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Mrs. Sarah Boardman Judson

by G. Winfred Hervey
Her Parentage and Birthplace — Of Poetic Turn of Mind — Her Self education and Teaching — Conversion and Baptism — Her Missionary Sympathies at first divided between the Indians of America and the Indians of Asia — Her Poem on the Death of Colman — Her First Acquaintance with Mr. Boardman — Her Marriage and Embarkation — Mr. Boardman Settles in Calcutta — Religious Dissipation of the Capital of India — She becomes a Favorite in Society — Her Personal Appearance and Manners — Her Christian Experience as Estimated by Dr. Judson — Midnight Robbers at Maulmain — Death of her Child and its Effect on her Belief — The Perilous Adventures of her Son, young George Dana — Messrs. Dean and Jones Attacked by Pirates — What George Dana has Come to Be and Do — Death of Mr. Boardman — Her Missionary Work at Tavoy Continued Three years — Becomes the Wife of Dr. Judson — Studies the Language of Pegu — Riding and Walking for Health — Sickness and Embarkation for America — Mauritius — Death and Burial at St. Helena — Mr. Judson's brief Eulogy.

She was the eldest child of Ralph and Abiah Hall, born at Alstead, New Hampshire, [United States], November 4th, 1803. While a girl of about fourteen, her parents removed to Salem, Massachusetts. As her father and mother were poor, and had a family of thirteen children, she, as the eldest, was much occupied in household toil. Consequently she went to school irregularly, but acquired knowledge by devoting the long winter evenings to study. From her biographer we gather that she commenced writing poetry at an early age, how early no dates inform us. In the days of her girlhood, parents were ambitious to prove that their children were very precocious and prodigies of genius. William Cullen Bryant is reputed to have written his Thanatopsis in his nineteenth year; but as it was not published until he was twenty-two, there was abundant time for him and his learned father to correct and improve it before it went to press. Sarah's fondness for versification showed itself at a time when her hours were almost all consumed in domestic duties and self-improvement. She had the poetic gift, but not the leisure to cultivate it.

At the age of seventeen she taught school for a few months, that she might gain the means of' studying for the same length of time. The same year, she became the subject of divine grace and was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Lucius Bolles, at that time pastor of the First Baptist church in Salem. From the time of her public profession, she was very active in seeking the salvation of her kindred, friends and neighbors. At the age of twenty she became the leading member of a tract society in Salem, and of a female prayer meeting, all of whose members were her seniors. And yet, during these three years of Christian activity at home, she ever kept in mind the wants of the heathen. About the time of her baptism, she made the following entry in her journal: "I have been pained by thinking of those who have never heard the sound of the Gospel. When will the time come that the poor heathen, now bowing to idols, shall own the living and true God?" On perusing the life of the missionary, Samuel J. Mills, she says: "I have almost caught his spirit and been ready to exclaim: 'Oh that I, too, could stuffer privations, hardships and discouragements, and even find a watery grave for the sake of bearing the news of salvation to the heathen." But on reflection, she chides herself for this, while sinners are perishing all around her; and it was probably the conviction that there was benevolent work enough nearer home, that led her at one time to think of giving herself to missionary service among the Oneida Indians of Central New York.

When young Colman died, so soon after he had set foot on pagan shores, the news of his premature death enlisted two young hearts, as yet strangers to each other, in the missionary service. Miss Hall was moved to write an elegy on Colman, which was published.

When George Dana Boardman, then tutor in Waterville College, heard of the death of Colman, he said to himself: "Who will go to fill Colman's place? — I will go." This question and answer occurred to him in succession, as suddenly as the twinkling of an eye. The young tutor read, about the same time, the elegy which we have mentioned. He found the heart of the unknown author in such sympathy with his own, that he inquired who she was. They met soon after, and, in the language of the sole witness, they found that "their spirits, their hopes, their aspirations were one."

At first her parents would not give their consent to her going out to India, but at length they were brought to make the sacrifice. As she was leaving home for the last time, she said: "Father are you willing I should go?" "Yes, my child, I am willing." "Now I can go joyfully!" was her emphatic response. Mr. Boardman and Miss Sarah Hall were married July 4th, 1825, and on the 16th of the same month they embarked at Philadelphia for Calcutta, where they arrived on the 2d of December.

From this time until the death of Mr. Boardman, her career was one with his; almost all its incidents, therefore, will be found in our delineation of that famous missionary. Some events of this period, however, must here be related. On their arrival at Calcutta, they found the war in Burmah raging, and missionary operations at a temporary end. They, therefore, resolved to wait in Calcutta till the strife was over, meanwhile pursuing their studies in the Burmese language. In no long time the Circular Road Baptist Church in that city invited Mr. Boardman to assume the pastoral care of them, which he continued to do for more than a year. Here Mrs. Boardman was persuaded to go much into society. Being young, handsome and accomplished, she was considered a valuable accession to British circles, and an entertaining companion for the idle and fashionable European ladies of the capital of India. Her features were of Grecian mold; her skin transparent; her eyes blue; her hair auburn — "brown in the shadow and gold in the sun." She was of about medium stature, and of gentle, confiding disposition. Her English friends, at the time, regarded her "as the most finished and faultless specimen of American women that they had ever known."

But the society in which she had been detained had its shadows as well as its lights. She was drawn insensibly into habits of religious dissipation. "Worldly prosperity and idleness, (a kind of spiritual idleness, I mean; for Mrs. Boardman's hands and head were doubtless busy), are great enemies to growth in grace, and both of these were incident to her position." It was here, I fancy, that she acquired a hand-writing which betrays in the lady from whom she had evidently copied it (for her early writing is that of a true and simple-hearted girl) an insincere and affected character. Happily for Mrs. Boardman, the imitation did not go beyond chirography. She afterwards testified that her residence in Calcutta did not promote her progress in religion. Indeed, in later years she was led to doubt whether as yet she was really a new creature. This might have been owing to the fact that she had adopted Dr. Judson's views of the "Higher Life." "When about sixteen years of age," says Dr. Judson in his obituary, "during a revival of religion in Salem, she entertained a hope, received baptism at the hands of her pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bolles, and became a member of his church. Her religious attainments, however, were not of a distinguished order, and though her amiable disposition and her deep interest in missions, especially after her acquaintance with Mr. Boardman, gave her an elevated tone of character, she subsequently felt that at that period she hardly deserved the name of a sincere Christian. And it was not till she was called to part with her eldest child, at Tavoy, in 1829, and pass through scenes of great danger and suffering during the Tavoy rebellion, that she was enabled to live a life of faith in the Son of God."

After Mr. and Mrs. Boardman's removal to Maulmain, they found that the mission house was exposed to the attacks of wild beasts and of men still more wild. It was a mile from the cantonments, on the edge of a thick forest or jungle, while it was exposed at night to bands of robbers, who came from the opposite shore, of the Salwen. One night, soon after the birth of her first child, Mrs. Boardman awoke and was startled to find that the lamp had been extinguished. It was soon relighted, but revealed a scene of odd confusion, — trunks, boxes and chests of drawers, all rifled of their contents. Raising her eyes to the curtain beneath which her husband had slept, she, discovered, cut in the muslin, two long gashes, one at the head and the other at the foot. "There had the desperate villains stood, glaring at the unconscious sleeper with their fierce, murderous eyes, while the booty was secured by their companions. The bared, swarthy arm was ready for the blow, and the sharp knife or spear glittered in their hands. Had the sleeper opened his eyes, had he only stirred, had but a heavy, long-drawn breath startled the cowardice of guilt — ah, had it? But it did not. The rounded limbs of the little infant lay motionless as marble; for if the rosy lips had moved but to the slightest murmur, or the tiny hand crept closer to the loved bosom in her baby dreams, the chord in the mother's breast must have answered and the death-stroke, followed. * * But an Eye was open — the Eye that never slumbers; a protecting wing was over them, and a soft, invisible hand pressed down their sleeping lids."

Not long after their removal to Tavoy they lost their eldest-born, little Sarah, at the age of two years and eight months. The death of this lovely child was the means of awakening not only Mrs. Boardman's faith in God, but especially in His particular providence. Before leaving America she had begun to doubt whether the great Supreme condescends to direct and control the minute concerns of every individual. But when her little flower was plucked by the Gardener, she, saw that it was His hand that had done it, and, what was better, His benevolent object in taking it away.

The sufferings and dangers she shared with Mr. Boardman at Tavoy, during the days and nights of the revolt, have been recounted in our sketch of her husband. What she endured in discovering that he was incurably sick, and as she watched the progress of insidious disease, her letters afford us a few glimpses. Would that we could here quote many passages from them; but we must content ourselves with a few sentences, descriptive of the return of the missionary invalid to Tavoy, to superintend the examination and baptism of nineteen natives.

"Three days," writes she, "were spent in examining candidates for baptism and in instructing those who had been previously baptized. Sometimes Mr. Boardman sat up in a chair, and addressed them a few moments; but oftener I sat on his sick couch and interpreted his feeble whispers. He was nearly overcome by the gladdening prospect, and frequently wept. But the most touchingly interesting time was the day before, when they, the Karens, left us, when nineteen were baptized. Grief and joy alternately took possession of my breast. To see so many in this dark heathen land putting on Christ could not but fill me with joy and gratitude; but when I looked upon my beloved husband lying pale upon his couch, and recollected the last time we had stood by those waters, I could not but be sad at the contrast. But in the evening, when we came together to receive from him the emblems of the Saviour's sufferings, my feelings changed. A breathless silence pervaded the room, excepting the sound of his voice, which was so low and feeble that it seemed to carry the assurance that we should feast no more together till we met in our Father's kingdom."

In our account of Mr. Boardman's last days, notably of the baptism of thirty-four natives in a mountain stream, we again have occasion to refer to Mrs. Boardman's letters.

The circumstances of Mr. Boardman's death we relate elsewhere. When left alone with her little boy, George Dana, in the jungles of the Karens, the First Baptist Church in Salem — of which she had been a very active and beloved member — no sooner received the tidings of the sad event than they instructed their pastor, the Rev. Dr. Babcock, to write to her, inviting her to return to Salem and receive from them a home amongst them, for herself and her fatherless son. She wept over the invitation, and replied with gratitude, but added that she had given herself to the Lord for missions, and as long as she had strength to be useful in them, nothing must be allowed to divide her heart or unsettle her purpose.

Mrs. Boardman's motives in concluding not to return to the United States, are best interpreted by her own words:—"When I first stood by the grave of my husband, I thought I must go home with George. But these poor inquiring and Christian Karens, and the school-boys, and the Burmese Christians, would then be left without any one to instruct them; and the poor, stupid Tavoyans would go on in the road to death with no one to warn them of their danger. How, then, oh! how can I go? * * My beloved husband wore out his life in this glorious cause; and that remembrance makes me more than ever attached to the work and the people for whose salvation he labored till death."

Her loneliness was partly remedied by the divine blessing on the life of missionary toil to which she immediately returned, and partly by the poetic sentiments with which she had learned to color the memories of her loss. While recovering from an alarming illness, in 1829 and '30, she had removed to Yalah, a pleasant place by the seaside. More than once did she visit the favorite scene with her late husband. After his death, revisiting the place, she describes in a poem the sad effects of the bereavement.

"The moon throws her bright and glistening ray
  On ocean's heaving breast;
And with the light the landscape gay,—
  But to me 'tis in sable dressed.

The tree to which the frail creeper clung,
  Still lifts its stately head:
But he, on whom my spirit hung,
  Is sleeping with the dead."

The three years of her widowhood were spent in most active and arduous missionary service among the Karens, in managing schools, and, because of the absence of the regular minister, even in conducting public worship. She would on such occasions sit in some zayat and address in low, gentle accents companies of two or three hundreds of Karens, through the medium of a native interpreter. She made tours through the jungles and among mountains, accompanied only by a few native disciples. She forded all the smaller streams, but was carried in a chair through the deeper waters. Her way sometimes lay through mountain passes, along the beds of torrents, amidst tangled shrubs and overhanging vines which were interwoven with the branches of trees. Little George, borne in the arms of her followers, was always her companion in these long and tiresome journeys. To a mind of poetic turn like hers, there was much to delight in these wild and strange aspects of creation, although there were many things in the habits and customs of the Karens to offend her elegant taste. But she was so absorbed in the work of carrying to these benighted tribes the glad message of salvation, that she gave scarcely a thought to what was merely pleasant or painful. When she left Tavoy to go and reside at Maulmain, she knew that her "beloved Karens" could now go forward without her guidance. Messrs. Mason and Wade, with their ever increasing number of native preachers, could abundantly make up for her absence.

Little George had been in many perils for a boy of his few years. He had passed with his father and mother through the terrors and dangers of the revolt at Tavoy, and had accompanied his mother during her toilsome and courageous wanderings in the Karen wilderness, but he was called to pay one more toll to the Devil before he could leave this favorite section of his diocese. This was in the bay, while being rowed to the ship which was to bring him to America. Dr. Dean barely mentions this stirring event in those recollections of Dr. Jones which we elsewhere reproduce. Both these missionaries were in the boat at the time. "They are ten miles from the shore and five from the ship — all alone and without arms. A boat with three fierce-looking men hails them in a seemingly friendly manner; and coming near enough to spy out their strength, or rather weakness, moves on. But the little company suspects no danger. A few moments pass and the spy-boat re-appears. It heads directly towards them, and comes with more speed — a sail hoisted and better manned. A quick glance of suspicion is exchanged, but there is time for no more, for the sail is close alongside. The strangers ask but a cluster of fruit, however, and Mr. Jones rises to give it them. What a gleaming of fiendish eyes! A moment of rapid action succeeds—a push—a plunge—and the kind fruit-giver is struggling with the waves, which have closed about his head. They attempt to wrestle a little with his companion but finally seize their arms. The little boy, from his hiding place beneath a bench, marks every thrust; and his flesh creeps and his blue eyes glitter and dilate until they assume an intense blackness. And now the form of his protector sways and reels, and the red blood trickles from his wounded side to the bottom of the boat. He stands, however, and receives another wound. And now the three iron prongs of a fishing spear send their barbed points through bone and muscle, and the heavy wooden handle is left hanging from the transfixed and bleeding wrist. At this fearful crisis, a hand from without clutches the boat — a pale, dripping face appears, and Mr. Jones, in the last stages of exhaustion, is drawn up into the boat by Mr. Dean. What a place to seek safety in! The marauders stand with drawn cutlass, or brandishing the creese or curved Malay dagger; but they pause a moment in their deadly work and substitute threats for blows. Their tones are those of infuriated madmen, and their gestures — ha! a light begins to break! Can that one small box, standing so unpretendingly in the boat, be the cause of the affray? It contains treasure, true, but not such as they can appreciate — messages of love from absent children, brothers, sisters and friends, to those who would value them far above gold and rubies. It is gladly flung to them, however, and the pirate-boat wheels and flees like a bird of prey. Thank God that death came neither in the wave nor the steel! And oh! how heartfelt, how unutterably deep, will be the mother's gratitude, when she hears of her darling's safety! When she knows that he has not been borne away to some dark haunt of vice and crime, to be bred to the bloody trade of a wild Malayan corsair!"

That might have been; but how different that which was to be. George came safely to us in the ship Cashmere, and, pursuing a classical course of study, graduated at Brown University in 1853. He then studied theology and settled as pastor. His brilliant and very successful career as preacher and author, in Rochester and Philadelphia, where he now resides, must be known to almost all our readers, and promises well to be heard of in distant ages and on the remotest islands of the sea.

At the beginning of the fourth year of her widowhood, in April, 1834, she was married to Dr. Judson. At Maulmain she, like the first Mrs. Judson, considered it her duty to engage in work collateral to the Burmese mission. As Mrs. Ann had studied the Siamese, so she studied the language of Pegu. She superintended the translation of the New Testament and some of the Burmese tracts into this tongue.

Soon after Mrs. Judson's removal to Maulmain, she was seized with alarming sickness. After many weeks of doubtful lingering, she began to recover. She attributed the good health which she afterwards enjoyed to riding on horseback, and especially to a regular system of exercise on foot along with Mr. Judson. They walked at a rapid pace far over the hills beyond the town, every morning before the sun was up. Later in his career he kept himself to the same exercise. "It is this walking," says Mrs. Emily Judson, "which is keeping him out of the grave." He always declared that those missionaries who by exercise promoted a regular perspiration lived longest in India. Walking may, to be sure, be carried to excess. Dean Swift is supposed to have weakened his powers of digestion by moving about too much on foot. Nevertheless, walking is the best exercise for students in general; and we have known not a few who, because of their unwillingness to adopt it, are now skeletons enjoying that uninterrupted rest which is so desirable to all such as are "born with a tired constitution."

Unhappily, however, Mrs. Judson was living in a climate most unfriendly to her health. In December, 1844, her life was so endangered by sickness that a voyage to America was required. Mr. Judson accordingly embarked with her and some of their children for the United States. On arriving at Mauritius, or the Isle of France, (the spot where Saint Pierre laid the scene of his little story of "Paul and Virginia"), Mrs. Judson was so much better that she resolved to proceed to America with the children, and allow Mr. Judson to return to his missionary duties at Maulmain. It was in prospect of this parting that she pencilled on a scrap of broken paper her memorable poem, beginning

"We part on this green islet, Love,
  Thou for the Eastern main,
I, for the setting sun, Love—
Oh, when to meet again?"

But in spite of an assurance of final recovery and of her eventual return to Burmah, alarming symptoms again appeared; her life rose and retired like waves; and Mr. Judson re-embarked with her for America. We cannot linger to describe that death-bed scene. At three o'clock in the morning of the 1st of September, 1845, while the ship was lying moored in the port of St. Helena, she was forever released from her sufferings and her sorrows.

Early that morning the news of her death flew swiftly from one to another. The flags of the shipping were at half-mast. The funeral was most solemn and affecting. "'Slowly and heavily beat the oars, and slowly, boat behind boat, moves the mournful procession to the shore." Her grave was in the cemetery by the side of Mrs. Chater, an English Baptist missionary of Ceylon, who had died in similar circumstances on her passage home. The poet, H. S. Washburn, has described the movements of that funeral procession, and the beatings of sad hearts as the casket was laid in the Rock of the Sea. We quote the first of the five treasured stanzas:

"Mournfully, tenderly,
  Bear onward the dead,
Where the warrior has lain
  Let the Christian be laid;
No place more befitting
  Oh, Rock of the Sea!
Never such treasure
  Was hidden in thee!"

As the ship had been detained three days in the port, Mr. Judson was obliged to hasten on board the same evening. On the following morning the island had disappeared beyond the eastern waves. The much bereaved man was acquainted with grief. He had buried his dead at Rangoon, at Amherst, at Maulmain, at Serampore. That was a sad voyage for him, however, in company with his motherless children. The infinite gain of his Sarah was a great loss to him. She had been the mother of eight of his children. For ten eventful years had she cheered, with her love and honor, the Crusoe solitude of his mission life. She was, as he testified, "in every point of natural and moral excellence, the worthy successor of Ann H. Judson." To that veracious eulogy my pen has no words to add.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885.

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