Reader’s Question: Pre-stamp mail between Korea and USA?


(Reader’s question/Q&A) I am student and collector of Pre-stamp postal history between USA and Asia. While I have found fair bit of literature on Pre-1860 postal history between USA and China and Japan, I have not been able to find any such information on mail between Korea and USA. I understand US churches including Baptist mission sent missionaries to not only to China and Japan but also to Korea. I understand there was an American missionary in 1840s in Nongong, Korea. Can you or someone in your society help me with the stampless mail from Korea to USA?

As an example: here is a scan of a 4+ page missionary letter from a Baptist Missionary Bronson’s wife to her sister in Springfield, NY USA. The letter is datelined Nongong (Korea), July 19, 1846 and was apparently privately carried by a ship captain and handed over to Baptist Mission Room in Boston received Boston PO cancel dated 6 October 1846.

Detail of 1846 letter.
Sample page of 1846 letter.
It is almost impossible to discover but there it is: the place and date. Detail from the page shown in the previous image (at the top of that page).
Same page of 1846 letter, but under different lighting.
Letter folded open.

I would be interested in learning more about pre-stamp mail between Korea and USA. Do KSS members know of other examples of similar early correspondence from the pre-stamp period? What would be interesting to know is what is the earliest known mail from Korea?

I am also puzzled by the missionary based in Nongong which I understand is a small industrial town now. 

Also, I have not yet transcribed the letter as I found it difficult to read. If anyone in your society can transcribe the letter, one can learn a great deal more.

Ravi R. Vora
Life Member: APS
Member: US Classic Society, Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library


6 thoughts on “Reader’s Question: Pre-stamp mail between Korea and USA?

  1. Hi, I am not sure this is correct about 1840’s and the Baptists. I have been doing some research about this because of Dr. Sherwood Hall’s TB/Christmas seals. He was a Canadian Methodist doctor, and crusader against tuberculous was born in 1893, one of the first, if not the first western foreigners born in Korea to missionaries. His mother Dr. Rosetta Hall, had gone to Korea in 1890. Wikipedia, which I do not completely trust, and is often incorrect, states “The first Western Catholic missionaries to enter Korea were French missionary priests dispatched by the Paris Foreign Missions Society. They began arriving in Korea in the 1840’s by stealth, either via the Korean border with Manchuria or the Yellow Sea, to proselytize to a growing Korean flock.” Many of these early Catholics were killed. Wiki also states: “The first Protestant church in Korea was established by Seo Sang-ryun and the first Protestant missionary to enter Korea was Horace Newton Allen, both events occurring in 1884. Horace Allen was a North Presbyterian missionary who became an American diplomat.” I cannot find any references to where Baptists missionaries entered the country in the 1840’s.

  2. The Catholics were prosecuted in Korea in 1801 and later again in 1839. Life for Catholics was rather bad at the time. Being from another Christian denomination would not have been easier, I guess. And only after 1876, when Korea was forced to accept links from outside of Korea, did more foreigners including foreign missionaries come to Korea. Therefore the 1846 dating is indeed strange. But what if it is “Nangang”, in China?

    I don’t see the words Korea (Chosun, Coree) or China in the letter. One sentence does state “since arriving here” but here is not mentioned, I think.

  3. This is a very interesting piece of missionary correspondence from the mid-nineteenth century. However, it is impossible for this letter to have been written from Korea by a Baptist missionary in 1846. Korea (Choson dynasty) was a ‘closed country’ to outside (in particular Western) contact until 1876 when the Japanese imposed a ‘Western’-style diplomatic treaty on Korea. Catholic missionaries (Chinese) had been in Korea from the end of the nineteenth century, and French missionaries from c. 1839, but they were in Korea illegally and the Catholic church was severely persecuted until the end of the 1870s. As a result of treaties with the United States in 1883, Protestant missionaries entered Korea in 1884 (Dr. Horace Allen, Presbyterian medical doctor attached to the American Legation) and then missionaries from what were then the Northern Methodist and Northern Prebyterian churches in 1885. The first Baptist missionaries (informal) would have been in Korea from the early 1890s. My guess is that this letter is from a place near one of the first treaty ports in China.

  4. The book on Dr Horace N. Allen is titled God Mammon and the Japanese, by Fred Harvey Harrington,published in 1961 by The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison. It is readily available and it is absolutely essential to obtain the flavor of early American -Korean relations. The bibliography section alone is the best to be found and has never been investigated fully to my knowledge.DGP

  5. Thanks David, I just ordered this book on Abebooks. They had a couple of copies. I will see what information it has in it. Robert

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