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Ann Hasseltine Judson

by John Telford

Mrs. Ann JudsonAnn Hasseltine was born at Bradford, Massachusetts on December 22, 1789. As a child her restless activity once made her mother, [unaware] of the wanderings in heathen lands that were to come, say, "I hope, my daughter, you will one day be satisfied with rambling."

The merry girl, devoted to her friends, was more eager to learn even than she was to enjoy herself. A book could allure her from her favourite walks and from the liveliest social circle. Her mother was ignorant of experimental religion, but she taught her daughter to be truthful, honest, and obedient, and the little maid fancied that, by keeping this code, saying her prayers every morning and evening, and abstaining from play on Sunday, she should escape "that dreadful hell, the thought of which sometimes filled me with alarm and terror. When twelve or thirteen, she went to the Bradford Academy, where she had many temptations. Her conscience reproved her for engaging in balls and lively parties, but she says, "I put a stop to its remonstrances by thinking that, as I was old enough to attend balls, I was surely too old to say prayers.''

One Sunday morning she took up Hannah More's ''Strictures on Female Education.'' The first words that caught her eye, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth," made a profound impression. This was deepened by the "Pilgrim's Progress,'' but love of gaiety made the lively girl for a time throw off all serious resolutions. In the spring of 1806 religious conferences were held in Bradford, and Miss Hasseltine was brought to Christ. She joined the Congregational Church, and became an earnest student of the Bible and of books that threw light upon it, as well as an active worker among the poor. A year later we find her taking charge, for a few months, of a little school, which, to the surprise of her pupils, she opened with prayer. She thus made a humble start as a teacher, and was for several years busy in this useful preparatory work at Salem, Haverhill, and Newbury.

Dr. Judson was at this time a student at Andover. He had been born at Malden, in Massachusetts, where his father was the Independent minister, on August 9, 1788. A fellow-student at Providence University led him into scepticism, but he was brought back to the old paths, and entered the Theological Seminary at Andover. Dr. Buchanan's "Star in the East'' made him resolve to be a missionary.

In June, 1810, we find him joining with three other students in an address to the General Association of the Congregational Church, which met in Bradford. The address begs the guidance of the fathers of their Church. Should they relinquish their missionary longings, or might they expect help from a missionary society in America or in Europe? In response to this appeal, a Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed, but as it seemed doubtful whether the American Churches would move quickly enough, Mr. Judson asked leave to visit England, in order to consult the London Missionary Society, and see whether it would help in the proposed mission. At this Association Judson first met Miss Hasseltine. He soon made her an offer of marriage, which compelled the young lady to face the question of leaving home and kindred for the East. Her friends, with few exceptions, strongly disapproved of her purpose, but the girl of twenty resolved to go. She thus broke the ice for her sisters. "No female had ever left America as a missionary to the heathen." One lady expressed the general feeling. "I hear,'' she said, "that Miss Hasseltine is going to India. Why does she go?"

"Why, she thinks it her duty," was the answer. "Would not you go if you thought it your duty?"

"But I would not think it my duty,'' was the significant rejoinder.

Miss Hasseltine had a severe struggle as she faced the dangers, trials, and hardships of a missionary's life, but when she had reached her decision she never wavered. Mr. Judson now returned from England. He reported to the Board that the London Missionary Society would accept himself and the other candidates if they worked under their sole authority, but did not see their way to enter into joint action with the American Board. Rather than give up their young men, the friends in the United States determined to raise funds for a new mission of their own. All arrangements were hastened, and Mr. and Mrs. Judson were married at Bradford on February 5, 1812. A fortnight later they embarked on the brig Caravan for Calcutta. On the voyage Mrs. Judson read through two volumes of "Scott's Commentary,'' with Paley, Trumbull, and Dick on Inspiration, Faber and Smith on the Prophecies. She was thus diligently preparing herself for her lifework. On June 18 they were welcomed to India by the venerable Carey, who invited them to be his guests at the mission-house in Serampore.

Ten days later Mr. Judson and his colleague were ordered to return to America by the East India Company. They had intended to labour in Burma, but all the Indian missionaries assured them that the despotic government of Burma made it impossible to enter that field. Whilst the Judsons were waiting in Calcutta for a vessel to take them to the Mauritius, they became Baptists. Mrs. Judson had told her husband that if he changed his views on infant baptism she would not, yet she also became a convert to the views of Carey and his colleagues. This change upset all Mr. Judson's plans. At one time he contemplated starting a mission in South America, and began to study Portuguese. Japan, Persia, Madagascar, were all thought of, but before any plans could be matured the Judsons were compelled by the East India Company to leave Bengal. They spent a few months in the Mauritius, whence they sailed in May, 1813, for Madras, having resolved to begin a mission at Penang among the Malays.

This door also was closed. The Judsons now determined to venture to Rangoon. There was not a moment to lose, for the officers of the Company might order them at once to sail for England. They reached Rangoon safely in July. Mr. Felix Carey, eldest son of Dr. Carey, had been at work there for some time, but had gone to Ava at the command of the Burmese king. The Judsons joined Mrs. Carey in the teak wood mission-house, which had beautiful gardens, two acres in extent, around it. They hired a teacher, but as he did not understand English, they had to point to anything of which they wished to know the name. A French lady took Mrs. Judson to see the wife of the Viceroy, who himself came into the room where they were waiting richly dressed and smoking a long silver pipe. It seemed wise to make friends with the Viceroy's wife in case any trouble should arise in the future. A year later the Careys took ship for Ava. The brig upset in the river, and Mrs. [Felix] Carey was drowned with her two children and several of her servants. This distressing event left the Judsons without any Christian friends in Burma.

They were now busily at work. When Mrs. Judson had finished her household duties she sat down at ten with her Burmese master. Meanwhile, her husband was studying with his learned teacher in the verandah. She writes: "I have many more interruptions than Mr. Judson, as I have the entire management of the family. This I took upon myself for the sake of Mr. Judson's attending more closely to the study of the language; yet I have found by a year's experience, that it was the most direct way I could have taken to acquire the language, as I am frequently obliged to speak Burman all day. I can talk and understand others better than Mr. Judson, though he knows more about the nature and construction of the language." A new Viceroy now came to Rangoon who proved a hearty friend to the missionary and his wife. The Judsons often spoke to the people about Christianity, but met with the answer, "Our religion is good for us, yours for you." With the exception of two or three sea captains who called on them now and then, they never saw a European face.

In January, 1814, Mrs. Judson's failing health made it necessary for her to go to Madras. The friendly Viceroy allowed her to take a Burmese attendant, which was a notable kindness, seeing that the law forbade any native woman to leave the country. She quickly recovered, and returned to her lonely husband in April. On September 11, a little son was born at the mission-house. Mr. Judson had to be his wife's sole physician and attendant. Her health was now quite restored. They were making rapid progress in the language, to which Mr. Judson gave twelve hours' close study every day, but no convert had been won.

Their baby died in May, 1815, leaving a terrible gap in the home. The same month Mr. Judson's health broke down under the strain of hard study. He was compelled to rest his eyes, but though he could not read he managed to prepare a Burmese grammar for the benefit of future missionaries. His health was gradually restored.

In October, 1816, Mr. and Mrs. Hough came to join them in their work. Mr. Judson's tract, giving a view of the Christian religion in Burmese, was now printed, with a catechism and a Gospel of St. Matthew. In April, 1817, Mr. Judson had his first real enquirer. He had read these little books, and eagerly asked, "How long a time will it take me to learn the religion of Jesus?"

The following December Mr. Judson's health made a change necessary. He went to Chittagong in order to get one of the native Christians there who could speak Burmese and assist him in his public teaching. He had been away from Rangoon three months when Mr. Hough was summoned to the court house, and told that a royal mandate had been received ordering all foreign teachers to leave the country. The friendly Viceroy and his family had returned to Ava, and his successor was only slightly acquainted with the missionaries. It proved that some Portuguese teachers had been ordered to leave, and this had been made a pretext for extorting money by some underlings. Mrs. Judson presented a petition to the Viceroy, who gave orders that Mr. Hough should not be molested.

In April, 1819, Mr. Judson opened a zayat. or preaching place, adjoining the mission premises. This building stood near Pagoda Road, a much-frequented highway leading to one of the great pagodas. It measured twenty-seven feet by eighteen, and was raised four feet from the ground. Mr. Judson sat in the front part of the zayat, which was entirely open to the road, and spoke to the passers-by. The middle of the building formed an airy room, with four doors and windows. Here service was held. Fifteen people, besides children, joined in the first public service in Burma. Mrs. Judson used to spend the day at the zayat conversing with the women whilst her husband spoke to the men. She had learned Siamese, and translated Mr. Judson's Burman publications into that language. She tells her sister in April, 1819, that she had nearly completed a translation of a celebrated Siamese book into English. It was "an account of the incarnation of one of their deities, when he existed in the form of a great elephant."

Whilst thus employed the Judsons received their first convert, a man of thirty-five, who seemed humble and teachable. He was baptized on June 27, and became a valuable assistant to the missionary. Mr. Judson, and his colleague Mr. Colman, now found it necessary to visit the capital in order to secure the approval of the new king for their work. They took a Bible in six volumes, covered with gold leaf, and enclosed in rich wrappers, as a present for his Majesty. On January 25, 1820, they reached Amarapura. The former Viceroy of Rangoon showed them much kindness, and helped them to secure an audience with the prince. but though this was granted, they could not gain the king's approval of their mission. They therefore returned to Rangoon, and told their bad news to the three converts who had been gathered in. It seemed as though the missionaries might have to leave Burma, but the converts begged them not to forsake the station at present. Their colleagues, Mr. and Mrs. Colman now went to start a new mission at Chittagong.

In July Mrs. Judson’s health broke down, and her husband took her to Bengal. They returned to Rangoon at the beginning of 1821, but there was no real improvement in Mrs. Judson's health, and on August 21 she started for America. It was a sore wrench to leave her husband and the little company of Christian converts. "Those only," she says, "who have been through a variety of toil and privation to obtain a darling object, can realise how entirely every fibre of the heart adheres to that object, when secured. Had we encountered no privations in our attempts to form a Church of Christ, under the government of a heathen despot, we should have been warmly attached to the individuals composing it, but should not have felt that tender solicitude and anxious affection as in the present case. Rangoon, from having  been the theatre in which so much of the faithfulness, power, and mercy of God had been exhibited—from having been considered for ten years past my home for life—and from a thousand interesting associations of ideas, had become the dearest spot on earth. Hence you will readily imagine that no ordinary consideration could have induced my departure."

The liver complaint from which she suffered had gained such ground that nothing but a sea voyage and the benefit of a colder climate could save her life. She had to come to England, as there was no way of getting direct to America. If the pain in her side was gone when she reached this country she intended to return at once to Rangoon. In London she found a home with, Mr. Butterworth, M.P., the noted Methodist layman of the day, who said that her coming reminded him of the verse: ''Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." After a visit to Cheltenham and to Scotland she sailed for America, where she arrived safely in September, 1822. On the passage she began her well-known history of the Burmese mission, in a series of letters addressed to Mr. Butterworth, who had put £100 out to interest for her Burmese School. Much more had also been collected in England. Mrs. Judson wanted the Baptists of the United States to feel that Burma must be converted through their instrumentality. "They must do more than they have ever yet done. They must pray more, they must give more, and make greater efforts to prevent the missionary flame from becoming extinct. Every Christian in the United States should feel as deeply impressed with the importance of making continual efforts for the salvation of the heathen, as though their conversion depended solely on himself. Every individual Christian should feel himself guilty if he has not done, and does not continue to do, all in his power for the spread of the gospel and enlightening of the heathen world.''

In February, 1823, she was able to report that her liver complaint seemed entirely removed. She had received her husband's journal, which reported that five more converts had been baptized. There were now eighteen members in all. Three of the women who used to attend Mrs. Judson's Wednesday meeting had lately been received into the Church, and had set up a female prayer meeting.

While Mrs. Judson was in America her husband had another interview with the king at Ava. His majesty asked many questions about Christianity, and made Mr. Judson preach before him. The missionary procured a site for a new station, so that he and his colleague, Dr. Price, might begin work in the capital. The king expressed his pleasure when he  heard  that  they thus intended to become permanent  residents in Ava. Mr. Judson had now finished his Burmese New Testament, and had prefixed to it an epitome of Old Testament history and prophecy. On December 5, 1823, Mrs. Judson arrived safely in Rangoon. The boat which was to take them up to Ava was in readiness, and seven days later they were on their way to the capital. There they found themselves without a home. Mr. Price urged them to share his house, but it was unfinished and so damp that two or three hours there threw Mrs. Judson into a fever. They had to take up their quarters in their boat till a small house could be built on the site given them by the king.   In a fortnight their home, consisting of three small rooms and a verandah, was ready. It was built of boards, so that the sun made it as hot as an oven. Mrs. Judson now began her female school with great promise of success. Mr. Judson preached every Sunday. Material was procured for building a brick house, and considerable progress made with its erection.

On May 23, 1824, the Judsons heard that the English had taken Rangoon. The foreign residents were in great fear, but the king's brother told one of them that the prince had said that they had nothing to do with the war and should not be molested. Ava was now full of preparation for war. The Burmans were confident in their prowess. The war boats, full of soldiers, singing and dancing for glee, passed the mission house every day. As soon as the army had left the Government began to deal with the foreigners who might, they feared, be spies. Three Englishmen were arrested, the two American missionaries were examined, but allowed to return home. When it was found, however, that they had received money from the Englishmen—who acted as their bankers—the suspicious Burmans jumped to the conclusion that they were probably spies receiving English pay.

On June 8, just as the Judsons were preparing for dinner, an officer rushed in bearing a black book, and asked for the teacher. A dozen Burmans accompanied him, one of whom the Judsons knew from his spotted face to be an executioner. This man threw Mr. Judson down, and bound him tightly with small cord. Mrs. Judson offered him money to loosen the cord, but he spurned her offers. The missionary was carried to the court-house and thence to the death prison.

Mrs. Judson spent some awful hours. A magistrate came to examine everything. She destroyed her letters and journals lest they should show that the Judsons had correspondents in England, and had made notes of everything that had happened since  they came into the country. After a minute examination the magistrate set ten ruffians as a guard over the house. She says, "My unexpected, desolate state, my entire uncertainty of the fate of Mr. Judson, and the dreadful carousings and almost diabolical language of the guard, all conspired to make it by far the most distressing night I had ever passed."

Next morning she learned that her husband and all the "white foreigners" were confined in the death prison with three pairs of iron fetters each. They were fastened to a long pole to prevent their moving. The third day Mrs. Judson secured an interview with the Governor of the town. His head officer promised to relieve the sufferings of the prisoners if a heavy bribe were given him. Mrs. Judson soon found herself at the door of the prison, to which her husband was allowed to crawl. The prisoners were now brought out of the dungeon into an open shed in the prison enclosure. Here Mrs. Judson was allowed to supply them with food and mats. Meanwhile the mission-house was searched, and some of the Judsons' property confiscated. The king ordered  that  books and other things should remain, and that their property should be restored if it was found that Mr. Judson was not really a spy. All kinds of petty officers sought to enrich themselves by the missionary's trouble. Her husband's imprisonment was a terrible time of trial for Mrs. Judson. Hardly a day passed that she did not make some application to members of the Government or of the Royal family to gain some relief for the prisoners. The extortion and oppression which the missionary and his friends suffered were indescribable. Sometimes they were ordered not to speak to each other; then servants were forbidden to carry in food without an extra fee; for days together Mrs. Judson could not go into the prison till after dark. Sometimes she got home at nine o'clock, solitary and worn out with fatigue and anxiety. After great exertion she secured some mitigation of her husband's lot, and was allowed at times to spend two or three hours with him in a little bamboo house in the prison enclosure.

During this time a little daughter was born, and called Maria Eliza Butterworth, after their friend in London. When the baby was two months old, Mr. Judson sent word that he and his fellow-prisoners had been again thrust into the inner dungeon with five pairs of fetters on each of them. His little room had been pulled down, his mat, pillow, and other possessions seized by the gaolers. The friendly Governor could give Mrs. Judson no help, and she was not allowed to enter the prison. The Governor told her that he had three times been instructed by the queen's brother to assassinate all the white prisoners privately, but had not done it. It was now the beginning of the hot season, and more than a hundred prisoners were shut up in one room without a breath of air save from the cracks in the boards. Mr. Judson was soon prostrated by fever. After incessant application his wife secured his transfer to a little bamboo hovel, where she was allowed free access. The prisoners were now removed to Oungpenla, eight miles away, whither Mrs. Judson followed them. She spent six wretched months in a small room belonging to one of the gaolers, which was half full of grain. Her husband was still suffering from fever, and her little girl caught the small-pox. Mrs. Judsons own health gave way, and she became so weak that she could hardly walk to the prison. Had it not been for the affectionate care of their Bengalee cook both husband and wife must have succumbed. Their child, for whom they could not find a nurse or a drop of milk, was even a greater sufferer than her parents. The mother was heart-broken. "By making presents to the gaolers, I obtained leave for Mr. Judson to come out of prison and take the emaciated creature around the village to beg a little nourishment from those mothers who had young children. Her cries in the night were heart rending, when it was impossible to supply her wants."

At last Mr. Judson was released from prison to act as translator and interpreter in the Burmese camp. His wife returned to Ava, where she was struck down with spotted fever. Dr. Price, who was just then released from prison, found her situation the most distressing he had ever witnessed. He did not think that she could survive many hours. It was more than a month before she could stand. After six weeks at the camp at Maloun Mr. Judson was sent to Ava. When his wife recovered they went down the river to the British camp, where they received a warm welcome.

The Judsons now arranged to settle at Amherst in Lower Burma, which had been ceded to the English. Whilst Mr. Judson went to Ava in the suite of the British envoy his wife superintended the building of a house, and reported that she began to feel at home. During his absence she was again prostrated by fever. Her health had been utterly broken by the strain of the past two years, and she never rallied from the attack. She died on October 24, 1826, in the thirty-seventh year of her age. Little Maria followed her six months later. Thus died one of the women whose name sheds a halo around the history of American missions. The pathetic story of her heroic endurance during her husband's terrible imprisonment is one of the most stirring pages in the history of modern missions.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Women in the Mission Field... by John Telford. London: Charles H. Kelly, 1895.

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