A collection of items of clothing,toys, food, books, and other items collected and packaged, often in a wooden barrel, for delivery to either a missionary for his personal own use or for distribution to others in need.
The Home Missionary, a monthly publication of the American Home Missionary Society, included requests for aid by missionaries, stories of success, and letters of thanks. Missionary boxes and barrels were generally filled by the Women’s Home Missionary Societies and shipped to the mission field after arrangements had been made with the secretaries at the main office – known as the Bible House (located on Astor Place in New York City) – so as to guard against a duplication of gifts. A list of contents and an estimated value was sent to the secretaries, along with information about the organization sending the gift and an address where the receiving missionary might send a letter of thanks. Lists of donors of barrels and boxes – often with value and mention of contents – were published in The Home Missionary, as shown in the image below.
Missionaries in the field could write to either the Bible House or known churches and ask for specific or immediate aid. They were asked to provide details of what was needed, including sizes of clothing required and the ages and sex of children for whom clothes were intended. Laura Ingalls Wilder described the contents of the Christmas barrel sent by Reverend Alden in detail, including dresses, books, yarns, a lovely shawl, and a turkey and cranberries, but “missionary barrel” gifts were sometimes quite unusual, from a donkey and cart to a new calf or even organs and pianos.
We had written for a family to care for, and having notified the minister, we received a letter, that gave us a peep into the family, and into the father’s heart. So we set to work, and having out own ideas about the matter, we carefully instructed the young ladies that they must be sure and put in the stitching lovingly and nicely, just as they would like it themselves, if ever the Lord should honor them sufficiently to let them work for Him on the frontier. They were ready to do that very thing, and rather resented the suggestion that it could be otherwise. I have always kept a quiet corner, where I put such things as I think will be useful in a missionary’s family,and I went and examined it, and found quite a number of articles, which—etc. But I told Mrs. Smith I could not wait for the barrel to go. I must send, at once, something to let the missionary know we were thinking about him, so I found books for each member of the family, and sent them by post, and my daughter Fanny wrote a letter to Willie, and received such a reply that she was quite interested. Out ladies were so eager in the work, that when we got the things together, there was more that one barrel would hold, so I took most of mine out, and said: “Why, you can fill that barrel yourselves; and I think I and my family can fill another.” You see, we had become so interested, that we could do almost anything we wanted to. But I am not going to write about that now, and I have got on too fast.
We wanted to be sure and made the things so that they would suit, and pleasure be taken in them, so we wrote the missionary again, and while we were working we made fresh inquiries, and these brought letters giving us new insight, and then they sent us papers of the town, so that we became well acquainted with the field of labor, the missionary’s family, their characteristics, names, ages, and descriptions, and as we worked for each one, we called them by name. We wanted them to express their wants, and their askings were so reasonable that the family grew upon us, and it seemed as if they had always been a part of our lives, and in a trouble in their family all of us largely shared. They were as relatives, in our thoughts.
When Mrs. S. bought a wrapper for herself, she bought another, just like it, for our missionary’s wife, and when Mrs. G. was buying a dress for her little girl, she bought material enough to make little Susie one, just like her own daughter’s.
Our young people became so much interested, that they got up a “Musical and Literary Entertainment.” The result was sufficient to purchase a good black cloth suit for the parson, and a cashmere dress for his wife, with gloves and handkerchiefs to match.
My little twin girls, Emily and Millie, were quite eager. They sent a little toy bedstead, and two boxes of candy. Mabel Anderson put in a box of toys, with her own pretty little picture in it. There had been self-denial, on the part of some, to have a share in it. Paralytic grandmother Millikan went without her tea part of the time, to purchase wool, and knit with it a pair of socks. Willie Jones had just two good handkerchiefs, and he put in one. Aunt Hannah, in her characteristic way, came to me very late one evening to give me something extra, that she did not want any one to know she put in. There were some laughable incidents too. There was one little boy wanted to put in his overcoat, saying quaintly, “Then father will buy me a new one.” One young lady would like to put in a velvet sacque, because then she knew she would get the sealskin one on which her heart was set. We had really enjoyed out meetings, and the labor and expense to each one of us had been a mere trifle; yet in the aggregate we had more than we ladies could crowd into the receptacle. But one of our carpenters, coming in while we were in this dilemma, said he could put them all in, and so with an extemporized crowding apparatus, he squeezed them in, and said: “They will ride all the better, for being tight.” But I wish you could have seen the disappointment on the faces of some little folks, who brought two dozen oranges, that could not possibly go in. We could not help crying, as we saw those things being packed, and knew what comfort they would take to that Western family, our hearts and prayers went out with our gifts. We did want to be there, unseen, when the gifts should come. We do know that it is blessed to give, and ever since we received word how well our work fitted into that family’s arrangements, we have felt a greater interest in Home Missions, and have been glad that, through our Brother in X, we are co-laborers in the great Home Missionary work. -R.O.C. — The Home Missionary (November 1877), 162-163.
Missionary Barrel (LTP 23), see also Home Missionary Society, barrel
Christmas barrel (TLW 18, 32; LTP 9) – A collection of presents sent for distribution during the holiday season
clothing “came out of a barrel” (LTP 11) – This implies that the clothes were a gift of charity.