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Adoniram Judson: Apostle of Burma

Adoniram JudsonAdoniram Judson: Early Life and Work. The Apostle of Burma and one of the first and most devoted of the foreign missionaries of the American churches; born at Malden, Massachusetts, August 9, 1788; died on board a vessel off the coast of Burma, April 12, 1850. He graduated first in his class at Brown University in 1807. After teaching school for a year at Plymouth, he entered Andover Seminary in the autumn of 1808, although "not a professor of religion, or a candidate for the ministry, but as a person deeply in earnest on the subject, and desirous of arriving at the truth" (Wayland). The following May he made a profession of his faith in the Third Congregational Church at Plymouth, of which his father was then pastor. His attention was first drawn to the subject of missionary effort in heathen lands by the perusal, in 1809, of Buchanan's Star in the East; and in February, 1810, he devoted himself to that work. About this time be entered into intimate relations with that illustrious band of young men -- Mills, Nott, Newell, and Richards, and joined the first three in submitting a statement to the General Association of Ministers at Bradford, Massachusetts, which led to the organization of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. In January, 1811, he was sent to England, by the American Board, to promote measures of affiliation and cooperation between it and the London Missionary Society. He returned unsuccessful in the immediate design of his journey, but was appointed, with Nott, Newell, Hall, and Rice, a missionary to India. He was ordained, with these four men, on February 6, 1812, at Salem, Massachusetts.

Judson sailed on the 19th, from New York, with Mrs. Judson and Mr. and Mrs. Newell, for Calcutta, where he arrived June 17. On the voyage his views on the mode of baptism underwent a change; and, after his arrival in India, he and Mrs. Judson were baptized by immersion in the Baptist Church of Calcutta. In consequence of this change of views, he passed under the care of the American Baptist Missionary Union at its formation in 1814. The East India Company forbade his prosecution of missionary labors in India; and, after various vicissitudes, he landed in July, 1813, at Rangoon, Burma, taking up his residence at the Mission House of Felix Carey. Judson devoted himself to the acquisition of the language, in which he afterward became a proficient scholar. After six years of labor, the first convert, Moung Nau, was baptized at Rangoon, June 27, 1819. He was the first Burman accession to the Church of Christ.

From 1824 to 1826, during the war of England with Burma, Judson suffered almost incredible hardships. He was imprisoned for seventeen months in the jails of Ava and Oung-pen-la, being bound during nine months of this period, with three, and during two months with no less than five, pairs of fetters. His sufferings from fever, excruciating heat, hunger, repeated disappointments, and the cruelty of his keepers, form one of the most thrilling narratives in the annals of modern missionary trial.

Mrs. Judson. Mrs. Ann Hasseltine Judson suffered no less than her husband, though she was not subjected to imprisonment. Her heroic efforts to relieve the sufferings of the English prisoners received the tributes of warmest gratitude and praise at the time. She was born in Bradford, Massachusetts, December 22, 1789, and had been married on February 5, 1812. She entered with great enthusiasm into missionary effort, and established a school at Rangoon for girls. In 1821 she paid a visit to America. Her health was never robust; but she combined with strong intellectual powers a remarkable heroism and fortitude. During the imprisonment of her husband she was unremitting in her self-sacrifice, and walked fearless and respected from palace to prison among the excited Burman population. She died October 24, 1826. Hers is one of the immortal names in missionary biography.

In 1826 Judson transferred the headquarters of his mission to Amherst, in Tenasserim, Lower Burma; and in 1830 he began preaching to the Karens. In 1835 he completed the revision of the Old Testament in the Burmese language, in 1837 that of the New Testament. In the latter year there were 1,144 baptized converts in Burma.

Later Work and Visit to America. After an absence of more than thirty years, he returned, in 1845, for a visit to his native land. On the voyage his second wife (Sarah Hall Boardman) died (September 1) at St. Helena. She was the widow of the missionary, Dr. Boardman, and was married to Judson in 1834. Judson's arrival in the United States was the signal for an enthusiastic outburst of admiration for the missionary, and interest in the cause he represented. Everywhere crowded assemblies gathered to see and hear him. He, however, shunned the public gaze, and was diffident as a speaker. In 1823 Brown University had honored him with the degree of D.D. On July 11, 1846, he again set sail for Burma, having married, a few days before, Miss Emily Chubbuck of Eaton, N. Y., who was already well known under the name of "Fanny Forester." He arrived safely at Rangoon, and spent much of the remaining period of his life in revising his English-Burmese dictionary (ed. E. A. Stevens, Maulmain, 1852). His health, however, was shattered; and he died while on a voyage to the Isle of Bourbon. His body was buried in the ocean.

Judson was a man of medium height and slender person. He was endowed with strong intellectual powers, and sought in his Christian life, by the perusal of the works of Mme. Guyon and others, a fervent type of piety. His confidence in the success of missionary effort never wavered. Being asked, on his visit to America, whether the prospects were bright for the conversion of the world, he immediately replied, "As bright, Sir, as the promises of God."

Adoniram Judson's name will always have a place in the very first rank of American missionaries to heathen lands. He belongs to the first band of those missionaries, and his heroism, wise judgment, and diligent labor have not been excelled if equaled by any who have followed him. Written by D. S. Schaff.

Bibliography: Biographies of Adoniram Judson have been written by P. Wayland, 2 vols., Boston, 1853; H. Bonar, London, 1871; and E. Judson (his son), New York, 1883. The lives of his three wives were written by W. Wyeth, 3 vols., New York, 1892; A. W. Stuart, Auburn, 1851; A. W. Wilson, New York, 1853; and by C. B. Hartley, ib. n.d.

Copied by Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge... New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1910.
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