The first group of letters (June-September 1878) are to Neely's parents, his sister, and his brother-in-law, recounting his travels in Europe. His letters begin by telling of his ocean voyage across the Atlantic on the steamer
INDIANA, giving a description of the ship--its workings, its speed, a comparison to similar steamers, and its arrival at Queenstown. Neely spent several days in Ireland and his correspondence home includes detailed descriptions, histories, and stories related to the locations and people he visited. Towns written about in these descriptions include Cork, Mallon, Killarney, Dublin, Buttervant, Kilmallock, Knocklong, Limerick, Cashel, Dunamase, Hasirles, Kildare, Londonderry, Port Rush, and Belfast. Additional places of interest include Lakes of Killarney; Kerry Mountains; Gap of Dunloe and the Castle of Dunloe, where preparations were being made for the arrival of Lord Headly's bride; Lord Branden's Tower; Weir Bridge; Bridge of Styx; Muckross Abbey; Tore Waterfall; Flask Castle; Ross Castle; Island of Innisfallen; Bog of Allen; Trinity College, with an extensive description of the library; Christ Cathedral; St. Patrick's Cathedral; Giants' causeway and cave; and the Guinness Brewery. In addition to a history and description of Ireland,Neely comments on such things as the extreme contrasts between the rich and the poor, the construction of houses and towns, and the differences between the north and the south.
In correspondence from London, Neely writes of his visit to a Scotch castle, under which is a cave supposedly constructed by Robert Bruce, where the poet Drummond lived and was visited by another poet, Ben Johnson. After leaving London he comments on Mayence; Rotterdam; The Hague, with a description of the library, its cameos, and the museum; Amsterdam; Utrecht; Antwerp; Brussels; Aix-La-Chapelle; Cologne and the Church of St. Ursula; Bonn and its university; Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls; Zurich and the Alps; Zug; and Lucerne, including observations on glacial movement and an account of a monument dedicated to Swiss mercenaries who once defended King Louis XVI of France. Other points of notice include the field of Waterloo, a trip down the Rhine, and a journey through the Black Forest from Strassburg to Newhausen.
Neely also traveled extensively in Italy. Included in his correspondence are descriptions of Vitznan, including his passing over the Rigi Mountains; Milan; Turin; Genoa; Rome; Pisa, giving a portrait of its buildings and works of art; Stresa; and finally Venice, where he gives an extensive description of the city. Neely describes his ride over the Simplon Pass, providing an account of its history dating to Napoleon; and his exploration of Switzerland, including his visits to Brieg, Martigny, Domo d'Osola, Brigue, Interlacken, Oucy, Lausanne, Freiberg and its cathedral, Berne, Scherzligen, Darligen, and Geneva with a stop at John Calvin's cathedral. On his trips between towns Neely recalls the hospice of the St. Bernard monks; the Rhone valley; Tete Noire Pass; Mount Jungfrau in Interlacken; and the Vale of Chamourrix, with a detailed description of the trip, the sights, its geography and history.
Traveling to Paris Neely discusses his stops at Giesbach Falls and Bale to see the city's museum and cathedral. While in Paris he writes extensively of the city, its people, and religion. Also included in his correspondence are descriptions of the Paris exposition, the catacombs, Paris on Sundays, a Russian church and its service, the preachings of Rev. Mr. Arthur (author of
The Tongue of Fire), and a guillotine execution. In September of 1878, as Neely was preparing to leave Europe on the steamer
PENNSYLVANIA, he received word from home about a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia.
The second group of letters (July 1894, July 1903-January 1906) are to Neely's niece, Annie Neely Alcorn. They begin from Venice and give histories and accounts of towns passed on a train ride between Venice and Paris. Also mentioned is Neely's learning about a strike in America while still in Europe. Neely returned to America and spent some time in New York before leaving in March of 1905 for a mission in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His correspondence recounts his steamer voyage, the ports and towns he visited, crossing the Andes and seeing the "Christ of the Andes," and comments on theIndians of Chile. At the mission he writes of the problems getting settled--the natives' suspicions regarding the U.S. and him, the first Anglican archbishop to come to Argentina. Later in 1905, Neely again returned to the U.S. and visited New York and Philadelphia where he preached at different churches and oversaw the printing of a book he authored in Spanish about John Wesley. At the start of 1906, Neely returned to the mission. Once again his correspondence describes his steamer voyage and the areas of South America he passed, traveling up the Guyana River, passing Guayaquil, and being detained at Callao by quarantine officers while several people sick with yellow fever or a plague are taken off the ship. Neely also discusses the troubles with the mission, the first meeting of the North Andes mission, and sailing to Mollendo, Peru.
The last group of letters are from Elizabeth Neely (wife of Thomas) to her niece in Philadelphia from the mission in Buenos Aires (April 1905-January 1908). Elizabeth's letters are not as extensive in detail as her husband's and are more for keeping in touch with her niece. Her initial correspondence describes their troubles finding housing and getting settled, high prices in Buenos Aires and the fact that when purchasing something in Argentina "you take what you can get," and the natives--their "ways" and the general low conditions of morals she feels they have. Once settled, Elizabeth writes about their house, planning a reception, sending their daughter to a Spanish school because the English school is co-ed, dealing with her servants, and coping with what she considers a corrupt and uncomfortable city. Her correspondence also discusses floods destroying villages and killing thousands of cattle and the fear of the people from the mission of an epidemic as the Pacific coast people are dealing with the plague and smallpox. Elizabeth also discusses attending a conference in Calle Corrientes and Montevideo as well as describing the city.
When Thomas was sent to London and New York to raise money for the diocese, Elizabeth's letters reflect her difficulty in adjusting to living alone in Buenos Aires until she can return home. She writes of the "ritual" of visiting neighbors and "at house" days (i.e. calling on friends during the week) and of Argentina's problems with influenza and fleas during hot weather. She writes about attending a Pan American conference and an international women's conference, and trying to find a way to care for and educate an American boy whose grandmother is ill and poor. She also discusses Christmas festivities, a three-day carnival, getting a telephone, rumors of an American school being started in Buenos Aires, a large English trading colony nearby, and a Buenos Aires funeral procession. Her letters request information about friends back home, talk of missionary friends in Japan, and comment on reading about the California earthquake.
Elizabeth's letters end with a discussion concerning a trip to Panama with her husband (December 1907), their arrival in Colon on the steamer
ADVANCE filled with passengers traveling to work on the Isthmus, and the remainder of their trip into Panamavia a train; and a trip to Santiago, Chile (January 1908), for a conference and an American legation luncheon.
Miscellaneous items include a photograph of the Neelys' Buenos Aires home; a newspaper clipping reviewing Bishop Neely's book,
The League the Nation's Danger, written about the controversy surrounding the U.S. entering The League of Nations; and the will of William Godfrey Washington dated September 20, 1729. Church documents include a certificate appointing Neely as an elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a certificate appointing Neely as a deacon of the church (March 17, 1867), an amendment to the Methodist Episcopal Church constitution (1888), a copy of a secret internal restructuring memo for the church districts (March 16, 1893), a letter (in Spanish) from the church council in Buenos Aires to the Bishop requesting that a certain reverend's work-load be lessened in order for him to perform more important duties, and miscellaneous hand-written notes about church conflicts.