Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mary Gets Married

It was just a one-syllable surname appended to May Wilson's own that gave me my first clue that there was yet another search term to add to the collection—another way to trace what became of the children of missionary couple Peachy Taliaferro and Mary Whitcomb Wilson. Yet, maddeningly, that new surname matched up with the one which came following that irritating device of providing only the two initials of the man whom she married.

The name was Gill, a common name in India—especially in the north, where the Wilson family had served in the mid 1860s. But even though I couldn't tell it at the time, those two socially-acceptable initials—J. H.—didn't belong to any of the Jats or Sikhs who customarily bore the name of that clan. It was, instead, the surname of a man from Ireland.

If I had been paying attention, the realization might have come to me much sooner that the very man from whose report I had drawn the sketch of May Wilson's missionary outpost was the man who became her husband.

But we seldom discover these things in chronological order. It was only much later, when I circled back to all the references I had uncovered to sort things out, that I discovered just who J. H. Gill might have been.

Evidently, Joseph Hamilton Gill took as many opportunities as possible to write about his missionary work. Even last year, a reprint surfaced of a book—A Winter in India and Malaysia Among the Methodist Missions—on which he had been credited with collaborating, back in 1891, with the author, Martin van Buren Knox. His reports appeared regularly in various missionary journals, concerning the work in the district in India to which he had been assigned.

A Northwestern University alumnus, the Reverend Joseph H. Gill apparently had attended the same seminary as had May Wilson's father, Peachy T. Wilson—Garrett Biblical Institute, today known as Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

Owing to one of the Reverend's reports, I discovered that, though this was the first marriage for the now-forty-something May Wilson, it was the second for Joseph Gill. For years, he had been capably assisted by his first wife, Mary Ensign, the young Michigan woman he had married the same year he graduated from Garrett. Together, they immediately had left for the mission field in India, where, in addition to all the work accomplished under his charge, the couple raised five sons.

As often seemed to happen to such missionaries in foreign outposts, the conditions eventually led to deteriorating health. Such was the case with the first Mrs. Gill who, realizing her choices, decided to stay with her family, rather than quit the work to which they had been called. In the Reverend's report for Bijnor District in 1908, he described the last few months of his wife's life.

On July 15, 1910—as Intense Guy pointed out yesterday—the Reverend Gill took as his wife Mary Wilson, and together they continued the missions work in northern India.

That, however, was an arrangement not to last much longer, for a note in The Christian Advocate soon after indicated that the Reverend, himself, had passed away on January 17, 1912. At sixty seven years of age, the County Tyrone native had succumbed following a surgery in the ironically-named city of Lucknow, India.

At some point following her eighteen month long marriage, the bereaved Mary Wilson Gill returned to the United States, where she stayed until 1917. At that point, for whatever reason, she decided to return to India once again.

It was the necessary documentation which all travelers eventually need to obtain that gifted me with the details of how to proceed with research on this next generation of the missionary Wilson family. On account of a detail embedded within this document, I found the clue as to where to find at least one of the Wilson children, back at the death of their mother in 1874 when their father "arranged homes" for the children stateside before returning, alone, to India.

If, after all these years, Mary Wilson Gill wanted to return to India, she had to apply for a passport.    


  1. Their Missionary Zeal seems inexplicable - they served at the expense of their health and their families. I wonder if the remote towns they went to were better for it.

    1. That's hard to say, Iggy. They certainly seemed, from the reports, to be industrious--setting up schools, clinics, and other services. But you are right, it certainly came at a high personal cost for them. "The Call" to missions some people felt certainly does sometimes seem inexplicable.

  2. I have known a few Missionaries and I cannot identify with their calling but it has a strong hold on them:)

    1. I have a friend who is a retired missionary. I can't wait to run this story by her!

  3. Joseph H Gill and Edwin G W Hall were mentioned by my great-grandfather, Albert B Norton as being fellow students at Northwestern who had an influence upon his testimony. Albert spent his life as a missionary in central India for the first 20 years and later in Dhond near Bombay working with Rhamabai for his last 25 years. I am Charles Norton Shepard,


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