Lottie Moon: Giving Her All for China

Chapter 1

Six-year-old Lottie Moon sat up straight in her front-row pew, barely daring to turn her head. She knew it would make her black ringlets bob, and that would attract attention. The silk sash on her pinafore was tied too tightly, and she cautiously took some extra deep breaths in a vain attempt to loosen it. Her starched collar pricked the back of her neck. She stopped short of scratching her neck, since that would be very bad manners. No, she would just have to sit still and endure the discomfort.

Lottie knew all about church manners because she was in church so often. The pastor was a circuit-riding preacher, and he stopped off at Scottsville on either Saturday or Sunday to hold a service. Even when the service was on a Saturday, Lottie still attended Sunday school. She had little choice about this, since her father, Edward Moon, practically ran the church. He had started the Sunday school and was both a deacon and the church clerk. He also often represented the church at various Baptist Association meetings.

Like most children, Lottie would have rather been outside on such a beautiful spring morning. The peach blossoms were in bloom, and the crickets were chirping. Indeed, Lottie could hear the crickets outside over the sound of the pastor’s voice.

The mention of her grandmother’s name focused Lottie’s attention back on what the pastor was saying. “Let us take a moment to honor the memory of Sarah Coleman Turner Barclay Harris, esteemed and tireless worker for the Lord, who departed life this last Wednesday, May 5, 1847,” he said.

Lottie counted her grandmother’s names carefully as the pastor said them. He had it right; there were five of them. She had asked her mother only the night before to explain how her grandmother came to have so many names. According to her mother, Lottie’s grandmother was known as Sarah Coleman Turner when she was a little girl, just as Lottie herself was really Charlotte Digges Moon. As a young woman, Lottie’s grandmother had married Robert Barclay, who was Lottie’s mother’s father. Soon after Lottie’s mother was born, her father drowned. After the death of her husband, Lottie’s grandmother had traveled to Virginia and married Captain John Harris.

Captain Harris had been the richest man in Albemarle County by far. He owned over three thousand acres of land consisting of ten different tobacco and cotton plantations that were worked by eight hundred slaves. He also made regular trips to New Orleans and Kentucky to conduct business. When Captain Harris died in 1832, several years before Lottie was born, the largest of his plantations, Viewmont, was left to Lottie’s grandmother. And now that she was dead, it belonged to Lottie’s mother and father.

As far as Lottie was able to think it through, her grandmother’s death would not change much in her life. After all, the Moon family had lived at Viewmont from the time her parents were married. However, Lottie did think life around the plantation would be a lot less boring without her grandmother around trying to get Lottie to remember all the ins and outs of her family’s history. There was just too much to remember. Lottie’s great-grandfather, Thomas Barclay, had been a friend of Thomas Jefferson. He also had been dispatched by George Washington to be the first U.S. ambassador to France and Morocco. Lottie’s uncle, Dr. James Barclay, now owned the old Jefferson homestead that was named Monticello. There was also the Moon side of the family, and more cousins than she could remember, some of them related on both her mother’s and her father’s sides of the family. “Double cousins” her grandmother had always called them when she tried to explain the family tree.

Lottie continued listening to the pastor. “We all owe much to Mrs. Sarah Harris,” he said. “She has been a generous supporter and benefactor of the Scottsville Baptist Church since its timely establishment over six years ago. I am sure many of you have read in the Baptist Press that Mrs. Harris has made a munificent provision for us, even in her untimely death.”

The big words the pastor was using made Lottie’s head spin as she tried to understand what he was saying. She guessed he was talking about the one hundred dollars her grandmother had given the church in her will. That was a large sum of money to most people, but Lottie had an idea it wasn’t really that much to anyone in her family. She was old enough to have figured out that when it came to material things, she could have just about anything she wanted. She looked along the pew she was seated on. Beside her sat her oldest brother, fifteen-year-old Tom. He already had a fine gilded stallion of his own and a trap, a light two-wheeled carriage with springs, to go with it. Next to Tom sat thirteen-year-old Orianna, or Orie, as the family called her. She loved to read, and their father had bought her an entire library of books, some of them in Latin and Greek, so Orianna could read whenever she wanted to. Isaac, or Ike, Lottie’s other brother, was two years younger than Orie, but he wasn’t interested in reading at all. Instead, Mr. Moon had bought him a fine hunting bow.

Lottie sighed quietly as she thought about her three older siblings. They were all a bit too grown-up for her liking. All she wanted was someone who would play with her. Once Orianna had whispered to Lottie that their mother had given birth to three other children, but they had all died when they were very young. However, Lottie did have one little sister, Colie. Colie’s real name was Sarah Coleman Moon, after their grandmother, but for some reason the nickname Colie had stuck. Colie was only three years old, and Mamie, one of the household servants, looked after her, though with strict instructions from Mrs. Moon not to let the child out of her sight. To Lottie’s dismay, Colie wasn’t big enough to run through the cotton fields with her, climb the peach trees, or play in the packing shed, even if she could have escaped Mamie’s watchful eyes. Colie wasn’t even old enough to sit still in church, and she stayed home in the nursery while the rest of the family attended. Of course, this made Lottie feel very grown-up.

When the church service was over, the congregation spilled out into the warm spring morning. Lottie teamed up with some of her young cousins, and they played together as they walked down the stone path that led to the dusty road in front of the church.

Finally Lottie’s mother, Anna Maria Moon, bustled Lottie and Ike toward the family’s carriage. “It’s time to go now,” she said firmly.

Lottie, who was halfway through telling her cousin James about how a pair of sparrows had nested in the hedge beside the kitchen, wanted to stay and finish her story, but she knew better than to argue with her mother. Mrs. Moon may have been only four and a half feet tall, but when she gave an order, everyone—even Lottie’s father—paid attention.

Finally Lottie scrambled up the steps of the carriage and scooted along the leather seat until she had positioned herself by the far window. With great relief she gave her sash a big tug, allowing her to breathe freely for the first time all morning. Jesse the coachman clicked the reins, and they were off on the nine-mile trip back home to Viewmont. Lottie stuck her head out the window as far as it would go. She loved the scent of the peach and apple blossoms and the sight of the newly planted rows of cotton. The distant hills, which Orie had told her were the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, reminded Lottie of folds of green velvet, like the fabric of her mother’s best dress.

Lottie knew the exact fence post that marked the beginning of the fifteen-hundred-acre Viewmont plantation. Even though she was too young to be taught by the tutors who came to the house to instruct the older children in the classics, French, and music, Lottie had learned some of the history of the plantation from her father, who had told her that Viewmont was one of the oldest plantations in Albemarle County. Joshua Fry, a fellow surveyor and friend of George Washington, had built the first house on the property in 1744. Later he had sold the place to Edmund Randolph, a governor of Virginia. When the first house burned down, a more modern one was built to replace it. That was the house the Moon family now lived in. Lottie loved the house, especially the secret stairway located behind a fake wall in the fireplace. It made the house feel mysterious, and Lottie loved a good mystery.

As the carriage rounded the last turn in the road and the house came into view, Lottie watched as Shep, the family’s faithful collie dog, bounded out to meet them. The two huge brick chimneys of the house always looked odd to Lottie without smoke billowing from them, but the Moons had strict rules about the Sabbath. Every Saturday Juju the cook fried chicken and baked ham while Mrs. Moon made pies and biscuits. Between them, they prepared enough food for two days so that no fires would have to be lit and nothing would have to be cooked on Sunday. Instead, Sunday was for reading the Bible and other Christian books as well as resting and discussing “uplifting and fitting” matters. Normally Lottie found this practice a bit of a trial. For one thing, she did not like cold day-old biscuits, not to mention cold fried chicken. Still, today she didn’t mind. Her mother was halfway through reading Lottie the story of America’s first female missionary, Ann Judson. They were right at the part where the Judsons were being pursued by the British authorities in India. That was an adventure, and Lottie was quite happy to endure cold biscuits and chicken in order to hear the end of the story.

Lottie had imagined that not much would change after the death of her grandmother, but she had been wrong. Her father, who up until then had been a merchant, took over the day-to-day running of the plantation, something her grandmother had done until the time of her death. His new responsibilities now meant that he made fewer trips to the large port cities on the coast, and Lottie thus got to see much more of him, which made her very happy.

Her mother’s brother, Dr. James Barclay, also plotted a career change now that his mother was not around to tell him what to do. He owned a successful pharmacy, but as the years went by, he spent more time preaching at the Disciples of Christ church and less time selling medicines.

When Lottie was ten years old, her cousin Sarah Barclay told her the most extraordinary news. The two of them were sitting together on the back stoop, picking over some black-eyed peas for dinner, when Sarah blurted out, “Lottie, can you keep a secret? I know Papa wants to tell your mother first, but I will simply burst if I don’t tell someone!”

Lottie put down the bowl she was holding. “Of course. What’s the matter?” she asked, surprised to see her cousin so animated.

Sarah lowered her voice. “Yesterday afternoon, around three o’clock, Papa came home from doctoring old Mr. Boardman down the road who has consumption. Anyway, I was sitting in the yard memorizing a poem, the boys were building a treehouse nearby, while Mother was sitting on the veranda reading her Bible. When Papa arrived, he got off his horse and yelled to us all. ‘Come here. I have something I want to tell you.’ Of course we all gathered around Papa.”

“Well, what did he want to tell you?” interjected Lottie, unable to think of anything important enough to excite Sarah this much.

“Well,” Sarah went on, “he began reading to us from the Bible, and when he was finished, he talked about how Christians should take the gospel to those who have not heard it.”

“And?” quizzed Lottie impatiently.

“And then he told us he wanted to go to Jerusalem to be a missionary to the Jewish people.”

There was silence for a moment.

“Well, what do you think of that?” Sarah finally asked.

“Is he serious? Would it be soon?” Lottie replied, her thoughts in a jumble.

“Very soon,” replied Sarah. “Papa wants us all to go with him! He asked each of us to think about it last night, and if we wanted to go with him to sign our names in the family Bible this morning.”