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Adoniram Judson: Winning a Wife in the Homeland

by Belle M. Brain

Adoniram JudsonThe first time Adoniram Judson saw Ann Hasseltine his whole heart went out to her. It was a genuine case of love at first sight.

And no wonder. In every way she was worthy of the love of such a young man. Tall and slender, with dark eyes and curling hair, and a bright, vivacious manner, she was not only beautiful, but had the added charms of a keen and well developed mind, and a spirit as dauntless and devout as Judson's own.

It was during the sessions of the Massachusetts General Association of Congregational Churches held in Bradford in June, 1810—that historic meeting at which the American Board was born—that the two first met. Ann lived in Bradford, and Adoniram had come, in company with the three Samuels, Newell, Nott, and Mills, to present a paper to the Association stating their desire to become missionaries, and asking if they might expect support from the American churches.

The story of their first meeting is told by Judson's son: "During the sessions the ministers gathered for a dinner beneath Mr. Hasseltine's hospitable roof. His youngest daughter, Ann, was waiting on the table. Her attention was attracted to the young student whose bold missionary projects were making such a stir. But what was her surprise to observe, as she moved about the table, that he seemed completely absorbed in his plate! Little did she dream that she had already woven her spell about his young heart, and that he was, at that very time, composing a graceful stanza in her praise!"

An introduction followed, and ere long Judson asked her if she would be his wife and go with him to carry the gospel to the heathen in India.

It was a momentous question, which she did not answer at once. In every way he was such an one as she would choose. Slender and refined-looking, with dark eyes and chestnut hair much like her own, the son of a highly respected New England minister, and first honor man at Brown in 1807, any young woman might have been proud to be offered his hand, and Ann returned his affection. Had he been content to stay in America and serve the "biggest church in Boston," whose minister wanted him for a colleague, it would not have taken her long to decide. But to go with him to India,—that was another question.

It is hard to realize in these days what it meant to be a missionary then. No one had as yet left America to carry the Gospel to India, and public opinion was against it. For a man it was regarded as absurd; for a woman "entirely inconsistent with prudence and delicacy." The voyage was long and perilous, the climate of India unfavorable, and the danger of violent death at the hands of the natives believed to be great. Then, too, the engagement was for life, with no provision for furlough.

No wonder Ann hesitated. It does not cost quite so much to be a missionary in these days, yet many a young woman, asked the question that Adoniram asked Ann, even though her heart prompts an affirmative answer, either rejects the suit of her lover, or uses all her powers of persuasion to induce him to remain in the homeland with her.

Not so Ann Hasseltine. Though the idea appalled her, she bravely faced it and sought to know whether it was really God's call. Most of her friends were violently opposed to her going, and of the few to whom she turned for advice, only two or three gave her any encouragement whatever. Though Judson's whole heart was set on her going, he made no effort to bias her decision by minimizing the dangers or throwing a false glamour of romance over the future, but appealed instead to her love for Christ and the rewards promised to those who serve Him. When at length she said "something about the consent of parents," he wrote to her father as follows:

"I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world! Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life! Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death! Can you consent to all this for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing and immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God! Can you consent to all this in the hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathen saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair!"

It was an honest and honorable letter, though scarcely adapted, in the eyes of the world, to gaining its end. Few fathers would consent to a daughter entering upon such a career. But the spirit of obedience to the divine will was as strong in Mr. Hasseltine's heart as in that of Ann and her lover. If God wanted his daughter, dear though she was to him, he would not withhold her.

And so they were betrothed,—the earnest young student volunteer of twenty-two who had already done so much for missions, and the fair girl of twenty-one to whom belongs the honor of being the first American woman to decide to go as a missionary to the heathen of Asia. Be it not thought this decision was made merely because of her love for young Judson. In a letter to an intimate girl friend, dated September 8, 1810, she thus states her motives:

"I have ever made you a confidant. I will still confide in you, and beg for your prayers, that I may be directed in regard to this subject I shall communicate.

"I feel willing and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me. My determinations are not hasty, or formed without viewing the dangers, trials, and hardships attendant on a missionary life. Nor were my determinations formed in consequence of an attachment to an earthly object; but with a sense of my obligation to God, and a full conviction of its being a call in providence, and consequently my duty. My feelings have been exquisite in regard to the subject. Now my mind is settled and composed, and is willing to leave the event with God—none can support one under trials and afflictions but Him. In Him alone I feel a disposition to confide.

"How short is time, how boundless is eternity! If we may be considered worthy to suffer for Jesus here, will it not enhance our happiness hereafter? O pray for me. Spend whole evenings in prayer for those who go to carry the gospel to the poor heathen."

It must have been rather a solemn affair, this courtship of Adoniram and Ann. It could not be otherwise with the Puritan spirit still so strong in New England. At that time, and indeed for long after, levity was considered most unbecoming in a missionary, and the fitness of a candidate who indulged in much laughter was seriously questioned. Yet neither Ann nor Adoniram was by nature serious and sober. Up to the time of her conversion in her seventeenth year, Ann had been the [merriest] of the [merry], delighting in an endless round of parties, and regarding herself as entirely too old to say her prayers! And Adoniram, becoming tainted with French infidelity through association with a [merry] and witty college chum, had started out to see the world, and while seeing it had fallen in with a band of strolling players, whose wild and vagabond life he shared for a time.

But now they were as devout and as discreet as any one could wish. Of the frequent letters that passed between them, the three that have been given to the public—letters of Adoniram to Ann, dated respectively December 30 and 31, 1810, and January 1, 1811—show a complete consecration to God. That of New Year's Day pictures in such realistic terms the sorrows that may overtake them during the year that it is a wonder Ann did not break the engagement at once! But it breathes a spirit of true love for her, and is not without its playful touch. Longing to be united to her and eager to begin his great work, he expresses the wish that this may be the year in which she will change her name and they will cross the ocean and dwell in heathen lands together.

Not until the following year were these wishes fulfilled. On September 11, 1811, Messrs. Judson, Hall, Newell, and Nott (Luther Rice was later added to the number) received their appointment as missionaries from the Board, but as opportunities for obtaining passage to India were of rare occurrence in those days, no time was set for their departure.

At length the way unexpectedly opened. In January, 1812, it was found that two ships were about to sail for Calcutta, the Harmony from Philadelphia and the Caravan from Salem, and that by dividing the missionaries into two parties, passage could be secured for them all.

The time was short and there were many preparations to make, but at length all was ready. On February 5 there was a quiet wedding at Bradford, and an agonizing parting, as Ann and Adoniram Judson went forth, expecting never more to return. The next day, at a solemn and affecting service held in the old Tabernacle Church at Salem, where a picture of the scene and the settee on which they sat are still preserved, Judson and his colleagues received ordination. Then, on February 19, after an unexpected delay of some days, the Judsons, in company with Samuel and Harriet Newell, boarded the Caravan and began their wedding journey to the field.

It was well they had counted the cost. The trials in store for them, though of a somewhat different nature, were fully as great as they had anticipated. Contrary to all expectation, the ocean voyage was completed without disaster; neither of them met with a violent death at the hands of the heathen; and each, in the good providence of God, was permitted to return once to the homeland.

But the expulsion from India; the separation from their colleagues, and the odium cast on their names resulting from their change of belief in regard to the method of baptism; their settlement in Burma, a land they had been led to regard with feelings of horror; and the twenty-one months' imprisonment at Ava and Oung-pen-la—these were things they had not even dreamed of.

But, though God permitted them to suffer so sorely, He gave them abundant success. Many notable men and women have gone out since from America, but the service of these two has not yet been surpassed—perhaps not even equaled. In that dark land they dreaded to enter, Judson planted one of the most famous and successful of missions, and his wife proved herself one of the world's greatest heroines. The change in denomination that cost them so sore resulted in the forming of a second great missionary society in America,—the society so long known as the American Baptist Missionary Union,—and the recital of their sufferings at Ava kindled fires of heroic self-sacrifice that have never died out.

God evidently made no mistake when He gave Ann Hasseltine to Adoniram Judson to be his wedded wife. Without her at his side to cheer and comfort and help him, it would have been hard to plant the mission in Burma, and seemingly impossible for him to have endured the tortures at Ava.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Love Stories of Great Missionaries by Belle M. Brain. New York: Fleming H. Revell, ©1913.

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