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The Missionary Heroine—Ann Hasseltine Judson

by S. W. Williams

Mrs. Ann JudsonThere is no sublimer exhibition of moral heroism in the world's history than that which the life of Mrs. Ann Hasseltine Judson affords. She was the first American woman who resolved to leave friends and country to carry the Gospel of Christ to the heathen in foreign climes. This resolve was made, not when the missionary cause had already enlisted the sympathies and benefactions of the whole Christian world, not when the feasibility of the great enterprise had been demonstrated by tens of thousands won to Christ in heathen lands, but when the work was new, and when the wisest and the best were doubtful of its resources and results. But if her early consecration to the cause was heroic, her subsequent devotion to it, amid scenes that might have caused the stoutest heart to faint, was still more glorious. She was first of a long line of successors, whose names shall be forever identified with the ultimate triumph of Messiah's kingdom in the earth.

Ann Hasseltine was born in Bradford, Massachusetts, December 22, 1789. In her earlier years she was distinguished for great mental strength and activity, for practical sense and inexhaustible fertility of resource, as well as great energy of character. She was educated at Bradford Academy, and was distinguished for the ardor and intenseness of her application to intellectual pursuits. Her mind was well disciplined, and her acquisitions large. Something of the character of her mind may be inferred from the fact that, when awakened to a sense of her sinful and lost condition—though only seventeen years of age—Edwards on Redemption became her chosen companion, and by that she was "specially instructed, quickened, and strengthened." Her consecration to Christ was now complete. She says: "I have seasons when I feel I have given myself unreservedly to the Savior, to be disposed of as he sees fit for time and eternity." No wonder that her growth was rapid, and we soon find her rejoicing in full assurance. "I have seasons of feeling," says she, "that I do sit at the feet of my Savior, and that I do choose him for my Prophet, Priest, and King. At these seasons I have felt that if my soul was lost the whole plan of salvation must fail, so conscious am I of loving him, and giving myself to him in his appointed way." When some one sought to subject her faith to the old Calvinistic test by asking her whether she was willing to be lost, her reply is worthy to be written in letters of gold: "I am not willing to be an enemy to God. With this submissive spirit I could not be unhappy, however he might dispose of me." The secret of her rapid growth in grace, and of the development of a sturdy Christian character, is found in the fact that from the time of her conversion and spiritual consecration she became an active laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. It was well said of her that the zeal which made her a missionary abroad first made a missionary of her at home. Her early friends testify that from the time of her conversion till she sailed for Burmah she rarely spent half an hour in any company without introducing the subject of personal religion. On the Sabbath it was her custom to fix her mind upon some one of her friends, take their arm, and, as they walked home from Church, endeavor to stir them up to seek Christ. She visited her neighbors for a like object, after having as a teacher performed the labors of the day, till nearly every family had been blessed with her presence, and every individual earnestly and affectionately reasoned with upon the soul's great concern. What might not be hoped for from so promising an early Christian life?

In 1810 the celebrated memorial drawn up by Mr. Judson, and signed by himself and Samuel Nott, Samuel J. Mills, and Samuel Newell—proposing to devote themselves to the missionary cause in heathen lands—was laid before the General Association. This was the origin of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. It is remarkable that Bradford was the place where this Association was held, and that during its session Mr. Judson for the first time saw Miss Hasseltine, who afterward became the partner of his early missionary toils.

In making to Miss Hasseltine the offer of marriage, Mr. Judson accompanied it with a declaration of his purpose to devote his life to the cause of Christ in heathen lands, and an invitation to share with him the responsibilities and perils of missionary life. "It was an untried path, beset with difficulties and dangers, and it was not in her nature to enter it without a thorough consideration of any question which might suitably bear upon her decision. Mr. Judson, with an honorable manliness, in the very act of proposing to her and to her parents his participation in missionary life, portrayed every discouragement in its truest colors. The struggles through which her own mind passed in arriving at a decision she has faithfully recorded, and they furnish a beautiful tribute to her delicacy as a woman, and to her fortitude and devotion as a Christian. Mr. Judson's offer was accepted, and thus were brought together two extraordinary characters, most remarkably suited to each other, and to the exalted sphere of Christian duty to which they were assigned. They were married at Bradford, February 5, 1812. Mr. Judson, Messrs. Newell, Nott, Hall, and Rice, were ordained the next day at Salem, and on the 19th of the same month Mr. and Mrs. Judson embarked for Calcutta."

The missionaries, it is well known, were expelled from the British possessions in India. The East India Company could better aggrandize its power and increase its wealth by protecting heathenism than by permitting the introduction of Christianity. God's wrath may be long delayed, but the terrible Sepoy rebellion, so fresh in all our recollections, attests the certainty and fearfulness of his judgments. The little missionary band was broken, and its members scattered. After much suffering and many hair-breadth escapes, Mr. and Mrs. Judson landed on the Isle of France. Here they were watched as suspected persons, and could find no permanent stay. How desolate must have been their condition! Persecuted and hunted down—not by heathen but by professedly Christian powers! "O, when," writes Mrs. Judson in her journal—"O, when will my wanderings terminate? When shall I find some little spot that I can call my home in this world? Yet I rejoice in all thy dealings, O, my heavenly Father, for thou dost support me under every trial, and enable me to lean on thee. Thou dost make me to feel the sweetness of deriving comfort from thee when worldly comforts fail. Thou dost not suffer me to sink down in despondency, but enablest me to look forward with joy to a state of heavenly rest and happiness. Then shall I have to wander no more; the face of Jesus shall be unvailed, and I shall rest in the arms of love through all eternity." After being beset with uncertainty, buffeted, imperiled, and tossed about, they landed, July, 1813, at Rangoon, in the great Burman empire. We have not space for the details of missionary life and labors that now followed. Three years were devoted mainly to the acquisition of the language. Mrs. Judson outstripped her husband in the acquisition of the colloquial, but he obtained a more thorough knowledge of the structure of the language. It was not till six years after they landed in Rangoon that they were able to rejoice over the first native convert to the Christian faith.

In 1821 the prostration of her health led Mrs. Judson to return to America on a visit. Here she was the object of distinguished attentions, and by her letters, her personal appeals, and by the publication of her History of the Burman Mission, she contributed largely to awaken an interest in the cause of foreign missions among the American Churches. With her health only partially restored, she rejoined her husband at Rangoon in the Autumn of 1823. Now opens a new and splendid chapter in her history—one that the Christian world will never forget. From the record made of it by Dr. Cutting, in the American Missionary Memorial, we gather an outline sketch, which is all our space will admit. Mrs. Judson while in this country seemed to have observed almost prophetically the gloomy shadows of that crisis, but she was undismayed, and returned to her post with the true martyr spirit. During her absence the number of converts had been nearly doubled, and Mr. Judson had completed a translation of the New Testament, as well as an epitome of the Old. The arrival of Dr. Price soon after her departure, and the information at court of his skill as a physician, had occasioned a summons from Ava, which brought Mr. Judson and his new missionary associate into the presence of the king, and an order that the missionaries should remain at the capital, where land was given them on which to erect dwellings. These arrangements having been made, Mr. Judson descended the river to Rangoon, where he met Mrs. Judson, with whom he soon returned to Ava, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Wade with Mr. Hough to carry forward the work at the old station. For a while Mr. Judson proceeded with his missionary labors at the capital, but no time had elapsed for the gathering of fruits before the sudden breaking out of war between the British East India Company and the Burmese Government brought upon the missionaries and other foreign residents of Ava perils, privations, and sufferings, such as language is hardly adequate to record. For nearly two years no tidings came of their fate. Whether this lack of intelligence was a mere incident of the war, or whether they had at once fallen victims to the jealousy of an implacable despot, or were still surviving in chains and sorrow, were painful questions of which no solution could be gained. The deepest anxiety possessed the hearts of American Christians during this long period, and when, at length, tidings came of their safety, the joy and thanksgiving were universal. The record of their sufferings, unsurpassed by any narrative of fiction, was written by Mrs. Judson, and will remain through successive ages one of the most exciting chapters of missionary history. To abbreviate it, or to attempt a sketch in other language, may be permitted only under the sternest necessity, and the best success will poorly compare with the graphic original.

Mr. and Mrs. Judson received their first certain intelligence of the war as they were approaching Ava, and on their arrival found themselves regarded with some coldness by the king and court. On the 23d of May, 1824, the fall of Rangoon was made known at Ava, and, though the proud monarch did not doubt his power to repel and punish the British, the necessity of large military preparations was admitted, and intense excitement prevailed at the palace. Golden chains were prepared in which to bring to Ava the captive Governor-General, and ladies and gentlemen of the court anticipated the service of English slaves as attendants! The soldiers embarked in high glee, ignorant of the irresistibleness of scientific warfare, and looking for an easy victory over barbarians and cowards. No sooner had the army embarked than suspicions arose of the presence of spies, and three Englishmen residing at Ava were forthwith arrested and examined. In this examination it was found that the accounts of one of them showed considerable sums of money paid to Mr. Judson and Dr. Price, and, ignorant of the methods of transmitting funds practiced by Europeans and Americans, the Government found in this fact what it deemed evidence of their complicity with the English in the war. On the 8th of June Mr. Judson was suddenly arrested at his dwelling by a posse of officers, one of whom, known by his "spotted face," was an executioner. Throwing Mr. Judson upon the floor, they bound him with cords, answering the importunity of his wife on his behalf with threats to take her also. She offered the "spotted face" money to loosen the cords, but he spurned the gift, and dragged away his victim, pausing at a few rods' distance to tighten the instruments of torture. The faithful disciple, Moung Ing, followed, to trace the teacher's steps, and to procure, if possible, a mitigation of his sufferings. He returned with the intelligence that the order of the king had consigned Mr. Judson to the death-prison; he saw no more. Next Mrs. Judson found herself a prisoner in her own house, the magistrate of the place summoning her to the veranda for examination. Hastily destroying all letters and papers in her possession, lest they should disclose the fact that she and her husband had correspondents in England, and had taken notes of all occurrences which they had witnessed in the country, she submitted to the scrutiny of her inquisitor, who left her under the guard of ten ruffians, whom he charged to keep her safe. Night came, and darkness. Barring herself and her four little Burman girls in an inner room, she was ordered by the guards to open the doors and come out, or they would tear the house down. Partly, however, by threats, and partly by bribes, she quieted them so far that they let her alone, carousing, however, through all the night, and pouring forth the most diabolical language to which she had ever listened.

This dreadful night of personal danger and of painful apprehensions as to her husband's fate, was but the beginning of sorrows. The next morning Moung Ing brought to her the information that her husband and all the white foreigners were confined in the death-prison, with three pairs of iron fetters each, subsequently increased to five, and fastened to a pole to prevent their moving. She entreated the magistrate for leave to go to some member of the Government in behalf of her husband, and wrote a letter to her friend, the king's sister, but in vain. Night found her a prisoner still. On the third day a message to the governor of the city, expressing her desire to appear before him with a present, resulted in an order for her release. Gifts wrung from the wretched woman secured the promise of an amelioration of her husband's sufferings, and permission to visit him in prison, and, by the same means, all the prisoners were delivered from their suffocating confinement, and placed in an open shed within the prison inclosure. Hither she sent food and mats for them all, commencing those angelic ministries to the sufferers which have rendered her name immortal. Next, her hopes were raised by the prospect of a successful petition to the queen; then came the confiscation of Mr. Judson's effects, the most exact list of them being made by officers in attendance. Fertile in resources, she secreted a considerable sum of money, alike indispensable to her support and to any successful intervention in behalf of her husband, and saved, likewise, numerous articles which, during the long imprisonment, proved to be of inestimable value. Then followed the dashing of all her hopes by the refusal of the queen to interfere. Again she was refused admittance to her husband, and the sufferings of the prisoners were increased, and again relief to them was purchased by her judicious use of presents. Month after month passed away, during which this incomparable woman employed her time in devising and executing measures for the comfort of the prisoners, and specially for the release of her husband, scarcely a day passing in which she did not visit some member of the Government or some branch of the royal family, with no other effect, however, than that she and the objects of her solicitude were kept from despair by the encouraging promises of the capricious court. No one dared to approach the despot on the throne in favor of a foreigner while the English were on their successful march toward Ava.

An incident connected with this imprisonment remained to the end of his life among Dr. Judson's most vivid recollections. Seven months of these privations and sufferings had passed away, during which Mrs. Judson had used her inexhaustible resources of talents and influence in ministering to the necessities of the prisoners, meeting extortion and oppression with gifts, and capricious and vexatious orders with extra fees, and conciliating the good-will of those in power by her intelligence and eloquent persuasion. "O, how many, many times," says Mrs. Judson, in a letter to her brother, "have I returned from that dreary prison at nine o'clock at night, [a distance of two miles,] solitary, and worn-out with fatigue and anxiety, and thrown myself in that same rocking-chair which you and Deacon L. provided for me in Boston, and endeavored to invent some new scheme for the release of the prisoners!" At this period occurred the birth of her daughter. Twenty days after that event she was again at the prison door, with the child in her arms, begging for admission. The prison was a rough building, like a New England barn of former days, without ceiling or lining of any kind, without windows, or even an aperture for air. There were in the prison about one hundred prisoners, mostly Burmese, many of them in the stocks or otherwise tortured. The group nearest the door was composed of ten foreigners, of whom two were Americans, three Englishmen, two Armenians, one Spaniard, and one Portuguese priest. Their clothing was reduced to shirts and trousers. They wore five pairs of fetters each upon their ankles, and were further confined by a bamboo, as before mentioned, passing between their legs, and confined to the two outside men, so that they could sit or lie, each one at his pleasure, but could move only by a common effort. The wretched men were in this condition, when suddenly the door opened, and Mrs. Judson, clad in Burmese costume, which she had adopted for safety's sake, stood before her husband with their little child, unconscious of its parents woes. Behind her stood the faithful Moung Ing, and by her side the diabolical "spotted face." She was not permitted to enter, and, as the father struggled to receive the precious gift, his companions in misery, impelled by an instant benevolence, seconded his wishes by a simultaneous movement toward the door. It is not strange that such a scene was impressed indelibly on the mind of every one present, nor that the artist has found in it a striking subject for his pencil. Dr. Judson was never able to refer to it without the deepest emotion.

But new miseries were yet in store. The hot season had now come, and the close confinement of the prisoners was scarcely to be endured. New severities were practiced, and the unremitted exertions of Mrs. Judson failed to procure more than the slightest alleviations. Even the governor of the city, to whom she was indebted for many friendly offices, resisted her appeals till her husband was prostrated with a fever, when he ordered his removal to a bamboo hovel, "a palace in comparison to the place he had left." Three days afterward the governor sent for her in great haste, detaining her with inquiries about his watch, while her husband and all the other white prisoners were removed, she knew not whither. She ran in every direction, making inquiries in vain, till at length she learned from an old woman that they had gone toward Amarapoora, the old capital, distant six miles. "You can do nothing for your husband," said the governor, adding, kindly and significantly, "take care of your self" She was satisfied that there was danger, but she was not to be deterred from her purpose. She obtained a pass port, and the next morning, with her child, the two Burmese children, and a Bengalee servant, set off for Amarapoora, first in a boat and then in a cart. Through the dreadful heat and dust she arrived at the government house, but the prisoners had just left for a village beyond, "the never-to-be-forgotten Oung-pen-la." Arrived at that place she overtook them in an old shattered building, scarcely protected from the sun, chained two and two, and almost dead from suffering and fatigue. "Why have you come?" said Mr. Judson in gentle and sad reproof. "I hoped you would not follow, for you can not live here." The jailer would not permit her to remain at the prison, but he gave her a shelter in one of the rooms of his own house, and there she spent the next six months of wretchedness. It was on the dreadful march to this prison, under the burning heat of a midday sun, that Mr. Judson's feet stained the sand with their blood, and that he was saved from perishing by the considerate kindness of the Bengalee servant of one of the prisoners, who tore his turban from his head, and, dividing it between his master and Mr. Judson, bound it around their feet, and then permitted Mr. Judson to lean upon him the rest of the way. When night came, the kindness of woman furnished refreshments for the prisoners, and in the morning carts were provided to bear them the rest of the way to Oung-pen-la.

On their arrival at this place the prisoners supposed they were to be burned, and endeavored to prepare their minds for the event. But the repairs upon the building rekindled their hopes, and they soon found some alleviations of their condition. These alleviations were not of such character, however, as to remove their miseries. Oppression and extortion still remained the features of their prison discipline, and the tender mercies which they experienced were only the capricious indulgences of tyrants. Mrs. Judson, in turn, became now the helpless sufferer. Her health gave way; her poor child lost its accustomed nourishment, and the wretched father, permitted to go abroad from the prison by the force of presents to his keepers, bore the famishing and helpless thing from house to house about the village, begging its food from mothers who had young children. But deliverance was at hand. The English army made its triumphant march toward Ava, and the humbled king at length "sent an embassage, desiring conditions of peace." The services of Mr. Judson were now important to him, and his release was ordered. The period of their sufferings had not yet expired, but they were cheered with brighter hopes, and in February, 1826, they were permitted to rest under the protection of the British flag, in the camp of General Sir Archibald Campbell, who had demanded their release.

Descending the river to the territories ceded by the Burman Government to the English, Mr. and Mrs. Judson commenced missionary operations at Amherst, a new town designed to be the British capital. Scarcely, however, were they fixed in this new abode when urgent overtures were made to Mr. Judson to accompany an embassy to Ava, to negotiate a new treaty. In the hope that an article providing for religious toleration might be incorporated, Mr. Judson yielded to the wishes of the commissioner, and parted with Mrs. Judson on the 5th of July—never to see her more on earth. Her constitution, broken by the intense sufferings and cares of the long imprisonment, yielded to an attack of fever, and, after eighteen days' illness, she departed this life, October 24, 1826, in the thirty-seventh year of her age. Her husband returned to his desolate home in the deepest affliction, unable to gain any particular information as to the state of mind with which she approached death, saving only that she resigned her spirit to God who gave it with calm and trusting faith. Her funeral was attended by all the English residents, and the Assistant Superintendent, with thoughtful kindness, placed "a small rude fence around her grave to protect it from incautious intrusion." Her child survived her just six months,

"And then that little moaning one
Went to its mother's bosom, and slept sweet
'Neath the cool branches of the hopia-tree."

Thus lived and died Ann H. Judson. Her life was short, but filled with stirring incidents and useful deeds. It is not strange that, living, she gained the love and admiration of the Christian world, nor that, dying, her name found its place at once among the heroines of history. It is not extravagance to characterize her as the woman of the century.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Queenly Women: Growned and Ungrowned by S. W. Williams. Cincinnati: Cranston and Stowe, ©1885.

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