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Adoniram Judson and the Mission in Burmah

by G. Winfred Hervey
Birthplace and early education of Judson—Conversion—The first to conceive the idea of the Foreign Mission enterprise in America—Looks to the London Missionary Society for aid—Voyage to England—Is captured and carried to France—Liberation and departure for England—Anecdote of Rowland Hill—Return to America and Marriage—Embarks for the East under the patronage of the American Board—Arrival at Calcutta—Judson's studies during the voyage—Fears of Mr. and Mrs. Judson that the Baptists were right—Their Baptism at Calcutta—They write home—The Baptists of the United States not unprepared to assist them—The influence of the Serampore Mission in America—Missionaries going out in American ships—Opposition of East India Company—Ordered to return to America—Death of Harriet Newell—Mr. Rice to return to the United States—Providentially saved from death by sailing into a place of refuge—Arrive at Rangoon.

Adoniram JudsonThe senior Baptist missionary to Burmah, so well known as the translator of the Bible into Burmese, and as the heroic sufferer in the prisons of Ava and Oung-pen-la, was born in Malden, Mass., [U.S.A.], on the 9th of August, 1788. He was the son of a Congregational minister; and it is worthy of note that although he was the eldest son, yet was he of greater intellectual gifts than any other member of the family. As a boy, he was quick of perception and of tenacious and ready memory. His brightness and love of study made him the prodigy of his relatives; and his father came very near spoiling him, by assuring him that he would certainly be a great man. His mother also was vain enough of her son to give him long pieces to master in a very short time. But the intellects of the young of New England in those days were subjected to the forcing system of the hot-house. Almost every mother seemed to imagine that her son was the "Coming Man," and some publishing houses were burdened with little biographies of old heads on young shoulders.

Young Judson was graduated at Brown University in 1807, the first scholar in his class. After teaching a private school for a year in Plymouth, he set out on a tour through the Northern States. While in college he had imbibed the principles of French infidelity; no wonder, therefore, that on his arrival in New York city he attached himself to a theatrical company. But on returning as far as Sheffield, he happened one Sunday morning to hear a sermon in the pulpit of his uncle, from a very pious young man which made a deep impression on his heart. The next night he stopped at a country tavern. As the landlord lighted him to his room, he told him that he was next door to a dying young man. Sounds from the sick chamber made it a very restless night to him. In the morning he learned that the young man had died, and that he was a Deist he had known when a student in the University. The coincidence alarmed him, and drove him almost into despair.

He abandoned his scheme of adventure, and returned home with his mind impressed with the need of a personal interest in Christ. By the joint persuasions of two of the professors in the Andover Theological Seminary, he was induced to commence a course of studies in that institution. The rules of the seminary required evidence of evangelical piety as a condition of admission; but as he had at that time no satisfactory hope in Jesus and had made no profession of religion, he was admitted as a special student. About six weeks after his removal to Andover he gained new spiritual light, and was enabled to believe in Christ as his atoning sacrifice.

In September, 1809, he read for the first time a little book entitled "The Star in the East," by Rev. Claudius Buchanan. It was this that led him to inquire whether it was his duty to become a missionary to the heathen. In February, 1810, he resolved to devote his life to the cause of Foreign Missions. At first he found no student or neighboring minister that gave any encouragement. At length Samuel Nott, Jr., a member of his own class, was found to have an interest in Foreign Missions. He had for several months considered the subject but had not fully made up his mind as to his personal duty in the matter. These two kindred spirits had their minds, in the first instance turned to the East, as a field of missions. About the same time, Mills, Richards, Rice and others came to Andover Seminary from Williams College where they had formed a missionary society. These new comers had their attention first directed to the American Indians. One after another, however, Judson convinced them that Asia was the most important field; and he drew up a petition on the subject addressed to the General Association convened at Bradford, in June 1810. Doubting the results of the deliberations of the Association, young Judson conceived the idea of offering his services as a foreign missionary to the London Missionary Society. Rev. Dr. Griffin, then a professor at Andover promised to write in his behalf to London. Some time after, as they casually met, the professor apologized for having failed to write, but would do so immediately.

"I thank you, Sir," replied young Judson, "I have written for myself." In his letter to Dr. Bogue, dated April, 1810, he expresses a wish to receive an immediate reply.

In the following September the Board of Commissioners, appointed by the Association in June, held its first meeting. This body approved the readiness of the young gentlemen to go out to the East, but recommended them to wait for further information and for the raising of the needful funds. The other intending missionaries submitted to the delay advised. But the ardent Judson requested that he be authorized to visit London, in order to ascertain whether the London Missionary Society would cooperate with the American Board of Commissioners. On his way across the Atlantic, he was captured by a French privateer and carried to Bayonne, where he was confined in a prison. At length, being liberated by the kindness of an American resident, he took the first opportunity to cross the Channel, and arrived in London after a very circuitous voyage and journey of four months. He was so favorably heard that he and his three devoted brethren were appointed missionaries to the heathen under the auspices of the foreign society.

In England, his reception was flattering, and his personal appearance is thought to have been much in his favor. He was at that time small and delicate. But his voice, like that of Wesley, was much more powerful than his audiences expected to hear, and consequently took them by surprise. On one occasion he sat in the pulpit with Rowland Hill, and, at the close of the sermon, was requested to read a hymn. When he had finished, this clerical oddity arose and introduced him to the congregation as a young man going out to the East to seek the conversion of the heathen, adding, "And if his faith is proportioned to his voice, he will drive the devil from all India."

Returning to America, the Board of Commissioners dissuaded Judson and his companions from accepting the patronage of the London Missionary Society, and proposed to send them out to the East to labor under their own direction and at their own expense.

On the 5th of February, 1812, he was united in marriage with Miss Ann Hasseltine, whom he had first met at Bradford nearly two years before. In other pages, particularly given to the life and character of Miss Hasseltine, it will appear how wise and fortunate was young Judson in his choice, and how indebted our mission in Burmah has been to the talents and piety, the tact and gentleness, the beauty and heroism of Bradford's most celebrated daughter.

Messrs. Judson and Newell, with their wives, sailed from Salem on the 19th of February, 1812. One day ahead of them, and from Philadelphia, sailed the rest of the company, Messrs. Nott, Hall and Rice, with the wife of Mr. Nott.

What sorrows and tears it cost these young missionaries, their fathers and mothers, their brothers and sisters, biographers have failed to consider: perhaps they esteemed them too sacred to exhibit to their Christian readers. One little ray of light has lately reached us from the Plymouth home of seventy years ago. During young Judson's winter vacation, in 1810, while he had not as yet divulged to his doting parents his great purpose, one evening his father told him that the Rev. Dr. Griffin had proposed his Adoniram as his colleague in "the largest church in Boston." "And you will be so near home!" added his mother. But Adoniram's heart was bursting, and he could not answer either of them. His sister soon joined in the conversation, and to her he ventured to reply, "No sister, I shall never live in Boston. I have much further than that to go." As he proceeded to describe the course he proposed to take, his father "a Censor of the Romans," offered scarcely a word of opposition, but the intelligence cost his mother and sister very many tears.

The Judsons and the Newells, after a pleasant passage, arrived at Calcutta on the 17th of June. Messrs. Nott, Hall and Rice did not reach that port until the 8th of the following month.

Mr. Judson employed himself during the voyage in a thorough examination of the question of Infant Baptism. To baptize the converts the Lord might give him in a heathen land would, he thought, be the plain command of Scripture. "But how," thought he, "am I to treat the unconverted children and servants of such converts. If I adopt the Abrahamic covenant, and put baptism in the place of circumcision, I must consider not only the children but the servants of the family entitled to baptism." Just at this time he was likewise led to investigate anew the question whether sprinkling is baptism. He was the more urgently moved to these investigations by a desire to defend his opinions when he should meet the Baptist missionaries at Serampore, not knowing that these English missionaries made it a rule never to introduce their peculiar opinions to their guests of other persuasions. While translating the New Testament, he remarked to Mrs. Judson that he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong.

At Serampore nothing was said and little thought about the subject. But on returning to Calcutta, where they were detained two months, they found in the library of their chamber many books on both sides of the subject. These he read. Mrs. Judson told him she was afraid he would become a Baptist, and warned him of the unhappy consequences. She frequently told him if he became a Baptist, she would not. Now, however, she commenced reading the books they had found, and was at length brought to concur with him. They were baptized on the 6th of September, in the Baptist chapel at Calcutta. A renunciation of their former sentiment, as Mrs. Judson tells us, caused them both more pain than any thing which ever happened to them through their lives.

Mr. Rice, shortly after, adopted the same views, and followed the example of the Judsons. They immediately wrote home resigning their commission from the Congregational Board. They also wrote to the Rev. Dr. Baldwin, of Boston, and Rev. Mr. Bolles, of Salem asking them to use their influence to secure the cooperation of the Baptists of the United States. Dr. Marshman likewise wrote to Dr. Baldwin in behalf of Mr. Judson. It required no great faith, in these young missionaries, to throw themselves on the support of the American Baptists of that day. They had been in correspondence with Carey and his co-laborers at Serampore and with Ryland and Fuller in England, so that they had been giving long and intelligently to foreign Baptist missions and missionaries. It had been the practice of the English Baptists to send their missionaries and their appropriated funds by way of America and in American ships. Young Chamberlain came here in 1802 on his way to India. Dr. Wayland and Dr. Williams recollected, as boys at home in New York, how British missionaries were entertained by the pastors and wealthy laymen of the city while waiting for passage to India.

The Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts was formed before 1803. Robert Ralston, Esq., of Philadelphia, in October, 1806, sent to Serampore nearly four thousand dollars. This is believed to have been the first considerable sum ever subscribed in this country for foreign missions. Dr. Carey acknowledged the receipt of six thousand dollars from American Christians during the years 1806 and 1807. In 1812 the Salem Bible Translation and Foreign Mission Society was organized in connection with the Baptist church of which Dr. Bolles was pastor. Ten days before young Judson's ordination at Salem, the Rev. Mr. Johns, M. D., of the Serampore Mission preached a sermon in Salem in behalf of the Baptist translations in India. About the same time he collected, there and in Boston, a thousand pounds sterling for the same object. Mr. Judson, therefore, must have known from personal observation that the Baptists of America were already engaged in the work; and Dr. Carey must have told him of the interest some American Baptists had long been taking in the missions in the East.

The chief anxieties of the young missionaries came from another quarter. The East India Company continued their opposition to the Baptist missions in India. They believed that the preaching of the Gospel would excite the natives to rebellion. That delusion was fostered by the Episcopal chaplains of the Governor-General, and of the army and navy, who were persuaded that dissenters could neither be loyal themselves nor teach loyalty to others. This opposition was at that juncture strengthened by news of a war between England and the United States. About ten days after their arrival in Serampore they were summoned to Calcutta, where an order was read to them requiring them immediately to leave the country and return to America They were forbidden to reside in any part of the Company's territory or in any of its dependencies.

With the permission of the Government, Mr. and Mrs. Newell embarked for the Isle of France. While, Mr. and Mrs. Judson and Mr. Rice, were waiting for a passage thither, they received an order to proceed to England in one of the ships of the Company. At this juncture Messrs. Judson and Rice ascertained that a ship would sail for the Isle of France in two days. They applied to the authorities for a pass, but were refused. The captain, however, consented to take them without out a pass. They embarked accordingly, and the vessel sailed, but after descending the river two days a government dispatch overtook them, forbidding the pilot to go farther, as the vessel concealed on board passengers that had been ordered to England. The missionaries went immediately on shore, and proceeded further down the river, and remained four days in lodgings. Just as they were about to give up all hope of escaping a voyage to England, a letter was handed to Mr. Judson containing a pass to go, on board the very ship they had been compelled to leave. To whom they were indebted for this they could never ascertain. It was night; they were seventy miles from the mouth of the river; and there was reason to fear that the Creole had already reached the waters of the Bay of Bengal. They at once took boats, and rowed hard all night and all the next day, when to their great joy they saw the ship lying at anchor in the Saugor Roads, waiting for some Lascar soldiers. When they arrived at the Isle of France, they were met with the mournful intelligence that Mrs. Newell was dead—the first lady martyr to American missions in the East. It was here decided that Mr. Rice (who had already been severely attacked with disease of the liver), should return to America and try to enlist the hearts of the American Baptists in united endeavors in behalf of Foreign Missions.

Mr. and Mrs. Judson, now left alone, decided to attempt to establish a mission on Prince of Wales Island. They set out for the Island by way of Madras. There they found themselves still under the jurisdiction of the East India Company. Waiting in vain for a passage to the place of their destination, they found that their only means of escape from the danger of an immediate transportation to England, was by a vessel bound to Rangoon. Thus, by a mysterious but unerring Providence, they soon found themselves in a ship standing towards the mountains of Burmah—the land, though they knew it not, destined to be the field they were to sow with tears and reap with joy. Thenceforward, the hand of Providence was more clearly seen. The vessel, old and unseaworthy, was overtaken by a storm. Mrs. Judson, who had been in a feeble condition, was now seized with a dangerous illness. Happily for her, the vessel was driven into a strait between two islands, where they were in quiet waters until the tempest was past. Dr. Judson always believed that but for this merciful interposition Mrs. Judson would never have survived the voyage. They arrived at Rangoon on the 13th of July, 1813, and chose for their first home the Baptist mission house then occupied by the wife of Felix Carey, a native of the country—her husband having been called to Ava by order of the King. The house was pleasant enough during the season when the trees and shrubs are in full bloom, but for the rest of the year they found it a dismal spot. It was half a mile beyond the protection of the walls, exposed to wild beasts and almost as wild men of the jungle; it was near the place of public execution, where all the offal of the city was thrown, and not far from the place for the burning of the dead. They afterwards removed into the city.

From The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885. Chapter 12.

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