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Letters from Joseon: 19th Century Korea Through the Eyes of an American Ambassador’s Wife

Publisher: , 2012
Link to online store *

From the publisher’s website:

John Mahelm Berry Sill’s role as the American Minister to Korea (1894-1897) is one of controversy. He has been described as weak, ineffective, and reluctant by some and as independent, proactive, and alert by others, depending on the researcher. He served during an extremely turbulent period of Korean history, a span of time that encompassed the Sino-Japanese War, the Gabo Reforms, the murder of the Korean queen, and King Gojong’s subsequent refuge in the Russian legation.

While this book does utilize some diplomatic despatches, it generally relies upon the personal correspondences between the Sills in Korea and their family in the United States. These letters provide a candid view of life in not only the American community in Seoul, but also in the Russian legation, where King Gojong and the crown prince sought refuge following the murder of Queen Min. The letters also give evidence of the rumors and speculation that plagued the daily lives of not only the Western community in Seoul but the Korean community as well.

Table of Contents


Part One 1894

Chapter One The Beginning
Chapter Two The Arrival in Korea
Chapter Three The Prelude to War
Chapter Four The Months of War
Chapter Five The First Winter

Part Two 1895

Chapter Six Trouble with Soldiers
Chapter Seven The Problems with Reforms
Chapter Eight From the Mouths of Babes
Chapter Nine Unmentionable Scandals
Chapter Ten The Fallen
Chapter Eleven Picnics and Excursions
Chapter Twelve Life at the Legation
Chapter Thirteen The Missionaries
Chapter Fourteen Cholera: The Rat God
Chapter Fifteen A Trip to Japan
Chapter Sixteen The Murder of the Queen
Chapter Seventeen The Return to Korea

Part Three 1896

Chapter Eighteen A New Year, a Year of Losses
Chapter Nineteen Life at the Russian Legation
Chapter Twenty Fears and Russian Military Advisors
Chapter Twenty-One Social Functions in a Time of Unrest
Chapter Twenty-Two The Great Rainy Season
Chapter Twenty-Three The Second Leave of Absence
Chapter Twenty-Four The Last Christmas

The Finale


Entry on here.

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