Evelyn Rutnam Institute Collection

This collection consists of two parts: (1) print books, and (2) a series of 148 non-sequential numbered files relating to the life, work, and immediate family of Ceylon’s third Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Johnston (1775-1849), a critical advocate of early nineteenth-century Protestant mission to Ceylon and anti-slavery efforts on the island.

Johnston played a critical role for Jaffna’s Protestant community, having sent America’s first missionary to visit Ceylon, Samuel Newell, to Jaffna in 1813, a precursor to the establishment of the American Ceylon Mission in 1816. A student of German missionary Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-1798) and a strong supporter of mission, Johnston also advocated for the British Bible Society and the Wesleyan Methodist Church to send missionaries and Christian materials to advance the cause of Protestantism in Ceylon.

Between the mid-1950s and mid-1980s, the Alexander Johnston Papers (which range from the eighteenth to the twentieth century) were collected by James T. Rutnam (1905-1988), a Protestant Sri Lankan businessman and historian committed to documenting Sri Lankan, Jaffna, and Protestant history.

While his collection was compiled under the auspices of writing a biography of Johnston, the book was never completed. The collection he amassed includes notes, letters, chapter drafts, and original manuscript letters from Johnston and his immediate family purchased in London in 1956. Our preliminary survey uncovered several items pertaining to Johnston’s encouragement of Protestant Christianity in Ceylon, including an 1808 letter to Clapham Sect member and anti-slavery proponent Hannah More (1745-1833).