Wholesome Words Home
Worldwide Missions
missionary biographies

Adoniram Judson, D.D.

from The Baptist Encyclopedia...

Adoniram JudsonAdoniram Adoniram, D.D., the eldest son of Adoniram and Abigail Judson, was born in Malden, Mass., Aug. 9, 1788.

In the sixteenth year of his age, being sufficiently advanced in his studies, he entered the Sophomore class in Brown University, becoming a member of the institution on the 17th of August, 1804. He graduated in 1807 with the highest honors of his class. At the time of leaving college he was inclined to be skeptical in his religious opinions. The sudden death of a classmate, under circumstances of peculiar interest, was the means of arresting his thoughts and putting him upon a course of serious examination of the claims of religion to his personal attention.

For the purpose of pursuing his inquiries, he was admitted as a "special student" into the Andover Theological Institution. He soon became a hopeful Christian, and was received into the fellowship of the Third Congregational church in Plymouth, Mass., of which his father was the pastor, on the 28th of May, 1809. Regarding himself now as not his own but the Lord's, he began to seek for light upon the pathway of his future career. The result of his prayerful deliberation was the determination reached, in February, 1810, to consecrate himself to the work of foreign missions. In the seminary he found other young men of kindred spirit, who joined with him in urging upon the Christian churches the claims of the heathen. The zeal and earnestness of these students gave power to the spirit of missions, which had already been aroused in the hearts of Christians. That honored society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was formed June 28, 1810. Mr. Judson had been licensed on the 17th of May previous by the Orange Association of Congregationalist ministers, in Vermont. September 24 of this year he graduated at Andover.

Soon after his graduation he was sent to England by the American Board to confer with the London Missionary Society on the matter of combining the efforts of the two societies in the work of carrying the gospel to the heathen. He embarked Jan. 1, 1811, in the ship "Packet." The vessel had not been long at sea when she was captured by the French privateer "L'Invincible Napoleon," and carried to Bayonne in France, where he was immured in a dismal dungeon. From his short confinement he was soon released, and, after various adventures, he reached England, presented his credentials, and was cordially received by the Christian friends to whom he had been commended. He and his fellow-students, Newell, Nott, and Hall, were appointed by the London Missionary Society as missionaries in India, with the expectation that their pecuniary support would be provided for by the friends of missions in America. The object for which he was sent to England having been accomplished, Mr. Judson returned to this country. The board, after mature deliberation came to the conclusion that the wiser course to pursue was to enter upon the work of missions independently of any other organization, and they accepted as their missionaries the four young men, and pledged themselves to see that they were supported in the undertaking upon which they had embarked.

Mr. Judson, with his wife, Ann Hasseltine Judson, and Messrs. Nott, Newell, Hall, and Rice, sailed Feb. 19, 1812, from Salem, Mass., and reached Calcutta the 17th of the following June. During the voyage Mr. Judson's views of baptism underwent a change, which led him to be immersed by Dr. Carey, Sept. 6, 1812, in the Baptist chapel in Calcutta. This event severed his connection from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and led to the formation of the Baptist Triennial Convention, on the 18th of May, 1814, under whose patronage Mr. Judson and his Baptist associates were taken.

After experiencing months of hardship, on account of the hostility of the East India Company, who opposed the establishment of his mission in India, Mr. Judson decided to commence his work among the Burmese. On the 14th of July, 1813, he reached Rangoon, and began at once the study of the language. It was a formidable task, and taxed all his powers to accomplish it. At nearly the end of his five years' residence in Rangoon a zayat was built, and opened with appropriate religious services, and Mr. Judson made this place his religious headquarters. Inquirers began to visit him, and he had the satisfaction of baptizing the first convert to the Christian faith, Moung Nau, on the 27th of June, 1819.

No sooner, however, did there appear some signs of success than a spirit of opposition began to be awakened, and Mr. Judson had reason to fear that his work would be stopped by the arm of the civil power. With the hope of securing toleration, he went to Ava with Mr. Colman, and sought permission to preach the new faith in Burmah. But the king would not grant the request, and they returned to Rangoon, and continued the prosecution of their mission work regardless of the opposition which had been awakened. Mr. Judson devoted himself especially to the translation of the Scriptures and the preparation of religious tracts, to be circulated among the people.

We have now reached one of the most interesting periods of the life of Dr. Judson. Dr. Price, who had arrived at Rangoon in December, 1821, was summoned to the court of the king, in his capacity as a physician, and it was necessary that Mr. Judson should accompany him. His reception was favorable, and he had more than one opportunity to proclaim the gospel to the members of the royal family. The prospect for usefulness seemed so bright that he returned to Rangoon for Mrs. Judson, bringing her back to Ava, and began his missionary work, encouraged by the hope of greater success in his labors. But this hope was destined soon to meet with utter disappointment. War broke out between England and Burmah. Rangoon fell into the hands of the British on the 23d of May, 1824, and the tidings of its capture reached the capital two weeks after. The jealous Burman officers, regarding Dr. Price and Mr. Judson as spies, caused them to be arrested and thrown into a loathsome jail. where, for nine months, they were kept in the closest and most barbarous confinement. They were then sent to a wretched place called Oung pen-la, where they were ordered to be put to death. The sentence, however, was not carried into execution. With the continued success of the English arms, the fears of the king and his court became so aroused that negotiations were entered into, in which Mr. Judson took a prominent part, and, as one of the results, he obtained his freedom.

As soon as practicable he left Ava, and once more returned to Rangoon, and soon removed with his family to Amherst, designed hence forth to be the capital of British Burmah. For several months he was occupied with the English commissioner, Mr. Crawford, at Ava, in negotiating with the Burman government a commercial treaty. During his absence Mrs. Judson died at Amherst, Oct. 24, 1826. Dr. Judson removed to Maulmain Nov. 14, 1827, and entered once more upon his missionary work, which he carried on in Maulmain, Prome, Rangoon, and other localities, and he became especially interested in the conversion of the Karens. On April 10, 1834, he married Mrs. Sarah Boardman.

For many years Dr. Judson devoted a part of his time to the translation of the Scriptures into the Burmese language, and the compilation of a Burmese dictionary. On the last day of January, 1834, the closing page of the now wholly translated Bible was written by Dr. Judson. Many years were given to the careful revision of this work. In its completed state it is pronounced by competent judges to be nearly perfect. For several years Dr. Judson kept up his missionary labors, the blessing of God accompanying him in his toil. The failing health of Mrs. Judson forced him, in 1845, to leave Burmah for America. She died at St. Helena, where she was buried. Dr. Judson continued his voyage, and reached Boston in the month of October. During his stay in this country he was everywhere the recipient of the kindest attentions, and when, after a few months of residence in this country, he returned to his Oriental home, with the third wife, who was to share his fortunes, the prayers of thousands of Christian hearts followed him. "It was no sectarian adulation offered to a distinguished name, but rather the natural homage which Christian civilization pays to the cause of Christian philanthropy, the instinctive admiration of an intelligent and religious people for the character of one who has proved himself a great benefactor of mankind."

After this visit of Dr. Judson to his native land a few more years were allotted to him to render service to the cause to which he had given so large a part of his life. He hoped to live long enough to complete the Burmese dictionary, and was busily engaged in its preparation when he was attacked by the fever of the country, which completely prostrated him. A sea voyage was recommended. The vessel sailed April 8, and four days after he died, and his body was committed to the deep.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Baptist Encyclopedia... edited by William Cathcart. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883.

More Information on Adoniram Judson


Missionary Biographies Index

 Copyright ©2018 Wholesome Words. All Rights Reserved.