to have required about three weeks. The missionary station there was sizable including hospitals, separate schools for boys and girls, a recently completed 700 seat church, and missionary family residences. The Peales joined the Presbyterian missionaries on the compound where there were also several Christian and non-Christian Chinese working in a variety of capacities.

After all the preparation and a considerable journey to the mission field, John and Rebecca Peale were both murdered by a mob on October 28, 1905, after having been in Lienchou for four days. However, along with several Chinese victims were other missionary casualties including Charles Edward Machle, MD, who recovered from his injuries but his wife, Ella, and their ten-year old daughter, Amy, were killed; also murdered was Eleanor Chestnut, MD, but a single woman named Patterson survived. Dr. Machle and Miss Patterson had managed to escape to the office of a local official from a cave where the group had sought refuge, but those that could not escape the cave were captured by the mob. The bodies were later recovered by Chinese officials and buried by some undoubtedly greatly saddened Chinese Christians.

lien-chow-mission-building-china-john-peale-biography-12-12-2016The riot started when Dr. Machle requested a Chinese festival celebration outside the mission hospital and partially on compound land to move to a different location because its proximity to the hospital was disturbing the patients. It seems that also, possibly, there was a confrontation over some ceremonial miniature cannons being fired and it may be that they were seized by one or more missionaries. The cannons were ornate and particularly important to the Chinese for religious or cultural reasons. One thing led to another resulting in some of the Chinese residents becoming angry as instigators escalated the event into a riotous frenzy. Violence ensued resulting in the destruction of a considerable portion of the mission compound. The hospitals, missionary residences, schools, and the new church were all damaged, destroyed, or burned. The Chinese government responded by sending two gunboats and sixty soldiers along with missionaries and a doctor to the troubled city. Dr. Machle and Miss Patterson were able to be transported by armed guard to Canton for safety. The Chinese government responded to the massacre further with an imperial edict directing government officials to protect missionaries and their property and to pursue, capture, and punish the guilty individuals. Early reports that the riot was incited by Lienchou residents supporting the boycott of American goods were believed to be inaccurate, but certainly a few locals in the crowd in sympathy with the boycott could have seen the opportunity for violence in the disagreement with the missionaries. 

Thus, hopeful, dedicated, and spiritually zealous Rev. John R. Peale completed seminary, was licensed and ordained, married Rebecca, and with his bride they embarked on a lengthy journey to China only to be murdered in the streets of Lienchou by some of the residents they hoped to help. All of this took place within a period of just six months. The Peales four days in Lienchou fell far short of the forty-year ministry that John had anticipated so greatly. Murder is always a dreadful crime, after all, it is the killing of God’s image bearers and thus an attack on God himself. Details of the murders have not been provided in this article because the author found them especially disturbing and inappropriate for inclusion. This was a difficult and saddening article for the author to compose. On November 4, 1905 a memorial service for the Peales was held at Princeton Seminary and his death has been remembered in a memorial plaque on campus. 

Barry Waugh

Links to Other Articles about Missions

Augustus W. Loomis, 1816–1891, was a missionary to the Chinese.

Shushan Wright was a Christian murdered in Persia in 1890.

Joshua Bohannon, 1864-1893, was a missionary to the Choctaws. 

John H. Morrison, 1806-1881, was a missionary to India. 

Notes— The 16 missionaries and their family members who were murdered at Paotingfu included eight from the Presbyterian Board—Rev. Frank E. and May Gilson Simcox with their children, Paul, Francis, and Margaret; as mentioned, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Hodge, MD, and his wife Elsie Sinclair Hodge, and George Yardley Taylor, MD. The American Board for Foreign Missions and the China Inland Mission each had four victims. The Presbyterian Church in the United States, predominately in the South of the United States, reported to its 1901 assembly meeting regarding its missions in China that neither missionaries nor property were affected by the Boxer Rebellion. The spelling “Lienchou” for the Chinese town was chosen because it seemed the one most often used, but other spellings include Lienchow, Lien-chou, Lien chow, Lienchau, etc.

Sources—Information about Paotingfu is from The Tragedy at Paotingfu, by Isaac C. Ketler, 1902. The excerpt from Peale’s letter to Wilson at Princeton was located in the New York newspaper The Sun, Nov. 5, 1905. Other information was taken from PCUSA General Assembly Minutes and an assortment of period newspapers. In the day, the murder of Christian missionaries often made the headlines of the secular press and they were followed up for several weeks. A nice China map available online is the Edward Stanford Ltd. Map of China published for the China Inland Mission, London, 1898, as found on the website  of the University of North Texas Libraries, University of Texas at Arlington, The Portal to Texas History. I found the Encyclopedia Britannica Online article on the Boxers helpful, and the history of China in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, 1910, on Internet Archive is very good. The photographs of John and Rebecca Peale and some letters and articles regarding the Peales were graciously provided by Ken Henke, Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary. The hat John is wearing is made of straw and is called a “boater.”  The photograph of the mission building in Lienchou was found in a newspaper of the day. The map image is from Rand McNally Pocket Atlas of the World, 1906, which was located in digital form on Internet Archive.

Join the Mailing List

Be the first to know about the latest posts on Presbyterians of the Past.

Contact the Author

Subscribe to RSS