Fagg, Margaret Watson Gillespie (1863-1955)
Diaries of Mrs. Margaret Watson Gillespie Fagg, wife of Rev. John Gerardus Fagg, of the Amoy Mission of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church to China, dated 1917-1949

The diaries of Mrs. John Gerardus Fagg include the following years: 1917-1919, 1926-1927, 1930, 1933-34, 1936-1937, 1946-1949, comprising 2, 174 manuscript pages as follows: 1917: 92 manuscript pages, three days per page, measures 2 ¼’ x 4 ‘’ 1918: 96 manuscript pages, (Jan. 1 to Mar. 25 excised), three days per page, measures 2 ¼’ x 4 ‘’ 1919: 110 manuscript pages, three days per page, measures 3 ¼” x 5 ½” 1926: 113 manuscript pages, three days per page, measures 2 ¼” x 3 ¼” 1927: 98 manuscript pages, three days per page, measures 2 ¼” x 3 ¼” 1930: 187 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1933: 184 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1934: 185 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1936: 195 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1937: 192 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1946: 183 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1947: 185 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1948: 183 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” 1949: 171 manuscript pages, two days per page, measures 3” x 5” There is also a memorandum book, containing 64 pages listing the names of Chinese students known to Mrs. Fagg, includes brief information, such as name, address, where she met them, what they were currently doing, such as studying, working, returning to China, or enroute to America, etc. The collection also includes 27 photographs, (3½ x 4 ½ inches, some smaller, all black and white, and 12 negatives), as well as several pieces of paper ephemera, 3 letters, (three pages) concerning Chinese students addressed to Mrs. Fagg; a Report of Committee on Foreign Students in the United States (2 typed pages); several scraps of paper with manuscript notes; all dated 1917-1952.

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 Biography of the Fagg Family:

The Rev. John Gerardus Fagg was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 21 February 1860. He was the son of Peter and Mary Fagg. In the 1880 Census, Fagg is enumerated at Holland, Wisconsin, as a student boarder. He graduated from Hope College in 1881 and from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1885. After a ministry of two years at Lawyersville and Cobleskill he was appointed, in 1887, by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America, as a missionary to Amoy, China.

The Reformed Church in America established the Amoy Mission on February 24, 1842 when Rev. David Abeel arrived in Amoy, a harbor city on the southeast coast of China. The subtropical climate of the hilly Amoy are jeopardized the missionaries health, which increased the turnover rate of the Reformed Church missionaries in the field. For example, Reverend Abeel died on September 4, 1846 due to poor health. Nevertheless, the vision and Mission lasted for one hundred and nine years. During its tenure, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America, which was established in 1832, sent more than one hundred and fifty Reformed Church missionaries to Amoy. Even though Reformed missionary staff was small, the missionaries based their ministry in three main areas: educational institutions, medical ministry, and evangelistic work as they worked to establish churches, Christian schools, theological seminaries, and hospitals in Amoy. The decision making process of these ministries, the financial, personnel, and health problems of these missionaries were described in great detail in regular correspondences with secretaries of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America, located in New York City. The Amoy mission was forced to close its doors in 1951 as the Communists gained control of China.

The Rev. John G. Fagg was part of the Amoy Mission of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church to China. He and his colleagues trained Chinese Christians to be pastors and preachers. He spent seven years in China (1887-1893) and upon his return to America, spent another seven years as the President of the Board of Foreign Missions. The Amoy Mission was active in Fukien Province, particularly in the south of the province around Chiang-Peng, Leng-Na, Sio-khe, Chang Chow, Tong-An and Amoy on the Formosa Strait. Missionary work started in this area of China in 1842. In 1921-1923, a hospital was built and named in Fagg’s honor at Leng-Na (Lung-yen), in the North River District.

After returning from China, Fagg served one year as pastor of the Reformed Church in New Paltz, New York. In 1895, he became pastor of the Middle Collegiate Church, in New York City, where he remained until his death.  In 1898 he was elected to the Board of Foreign Missions, and in 1910 served as its president. He also served as president of the trustees of the Arabia Mission and in 1914 became president of the General Synod. He died on May 3, 1917, at the age of fifty-seven.

During his term in China, Dr. Fagg learned to speak the Amoy language fluently. He translated into Chinese “Aesop’s Fables,” a “Life of St. Paul,” a “Church History” and “Authenticity of Scriptures.” These three books were used by him in his classes in the Theological Seminary. He also wrote “Forty Years in South China – the life of Rev. John Talmage, D.D.” After his departure from China he kept up a regular correspondence with friends and students in China that he had met.

While serving in China, Rev. Fagg married Margaret Watson Gillespie on 25 September 1889. Margaret served as a “missionary assistant” in China with her husband from 1889-1894. The 1900 Census shows that Fagg and his wife were renting at 3 Rutherford Place in New York City. Fagg was listed as having been born in Wisconsin, his parents in Holland. Margaret Fagg was born in New Jersey in November 1863, both of her parents were born in Scotland. The couple does not appear to have ever had any children. They were still living at Rutherford Place in 1910.

The collection of diaries offered here begin in the year that Rev. Fagg died. Upon the couples return to America, Margaret Fagg joined in the work of the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions (WBFM). She worked from 1898 through 1910 as the corresponding foreign secretary for China. After twelve years at this position, she took up the work, in 1910, as chair of the Missionary Candidate Committee. This standing committee, which had been created in 1903, was charged with the task of receiving all applications from women who wished to be considered for missionary candidacy by the WBFM. Following her service of seven years (1910-1917) as missionary candidate secretary, Margaret served on the Nominating Committee and Publication Committee.

In 1938, when the new Missionary Hospitality Committee was formed, Margaret Fagg was a member. During the years 1939-1945, she served as chair of the Missionary Hospitality Committee. After the death of her husband, Margaret lived for a time with her father, James H. Gillespie, at Rochester, New York. Her father had come to America from Scotland a couple of years before Margaret was born (1861) and naturalized a citizen in 1876. In the 1940 Census she was sharing an apartment with her cousin Janet C. Aubrey, at 45 Prospect Street. Until her death on July 2, 1955, Margaret worked tirelessly on behalf of the WBFM board. She was buried at Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, New Jersey.

 

The diaries begin in 1917, the year her husband died. Margaret mentions having a memorial service for him, where a tablet was placed in his honor at the church where he served. She appears to have stopped recording her entries during the summer after her husband’s death, she resumed  writing in September on her 28th wedding anniversary. Margaret mentions Chinese people, presumably people she met during her missionary years in China, or who were coming to New York to study, or those who she met through the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions or the other organizations she was active in.

 In May 1918, Margaret Fagg begins to spend her days at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, moving nearby to make the daily trips convenient. She seems to have been working with the Red Cross. She discusses her work on the home front with the soldiers at the camp and she appears to be working with American soldiers who were incarcerated at Camp Merritt for one reason or another. She relates an amusing incident, a fender-bender with an officer who swore at her driver:

      “June 9, 1918. The first and only swearing I have heard in nearly three mons. at camp was today when my taxi collided at Picket No. 3 with that of a major who swore at my timid little chauffeur. The M.P. stopped both cars and ours, at my order, dropped behind. The major stopped his car got out gave the military salute to my man and apologized saying his chauffeur was to blame for the collision then to me he saluted and said, “Pardon me madam for swearing in the presence of a lady.”            

 

     The entire diary for 1918 is filled with entries about her work at Camp Merritt:

 

      “June 15, 1918. The other day as hundreds of men ans. roll call shoulder their kit bags to march to the train, all the men in barracks near by leaned out the windows and sang “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” Two men in khaki who stood by me had tears in their eyes.”

 

     “July 1, 1918. Two new prisoners under me in the library are Osborn fr. Arkansas and Hutchison, a Scotsman. Osborn, father of 4 children, enlisted last yr. At camp Merritt spent 3 wks. In Hos. His com. Went overseas, Rheumatism, worst kind, told he would rec. honorable discharge fr the army, so he slipped out of camp went to Hot Springs, Ark, cured then ret. To camp and asked to be reinstated. He is now serving 6 mos. in Guard house for going away without a pass. Other prisoner I had the fol. Conversation, “Hutchison why are you a prisoner.” “For doing my duty – fighting.” “Fighting?” “Yes, I had a fight with the stable sergeant. I thrashed him. I enlisted to fight.” “Yes, but you began to fight too soon. You must wait till you get to France.” “Yes, but I want to keep in practice.”

 

      “July 9, 1918. Met several times and now have become friends with Mr. Chase, the fastest motor cyclist in camp. To carry the monthly pay to men about to sail fr. Hoboken for overseas he motored 21 mi in 18 min., caught the steamer with 3 min to spare. The officers rewarded him with $ 10. When on an errand for the Gov. if his motor cycle breaks down, he can commandeer any machine in sight at the point of his pistol.”

          Margaret records many other observations of interest on the other shoulders she talked and interacted with who were sent to the Guard House or hospital at Camp Merritt for various reasons, as well as other aspects of camp life. Margaret stays on at the camp even after the war is over, caring for the wounded, serving tea at Merritt Hall, the officers club, which was considered the best in America. She records many conversations she had with soldiers and their stories in her diary. Camp Merritt closed in January of 1920. Margaret’s diaries from 1918 and 1919 describe her work and activities at the camp.

            The diaries for 1926-1927, and 1930, show her to be active in her church work in New York City. These are mostly small one or two line entries, jotting down who she was meeting that day, an anniversary, an event, etc. In August of 1926, there is a two page entry on what she thinks of Darwinism and occasionally she writes longer entries on other topics as well.

             Starting in 1933 and thereafter (1936-37, 1946-49), the diary entries. For this period, are longer, also the physical size of the diaries is larger: simply more room to write. Margaret continues to be involved in her church work, she records her daily activities, whom she is meeting, preparations and work for various meetings, as well as domestic details. In her later years she lived with her cousin, Janet C. Aubrey.