Bradford, in Massachusetts, [United States] was the birthplace of this remarkable and interesting woman. Mrs. Judson's early life gave promise of future distinction and usefulness. She possessed a persevering mind, ardent feelings, and a love for travel and adventure. Her love of reading was immoderate. At an early age she entered the academy at Bradford, where her rapid progress elicited the admiration and astonishment of her acquaintances. When fifteen, her attention was turned to the subject of religion; its inestimable value seems to have been at once unfolded to her. "Redeeming love," says an intimate friend, "was now her favourite theme. One might spend days with her, without hearing any other subject adverted to. The throne of grace was her early and late resort. I have known her often to spend cold winter evenings in her chamber without fire; yet her love of social pleasures was not diminished. Even now I fancy I see her, with strong feeling depicted on her countenance, on which a heart-felt smile so often beamed."
At the age of twenty, Miss Hasseltine became acquainted with Mr. Judson, a graduate of Brown University, who, during the period of their acquaintance, was appointed by the American Board of Foreign Missions, as missionary to India. In February, 1812, they were married, and immediately sailed for Calcutta. Mrs. Judson's journal expresses, in affecting terms, the feelings which rose in her bosom at this momentous period, when in the bloom of health and love, she bade farewell to her native land.
In June, the missionaries reached Calcutta, and were immediately invited by Dr. Carey, to Serampore. Ten days after, they were summoned to Calcutta, where an order of government was read to them, to quit the country immediately. This they eluded; but in a few months the Bengal authorities commanded them to sail immediately for England. They now resolved to escape from the city, and proceeded down the river separately in boats, exposed during the whole time, without any shelter, to a burning sun. They met at a tavern, where, after remaining a few days, they obtained permission to embark in a vessel bound for Madras.
Her journal at this time exhibits the state of her feelings. "Can I forget thee, O my country? Can I forget the parental roof, and the loved associates of my life. Never, never till the pulse ceases to beat, and the heart to feel. O my heavenly Father! my early, my present, my everlasting friend! When prospects are dark and gloomy, and distressing apprehensions weigh heavy on the soul, he leads me to feel my dependence on him, and to lean on the bosom of infinite love."
On arriving at the Isle of France, Mrs. Judson learned of the death of her friend and former schoolmate, Harriet Newell. Soon after, information was received that the Baptist General Convention at Philadelphia had appointed her husband and herself as their missionaries, with permission to use their discretion in selecting a field of labour. This was joyful tidings.
They immediately sailed (May, 1813) for Rangoon, the principal port of the Burman empire, where they arrived in July. In the quiet mission-house, which had been built by former Christian labourers, the young missionaries found a home, and commenced the study of the native language. She thus describes this rather discouraging labour. "Could you look into a large open room, you would see Mr. Judson bent over a table covered with Burman books, with his teacher at his side, a venerable looking man, in his sixtieth year, with a cloth wrapped round his middle, and a handkerchief round his head. They talk and chatter all day long, with hardly any cessation. My mornings are busily employed in giving orders to the servants, providing food for the family, &c. At ten, my teacher comes, when you might see me in an upper room, at one side of my study-table, and my teacher at the other, reading Burman, writing, talking, &c. I am frequently obliged to speak Burman all day."
The birth of a son interrupted these exercises. All the longing affection for those whom the parents had left in their own land was transferred to this infant. It died; and after the first shock had passed away, the desolate parents resumed their cheerless study. It was again interrupted. Through excessive study, perhaps also through grief, Mr. Judson's eyes had become so weak, and his head so much affected, that he could not look into a book. His companion was obliged to nurse him day and night: and in that duty her own health began to fail. But in October they were cheered by the arrival of two auxiliary missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Hough; and Mr. Judson, who had prepared several tracts in the Burman language, was presented by Dr. Carey, of Serampore, with a printing press, types, and apparatus. Soon after, he prepared a grammar, and an edition of three hundred copies of St. Matthew's gospel. About the same time the natives manifested much kindness; and the viceroy's wife indulged Mrs. Judson with a long ride through the forest, on an elephant.
Meanwhile, the tracts were read by numbers, some of whom visited the mission-house to inquire more particularly about the new religion. On Sabbath, a company of fifteen or twenty females collected to hear Mrs. Judson read and explain the Scriptures. In December, 1817, Mr. Judson left Rangoon for Arracan, in order to recruit his health, and procure one of the native Christians residing there, and who spoke the Burman language, to assist him in his first attempts to preach. The voyage was one of hardship and difficulty, and for some months it was believed that he had perished. At the same time Mr. Hough and his family embarked for Bengal. The feelings of the young wife, thus left alone, in a land of barbarians, may be imagined. Unexpectedly, after an absence of six months, her husband returned. He was now sufficiently master of the language to preach publicly. A small chapel was erected on the road leading to one of the principal pagodas; a congregation of about fifteen persons assembled; and in April, 1819, the first effort at public preaching opened a new era in the history of the mission. The harvest which years of toil, and sickness, and sorrow, had sowed and watered, was about to be gathered. The hour of baptizing the first convert was an hour of unutterable joy to the missionaries. Several others were baptized in the river at sunset. Five thousand additional copies of the tract on the Christian religion was published and circulated.
But this bright prospect was soon clouded. The heathen authorities denounced death as the penalty of conversion, and the natives abandoned their visits to the chapel. The missionaries now resolved on a visit to the emperor, by whose permission alone, was there any chance of further success. They embarked for Ava in a boat six feet wide, and forty feet long, and, on the 25th of January, arrived safely at the Burman capital. As a present, they carried with them the Bible, in six volumes, each covered with gold-leaf in the Burman style, and enclosed in a rich wrapper. After a short interview with the emperor, they received his answer, that "in regard to the objects of your petition, his majesty gives no order; in regard to your sacred books, his majesty has no use for them; take them away." Still they were not discouraged.
A learned native, named Mong-sha-gong, was converted, and devoted his time and talents to the mission. When Mr. and Mrs. Judson sailed, in the beginning of August, for Calcutta, this man laboured so industriously at the chapel, that, on their return, after an absence of five months, they were delighted to find that not one convert had dishonoured his new profession, by relapsing into idolatry. Other portions of the Scripture were now translated and published; and again the prospects of the mission revived. Yet difficulties of another kind arose.
Mrs. Judson's health was failing fast, and at length it became necessary for her to leave Burmah. She sailed to Calcutta, and thence to England. The arrival of a young and learned woman, from Burmah, was a novelty even in the circles of London. She was invested with that strange halo of romantic interest, which a lofty purpose, displayed in a daring courage, and a calm endurance, sheds around the character. Mankind delight to behold a wife and mother acting the part of a heroine, in the holiest of causes—wiping the tears from the eyes of others, and cheering their hearts, while, for the gushings of her own sad heart, there is found no comforter, no witness but God.
Mrs. Judson succeeded in imparting to the religious community of London, considerable zeal for the Burman mission. She next visited Scotland, and afterwards embarked at Liverpool for her native land. We cannot better describe the effect of that visit upon her than in her own words. "From the day of my arrival, all peace and quiet were banished from my mind; and, for the first four days and nights, I never closed my eyes to sleep. The scene which ensued at my father's, brought my feelings to a crisis. Nature was quite exhausted, and I began to fear, would sink. The house was thronged with visitors from day to day; and I was kept in a state of constant excitement, by daily meeting with my old friends and acquaintances." She afterwards retired to Baltimore, and was placed under the best medical care. Here she prepared her journal for the press. In the spring of 1823 she returned to Massachusetts, greatly improved in health. Her friends endeavoured to postpone the hour of her departure, but so great was her desire of returning to Burmah, that she prepared for the separation, which she felt was to be final. The scene was deeply affecting. The sorrowing group of friends and relatives stood upon the shore. Sobs and cries were mingled with the deep tones of agonizing prayer. When the boat moved off, a hymn was sung, descriptive of the missionary's lot—and that sound, as it followed her over the waters, was the last she ever heard in her native land.
Meanwhile, Mr. Judson and his associates remained at Rangoon. In 1822, they had been strengthened by the arrival of Dr. Price, who, with his friend, visited the emperor. At length a piece of ground was procured, pleasantly situated on the river bank, without the city walls, and about a mile from the palace. Here Mr. Judson erected a small house, and in a few months his New Testament, in Burmah, was completed.
In December, 1823, the long-absent wife arrived in safety, and soon after they set out together to visit the queen, who had expressed a desire to see them. After a fine voyage up the Irrawady, they reached the capital and were kindly received by Dr. Price, at whose house they awaited the queen's summons. But a period of trial and suffering greater than they had yet experienced was at hand. Burmah was on the eve of war with Bengal. The emperor placed thirty thousand men under the command of his great general, Bandoola, for the purpose of invading Bengal. In May, 1824, six thousand English troops sat down before Rangoon, which was speedily captured. The rage of the Burmese at this loss was unbounded. They threatened to murder the missionaries, and to drive all foreigners from the capital. Mr. Judson was seized, and, with other white persons, thrown into the death prison, and confined with three pair of iron fetters to a long pole. His wife was not allowed to enter this gloomy dungeon. At the end of two months, the prison was torn down, Mr. Judson and his companions were placed in an inner cell, and all intercourse with them denied. Soon after, Bandoola was killed in battle. The prisoners were removed into the interior, chained in pairs, and driven by slaves. On receiving intelligence of this, Mrs. Judson, though suffering from recent sickness, set out to follow her husband, carrying with her their second child, but lately born. The heat and the other dangers of the journey almost deprived her of reason; and on reaching the village where her husband was confined, she was forced to seek a shelter at the house of the jailer. During the six months that she remained here, her sufferings were dreadful. "I was all day long going backwards and forwards to the prison, with Maria in my arms. My miserable food and more miserable lodgings brought on one of the diseases of the country. I could scarcely walk to see my husband. My strength seemed at last entirely exhausted. I crawled to the mat in the little room, to which I was confined for more than two months."
These sufferings were terminated by an order from the British officer, Sir Archibald Campbell, that the white prisoners should be surrendered. The faithful wife was once more restored to her husband, and both were received and entertained by the general and his officers in a manner which obliterated, in some measure, the remembrance of their sufferings. After an absence of two years and a half, they returned to Rangoon, where Mrs. Judson exerted herself to relieve the condition of those who had been rendered miserable through oppression or imprisonment. The first mission being in a deplorable condition, it was resolved to found a new one at Amherst, a newly built town on the Salwen river. After arriving here safely, Mr. Judson set out on an embassy to Ava. "We parted," he says, "with cheerful hearts, confident of a speedy reunion, and indulging fond anticipations of future years of domestic happiness." It was their last parting. Early in October, Mrs. Judson was seized with a dangerous illness, which increased upon her to an alarming extent. In a few days her mind became unsettled, though she still recognized her child, gazing fixedly upon it, and charging the servants to be kind to it until the father should return. Once or twice memory brought back the departing affections in all their strength. "My husband is long in coming, (she would murmur,) the new missionaries are long in coming. I must die alone, and leave my little one; but, as it is the will of God, I acquiesce. I am not afraid to die. Tell him the disease was most violent, and I could not write. Tell him how I suffered, and died." At the fatal moment she uttered one exclamation of distress in the Burman language, and expired. She was buried in a little cemetery under the hopia tree; and there, too, in a few months, her infant was laid by her side. Mrs. Judson was the first American woman who left her native land to carry the gospel to the heathen. In the bright day of youth and of love, she left home, and earthly pleasures, and the haunts of childhood, not because she loved them less than others do, but because she loved them less than her God.
"Christianity," says one of Mrs. Judson's biographers, "ennobles and elevates the character. In the view of the worldly, the man of true religion is too often regarded as incapable of deeds of greatness. His humility is accounted meanness; his meekness, pusillanimity; his scrupulous conscientiousness, narrowness of mind. And yet it is in the Christian man or woman who fears God, and therefore knows no other fear, that the best example of true magnanimity is to be found. What but the religion of the blessed Jesus could have so steeled the heart and nerved the arm of a timid, shrinking female, as to have led to the performance of such deeds, or the endurance of such sufferings, as marked the history of Mrs. Judson? She was, in every sense of the word, a Christian heroine—a woman of powerful mind, of large heart, of undaunted courage, and yet of simple, humble, unaffected piety."
From Cyclopedia of Eminent Christians... by John Frost. New York: World Publishing House, 1875.
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