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Ann H. Judson: The First Lady Missionary

by J. A. W. Hamilton

Ann JudsonA story full of adventure, travel, trial and endurance is the story of Ann H. Judson. As a girl, bright, vivacious, and light-hearted, she never for an instant dreamed of the strange vicissitudes that lay before her, or the far-off lands she would visit as the first woman missionary to foreign lands.

Ann Hasseltine was an American, born on December 23rd, 1789, in Bradford, Massachusetts, [United States]. From the earliest years she was distinguished for activity of mind, extreme gaiety, a strong relish of social amusements, unusually ardent feelings, a spirit of enterprise, and a restless perseverance.

Clever to a degree, she gained honours at the academy at Bradford, where she was educated. Her perseverance and love of study seemed to foreshadow a brilliant and unusual future for her. Her restless spirit was often the cause of uneasiness to her mother, who exclaimed one day: "I hope, my daughter, you will soon be satisfied with rambling." How amazed she would have been could she have peeped into the future!

When about seventeen years of age she became deeply interested in Gospel Truth, and began to make all sorts of good resolutions, and to perform many good works in the hope of fitting herself for the Kingdom of Heaven. Disappointment and failure attended these efforts, until at last some one directed her to Jesus as her only Saviour. Still not at once did peace come, and many conflicts and much seeking of the Lord followed ere she passed from death unto life. At last she realised the meaning of the fifth verse in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: "To him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Her working and doing ceased, she ceased, she rested and simply believed. She understood it was life first and then works—Salvation first and then service.

Having truly believed on the Son of God as her own Saviour, her life thereafter was spent in goodly works and noble service to her Lord and Master. From entries in her diary we know that she "kept her heart with all diligence;" and from letters to friends, that her growth in grace and knowledge of Christ was sure and rapid. When about the age of eighteen she commenced teaching in a school, and filled engagements in this work at Salem, Haverhill, and Newbury for some years with much success.

When twenty she obtained a copy of "the Life of David Brainerd," and was stirred to consider the [lost and dying] world. She records in the diary that she "felt a willingness to give herself away to Christ to be disposed of as He pleases." Soon this willingness was to be put to a severe test. In September, 1811, the American Board of Missions decided to establish a mission in Burma, and appointed Messrs. Judson, Newell, Nott, and Hall as their first missionary agents. Mr. Judson made an offer of marriage to Miss Hasseltine, whom he first met some little time previously. Receiving her father's consent to their marriage, he proceeded to inform Miss Hasseltine by a frank, manly letter of what the future would hold for her as his wife—loss of home, friends, weariness, loneliness, and perhaps death itself.

Ann carefully considered Mr. Judson's proposal, and gave herself to prayer and heart searching. She fully realised the many sacrifices she would be called upon to make, and felt the need of being convinced that this was a call from God. She had no example to guide her, and no prospect at this time of having any female companions in the mission-field. Her many friends strongly opposed the undertaking, calling it "wild" and "visionary." Nevertheless she decided to go, and thus earned the honourable distinction of being the first lady to engage in foreign mission work.

A few months afterwards Ann Hasseltine and Adoniram Judson were married, and on the 19th of February, 1812, sailed from Salem in the brig "Caravan'' for Calcutta. Indescribably tedious the voyage proved to be, for the sailing vessels of these days were far different from the smart and powerful steamships of to-day. Four long weary months were they afloat on the billows. Landing at Calcutta on the 18th of June, they were welcomed by the venerable William Carey, who immediately invited them to his mission quarters at Serampore, there to reside until their companions should reach India.

At Serampore were the head-quarters of the English Baptist Mission, under Danish protection, for the British Government was strongly opposed to missionaries and mission operations. It soon became certain that they must quickly leave India, or be shipped from thence by force. The following extract from a letter written by Mrs. Judson proves to what great straits they were brought at this juncture: "We had almost concluded to go to the Burmese Empire, when we heard there were fresh difficulties existing between the British and the Burmese Government. If the difficulties are settled, I think it probable we shall go there."

Meanwhile the Bengal Government were extremely incensed by the sojourn of the mission party in the country, and issued a most peremptory order to the effect that they were to be sent on board one of the East India Company's vessels, and shipped to England. Here was a dilemma!

Hearing that another ship would sail for the Isle of France (Mauritius) in two days' time, they applied to the Government for a passport. This was refused. They then told the captain their circumstances, and asked if he would take them without a passport. He replied "that he was neutral, and they could sail with him." Under cover of night they got aboard, but when sailing down the river they were overtaken by a Government messenger, who commanded the pilot to conduct the ship no farther, as there were persons on board who had been ordered to England.

They disembarked, but through prayer the difficulties were removed, a pass was conveyed to them by letter, how or by whom they never knew, and they were soon on their way to join the ship again. Mrs. Judson's own words are: "I never enjoyed a quieter moment in all my life than when I was sure we were in sight of the 'Creole' After spending a fortnight in such anxiety, it was a very great relief to find ourselves safe on board the vessel. Though it has pleased our Heavenly Father to afflict us, yet He has supported and delivered us from our trials, which still encourages us to trust Him."

After a voyage of six weeks' duration, they arrived at Port Louis, Isle of France. But their wanderings were not yet over, for God needed this noble woman and her brave husband for Burma. Their next journey was to Madras, in the hope of obtaining a passage from thence to Penang, a town on the coast of Malacca. But no vessel could be heard of bound to Penang; there was one however, bound for Rangoon in Burma. All other paths were closed, and by a series of peculiar providences, they went to Burma after all.

Rangoon is a city of 450,000 inhabitants. The country of Burma is very rich, and produces great crops of rice, exports teak wood in large quantities, and fruit in abundance; also oranges, bananas, pine-apples, and coconut. The earth yields a number of precious stones, silver, gold and copper. Wild animals too, are many, including elephants, tigers, and leopards. The people themselves belong to the Mongolian race, with long, straight hair, dark yellow skin, and high cheek bones.

To what a strange country the brilliant young American lady had come! Writing home at this time, she says: "It was concluded that I should be carried in an armchair, through which were put two bamboos, and four of the natives took me on their shoulders. When they had carried me a little way into the town they set me down under a shade, when great numbers of natives gathered round, as they had seldom seen an English woman. Being sick and weak, I held my head down, which induced many of the native females to come very near, and look under my bonnet. At this I looked up and smiled, at which they set up a loud laugh."

Anxious to lose no time, Mrs. Judson began to study the language, and to mingle with the [people]. After a year she writes, "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 to and understand others better than Mr. Judson, though he knows more about the nature and constitution of the language."

We would consider that now their trials would be over, but it was not so. Sorrow after sorrow rolled over them. Ill-health, followed by the loss of their first child, endless disappointment, and no fruit for their labours. Then the ill-health of Mr. Judson forced him to leave her and take a sea-voyage, and she heard no tidings of him for six months. The little mission itself fell on evil days, and nothing but her firmness and faith saved it from abandonment, she herself tremblingly presenting a petition to the Viceroy—when the law was imperatively announced that any Burman embracing a foreign faith should pay for his apostasy from Buddha with his life—and received no further molestation. But a great day came when on 27th June, 1819, the first convert was baptised.

Greater trials than ever still lay ahead of this brave woman. In May, 1824, an army of 10,000 British and East Indian Troops arrived in Rangoon. The army struck terror into the hearts of the people, and the situation of the missionaries became more tense. Mr. Judson and others were thrown into prison and treated with the utmost cruelty. Mrs. Judson, frail and sick, followed him from prison to prison, providing him with food and comforts, and inducing his jailers to be more merciful to him. She endured great hardships, contracted fever, and was given up for dead. Her baby girl of a few weeks old she carried about with her, yet her faith in God and care for her husband never wavered, and they were once more united in Service in Burma, the land they loved.

The British army advanced, and in order to save the royal city Ava, the Burmese king agreed to the most humiliating stipulations—to pay one million sterling, and liberate all foreign prisoners. Sir Archibald Campbell received all the prisoners in his own camp with every mark of respect. Mrs. Judson says: "I presume to say that no persons on earth were ever happier than we during the fortnight we passed at the British camp."

But Mrs. Judson's work was almost completed. The terrible sufferings she had passed through rendered her an easy prey, and when seized again with fever, was unable to withstand its attacks. In the evening of the 24th October, 1826, she passed away to be with Christ, which is "far better."

Her name is still remembered as the pioneer of female mission effort. Christianity has since then increased and prospered in that land. The whole Bible is freely circulated in the Burmese tongue as the result of Mr. Judson's labours. So though little more than a century has passed since Mr. and Mrs. Judson entered Burma, we marvel at the multitude of harvest fruits, and believe that Burma may yet become one of the most enlightened lands through owning Christ as King.

From Twelve Clever Girls by J. A. W. Hamilton. London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd., 1937. Chapter 8.

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