Published Sunday, February 03, 2013

Missionary's Work: Biographer researches Young John Allen's early years in Lone Oak

From Staff Reports

A missionary who grew up near Grantville will be the topic of a new biography by an Emory University scholar.

Young John Allen grew up near the town of Lone Oak in Meriwether County. He accepted Christ at Prospect Methodist Church in 1853 and left for missionary service in China in 1859, arriving the next year. By the time he departed, he had already married Coweta County native Mary Houston, a graduate of Wesleyan College.

Their oldest child, Malvina “Mellie,” was born in Grantville, probably at the home of her grandparents. She was the only one of the Allen children to be born in America.

Guo-hua Wang, the East Asia Studies librarian at the Woodruff Libraries at Emory University in Atlanta, is planning to write a biography of Young Allen. “His impact was just tremendous on the transformation of Chinese society,” she said.

Wang grew up in China, not far from Shanghai where Allen and his family lived for decades. She and her husband, Haian Fu, a pharmacology professor at Emory, first visited Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church at Lone Oak last summer. Since the first of the year, they made a second trip.

During both of their visits to Lone Oak, Wang and Fu met with Rosalind Edmondson, the church’s historian, and Winston Skinner, a member of the church with an interest in history and genealogy. Skinner is also the assistant news editor at The Times-Herald.

During the January visit, letters and other items relating to the Allen family were examined and copied. Other items were photographed. Wang also sat down with Edmondson and Skinner to talk about Allen’s early life and get pointers on where more information might be obtained.

Allen was born in Burke County in 1836. Orphaned when he was only 12 days old, he came to live with an aunt and uncle in Meriwether County. Although he came from a Primitive Baptist family, he began attending Prospect Methodist Church in Lone Oak. In 1853, he felt compelled to follow Christ during a service at Prospect and jumped out a nearby window. Ultimately he returned to the meetinghouse, professed his faith in Jesus and began the spiritual journey that – just six years later – would take him to China.

Allen, his wife and their infant daughter arrived in Shanghai in 1860. From 1861-1866, the Civil War cut the Allens off from financial support in America. That proved to be a seminal time for the young missionary. In addition to preaching the gospel message, Allen also taught, wrote and bought and sold rice to support his family, Wang said.

Allen stayed in touch with friends in Lone Oak throughout his life and visited there when on furlough. He spent most of his life, however, in Shanghai where he died in 1907.

Wang said his writing and influence had a major role in the 1911 Revolution that led to the end of monarchial rule in China. Sun Yat-sen, the first president of China, was a Christian convert. He married Chingling Soong, daughter of a prominent Methodist minister and businessman.

Wang said there has been a resurgence of interest in China in recent years in the impact of Western missionaries on Chinese society and history.

Wang earned her bachelor of arts degree from Anhui University in China. She received her master’s degree in library and information sciences from Rosary College in River Forest, Ill., and a specialist degree in library automation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a member of Beta Phi Mu, the honor society of international library and information studies.

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