The Dark Regions Beyond
February 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
The Dark Regions Beyond
I have become obsessed with the Jackmans, hunting for any clue as to who these people were before the crisis in Sadiya and what became of them after. I imagine they lived a comfortable life in upstate New York, where Mr. Jackman studied the law before his conversion to missionary life in 1904. Just a few years later, based in Sadiya, Assam among the headhunting Abors and Miris, Rev. Jackman reports: The loving Father has most wonderfully kept us. Dangers have come near, but the Master was nearer to ward them off and little harm has come to us (quoted in a section of mission updates at the end of Mary Mead Clark’s memoir A Corner in India). Sometime between 1907 (when little harm had come to them) and 1920 (when Rev. Lyman Ward Beecher Jackman crossed the street to the mission bungalow directly opposite his own and lodged four large bullets in Major H. D. Cloete’s head) something had gone terribly awry.
And why do I care? What difference can this possibly make to me? What do I hope I will learn? And yet I have spent the better part of a day sitting in front of my computer hunting for a photograph of this couple, as if somehow their image will explain to me how a marriage can go so terribly awry.
After hours of searching, I find my way to the October 1904 issue of The Baptist Missionary Magazine and a listing of re-enforcements to missionary fields abroad with accompanying photographs of the husbands and wives. And there they are, Rev. and Mrs. Jackman, an attractive couple. Do I detect a trace of uncertainty in Mrs. Jackman’s eyes, a wistfulness for all that she must soon give up in support of her husband’s dreams? Does she know, already, somehow, the destiny that awaits them in a distant land?
She is a beautiful woman; I can imagine her upswept hair, her delicate neck, her sad eyes enticing others to comfort her. Her husband, on the other hand, seems serious, like my grandfather. I can imagine Rev. Jackman neglecting his wife – not through any willfulness or lack of love but simply because he is driven by a zealousness that blinds him to a different passion he might have chosen.
I look at their photographs and I know they have no idea what is waiting for them in the wilds of Assam, near the border of Tibet, far from family and friends, in the dark regions beyond.
[Note: This is part of an unfinished manuscript I was working on – and which I put aside – when my own marriage unexpectedly fell apart several years ago. I return to this work now in preparation for an upcoming talk on three generations of Witter women in India. My step-greatgrandmother Mary Barss Witter wrote a letter home in 1920 to her four grown children by her first marriage, informing them of Rev. Jackman’s murder of Major Cloete, his friend with whom his wife was having an affair. My greatgrandfather Rev. William E. Witter, a missionary in Assam, had been called up to be the spiritual advisor to Rev. Jackman during his trial for murder.]