Skip to main content

Collection 495 Papers of Jacob Chamberlain

Identifier: CN 495

Scope and Contents

Two volumes of letterbooks which contain copies of the handwritten correspondence of Jacob Chamberlain, a missionary to India. He worked with the Arcot Mission under the Reformed Church in America Board of Foreign Missions. Volume 1 dates from June 1869 to July 1874 and Volume 2 from January 1880 to January 1882.

Each volume is separated into two sections, official correspondence and personal correspondence; both types describe Chamberlain's work as a medical missionary, itinerant preacher, and Bible translator among the Telugu Hindus for the Arcot Mission in India under the Reformed Church in America Board of Foreign Missions; includes annual reports, accounts of missionary trips and distribution of Bibles and tracts for the American Bible Society, medical work, social and religious customs, family occurrences, and other activities; correspondents include John M. Ferris (corresponding secretary for the Reformed Church) and John Scudder (fellow missionary to India).

[NOTE: In the Scope and Content description, the notation "folder 1-1" means box 1, folder 1.]

This collection consists of two letterbooks which contain the retained copies of the handwritten correspondence of Jacob Chamberlain. These were made by covering the letter with tissue-thin paper, dampening it, and pressing it tightly so that the ink was transferred from the original letter to the tissue copy. The letters, written between 1869 and 1882, came from the middle part of Chamberlain's missionary career in India. Both volumes run from front to middle with official correspondence and from back to middle with personal correspondence. On several pages in Volume 2 there are lists of names of people with numbers which refer to page numbers of letters addressed to those persons. Some of the pages are fragile and some are difficult to read. In the Volume 2 there is a slit which extends from page 425 to the end and pieces of the pages are crumbling around the cut.

The correspondence, both official and personal, describes Chamberlain's work as a medical missionary, itinerant preacher, and Bible translator among the Telugu Hindus for the Arcot Mission, founded by John Scudder, Sr., in 1846, and continued after his death by John Scudder, Jr.). There are annual reports, such as those dated December 19, 1869 (folder 1-1), and January 10, 1882 (folder 1-2). In an October 28, 1871, letter he writes to the Sabbath School of a Reformed Church about snake temples and experiences with cobras. He describes his translation work for the Telugu Bible in a February 20, 1873, letter to Dr. John Mason Ferris, corresponding secretary for the Reformed Church in America Board of Foreign Missions (1855-1883), and in an August 3, 1870, letter to his brother, Lewis. In a letter dating August 6 to October 25, 1869, Chamberlain writes of Horace Bushnell (pastor, religious writer, and link between orthodox and liberal Christianity) and his theological stance. There are a number of letters written to suppliers and publishers ordering various medical supplies and both medical and theological books and journals. A letter dated November 28, 1872, discusses the difficulty in reaching women with the gospel and the need for women missionaries to do that work. There are letters to supporters describing how financial gifts were spent, such as in the opening of a reading room, buying medicines, providing tracts, and paying helpers. There are letters to the American Bible Society about the publication and distribution of Bibles and tracts to interested listeners as he traveled and in the reading room he established.

In the personal sections of the two books, letters are addressed to his father, brothers William and Lewis, his sister Mary and her husband, and his four eldest children while they were in school in America, as well as many friends and fellow missionaries and pastors. These letters also describe all aspects of his medical work, itinerant preaching tours, travels, a furlough, social and religious life among the Telugu Hindus, his children, and his life in India.


  • Created: 1882

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Jacob Chamberlain was born April 13, 1835, in Sharon, Connecticut, to Jacob and Anna Nutting Chamberlain. His father was a county surveyor, justice of the peace, and well-to-do farmer. In 1838, the family moved to Hudson, Ohio, and many missionaries were entertained in their home. A sister married Rev. Joseph Scudder and went to India with him, where she died. Another sister expected to become a missionary to India, along with her fiance, but they both died before their purpose could be carried out. Jacob Sr. was for the latter part of his life an invalid and had asked Jacob Jr. to take over the farm and to make it a home for his mother and father, to which he agreed. After a series of accidents and narrow escapes, Chamberlain prayed asking God why he had been preserved. He felt the answer was that he should take his sister's place and go to India as a missionary. His father apparently agreed and released him from his promise to stay.

In 1851, Chamberlain entered Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio), but his health broke down and he remained at home for some time before he was well again. He then returned to college and graduated in 1856, valedictorian of his class. He entered Union Seminary, but, hearing of a special Hebrew class at the New Brunswick (NJ) Theological Seminary, he transferred there; he graduated in 1858. He also studied medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and was awarded the M.D. from the Cleveland Medical College, Cleveland, Ohio. During his lifetime, he was awarded many honorary degrees for his work in India. On September 7, 1859, he married Charlotte Close Birge, the daughter of Rev. Chester Birge, a Presbyterian minister. They had six sons born to them in India, four of whom survived.

Chamberlain also spent three summers working for the Presbyterian Board of Publication and the American Bible Society as colporteur in Ohio and Illinois. He was ordained in the Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, in 1859 and sent out to India under the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America. The Chamberlains arrived in India on April 12, 1860, where they labored under the Arcot Mission, which had been founded in 1853 by three brothers, sons of Dr. John Scudder, pioneer medical missionary to India. Chamberlain was assigned to Madanapalle (spelled Muduapille in volume 1 and Madanapalli in volume 2), Andhra Pradesh, where he worked among the Telugu. It was his custom to hold a clinic in the early morning, go out on preaching tours in the afternoon, and again see patients in the evening. Patients were usually preached to before being treated. He also made more extensive tours, going into territories where missionaries had never been, preaching the gospel and selling Bibles and tracts. He worked, along with others, on a Telugu translation of the Bible. He was instrumental in starting Christian schools and dispensaries throughout the region. He wrote several books, including the first part of a Telugu Bible dictionary, was sought after as a conference speaker (including a call from D.L. Moody to speak at a Northfield missionary conference), raised funds for the work in India, helped to establish a theological seminary in India, and worked to bring about a United Church of India. He wrote a number of books and articles, among which were In the Tiger Jungle and The Cobra's Den.

On one of his tours, he contracted a jungle fever, which, in spite of quinine and other remedies, continued to weaken his health, and he was sometimes forced to take periods of rest. In 1902, he was stricken with paralysis, but recovered enough to continue work on his dictionary. By 1907, he was too ill to continue and on March 2, 1908, he died and was buried on the spot where he had pitched his tent when he first started his work in Muduapille forty-five years before.


1 Box (DC)

Language of Materials