1788-1850 Pioneer missionary to Burma. Adoniram Judson was the son of a Congregational
minister. He taught himself to read at the age of three, and by his tenth year
he knew Latin and Greek and was a serious student of theology. At the age of
16 he entered Brown University and was graduated three years later as the valedictorian
of his class.
At Andover Theological Seminary he could not get away from the words of a missionary
appeal, "Go ye into all the world." In 1810 he helped form the American Board
of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and, two years later, he and his new
wife, Ann, sailed for India.
When the government refused to allow them to enter the country, they went to
Burma, where they worked for six years before winning a convert. During those
years they were plagued with ill health, loneliness, and the death of their
baby son. Judson was imprisoned for nearly two years, during which time Ann
faithfully visited him, smuggling to him his books, papers, and notes, which
he used in translating the Bible into the Burmese language. Soon after his release
from prison, Ann and their baby daughter, Maria, died of spotted fever.
Judson withdrew into seclusion into the interior, where he completed the translation
of the whole Bible into Burmese. In 1845 he returned
for a visit to America, but the burning desire to win the Burmese people sent
him back to the Orient, where he soon died.
As a young man, he had cried out, "I will not leave Burma, until the cross
is planted here forever!" Thirty years after his death, Burma had 63 Christian
churches, 163 missionaries, and over 7,000 baptized converts.
BORN: August 9, 1788 Malden, Massachusetts
DIED: April 12, 1850 Bay of Bengal, Burma coast
LIFE SPAN: 61 years, 8 months, 3 days
ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST HORRIBLE seventeen months of imprisonment was endured
by Adoniram Judson from 1824 to 1825 at age 37. Little food was given to him.
His feet were bound to a large bamboo pole, his hands to another, and at night
his feet were lifted higher than his head. Thus he was to swing suspended on
the small of his back, his feet tied to a raised pole. His heroic wife brought
little bits of food to him, although she and the baby were near death at times
themselves and eventually succumbed to the rigors of life in Burma. What was
Judson doing during these days in prison? Translating the Bible, hiding his
work in a hard pillow which nobody investigated.
For pure physical suffering for the sake of the Gospel, Judson must be near
the top of most lists. Before we join him in Burma, we meet him as the son of
Adoniram and Abigail (Brown) Judson, who were pastoring the Congregationalist
Church at Malden, Massachusetts.
From childhood he possessed a brilliant mind. His mother taught him to read
when he was three, and he became very studious. At twelve he mastered Greek,
and at 14 had a very serious illness. He would regularly win highest honors
in his class at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he enrolled
in 1804. His parents had high hopes for him, but skeptical friends such as Jacob
Eames, a persuasive unbeliever, did all they could to crush his faith. Graduating
in 1807, he received valedictorian honors. Adoniram dazzled the audience with
his address on the subject of free enquiry. Back home he opened the Plymouth
(Massachusetts) Independent Academy. His father was now the pastor of the Third
Congregational Church of Plymouth. He published two textbooks, Elements of English
Grammar and Young Ladies' Arithmetic.
Being somewhat hypocritical about his living, he announced to his parents one
day he was going to New York to write for the stage. The parents, stunned, asked
him to consider preaching if he was not happy teaching. This only made him angrier.
Their begging with tears was ignored and he left. However, there was no fortune
and fame to be had for him in New York. He traveled back to an uncle's home,
secured a horse, and rode west.
One night he took lodging at a village inn. The landlord told him he had one
room, but it was next to someone critically ill. Rest did not come. Through
the night he heard sounds of people moving about, weird moans and gasps. He
could not stop thinking about death. Finally, sleep did come in the early morning
hours. The next day he inquired about the sick man and was told he had died.
Judson inquired who it was. Like an arrow to his heart came the reply: "A Jacob
Eames from the college of Providence." He galloped back home toward Plymouth,
and spent several long sessions with distinguished Christians until in December,
1808, he dedicated himself fully to the Lord.
He had decided to study for the ministry and entered the Andover Theological
Seminary at Andover in the fall of 1808. In May, 1809, he made a public profession
of his faith in his father's church. This was also the year while reading Buchanan's
Star in the East that his desire to become a missionary was born. Soon this
became an obsession with him. Back at Williams College
in 1806 several young men formed the first foreign missionary society. The famous
haystack prayer meeting was a result of a storm at their first meeting which
was held outdoors. Samuel J. Mills and four others-Nott, Newell, Hall, and Luther
Rice-jumped into a haystack and organized a missionary prayer meeting. Now many
of these men were also studying at Andover Seminary and met Judson. His parents
begged him to accept a flourishing Boston pulpit which was offered to him. But
Judson had the world in his heart and by February, 1810, there was no turning
Up until this time work in America was limited to Indians. There were no organized
societies sending men to foreign service. On June 28, 1810, Mills, Nott, Newell
and Judson presented a statement to the General Association of Congregational
Ministers at Bradford, Massachusetts, which led to the organization of the American
Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. On June 29, the day following the
proposition of the four young Seminary students to go to heathen Asia with the
Gospel, they were invited to the Hasseltine residence near Bradford, Massachusetts,
for a meal. The Hasseltines were well known for their social functions. Twenty-year-old
Nancy-whose real name was Ann-was helping her mother prepare the meal. As she
greeted the men, a pair of keen eyes met hers. Judson, the spokesman for the
group, soon was composing a graceful sonnet in her praise. One month later a
letter came to her from Judson. In it, Judson asked her to marry him and accompany
him to India. Two months later she said yes.
In January, 1811, Judson was sent to England by the American Board to promote
a measure of affiliation and cooperation between it and the London Missionary
Society, which William Carey had started. On his trip over he was captured by
a French privateer and imprisoned at Bayonne for a while. Released, he went
to London but had no success on his mission. The London group did not want to
cooperate with unorganized American churches. Also, growing international tensions
on the eve of the War of 1812 made it desirable for the American Board to act
independently. They did so immediately thereafter, and Nott, Newell, Hall, Rice
and Judson were appointed as their first missionaries.
Judson was married on February 5, 1812, and ordained with his colleagues the
next day, February 6, at Salem, Massachusetts. A few days later, on February
19, the Judsons, with their friends, sailed for Calcutta, India. In expectation
of meeting Baptists including William Carey, at Serampur they made a study of
baptism and, on board the ocean vessel, they became convinced that they should
become Baptists. Upon arrival they were immersed in a Baptist church in Calcutta.
This meant support from the Congregational Society would stop, and this brought
some hardships to Judson. Because of it, Luther Rice returned to America, rallied
the Baptist churches, and by 1814 the American Baptist Missionary Union was
formed, under which Judson came.
Arriving in Calcutta, Judson found that the War of 1812 between England and
America had shut India's doors to him, as the East India Company, fearing trouble
might arise from missionaries working with the natives, advised that he and
his friends should sail for America. Unwelcomed by former associates, he went
to Isle of France and Madras.
At that time a vessel was ready for a trip to Rangoon, Burma, and the Judsons
decided to go there. However, the first of much coming suffering and anguish
was evidenced on this trip. Tossed by a fierce monsoon in the Bay of Bengal,
Ann became desperately ill, and Judson expected her death momentarily. Attended
only by her husband, Ann gave birth to her first baby, which soon died and had
to be buried at sea. They reached Rangoon in July, 1813, taking up residence
at the Felix Carey Mission House. Mrs. Judson was still severely ill, so she
had to be carried in a stretcher as they disembarked. It was two and a half
years before she would receive a letter from home. These were times of strenuous
labors and difficulties. The people were engaged in idolatrymostly devout Buddhists-and
the emperor would not tolerate any religious teaching. Finally, through his
medical knowledge, Judson was able to gain the favor of the emperor. Here the
Judsons labored diligently, gathering around them natives as they were able.
It was an unspeakably filthy village where they lived, and at night the dogs
and pigs would fight over the garbage littered throughout the city. Ann opened
a school for children and for such women as might desire to attend. She was
an outstanding missionary in her own right. Judson busied himself with mastering
the language, and decided he must translate the Bible into Burmese. He said,
"I long to see the whole New Testament complete, for I will then be able to
devote all my time to preaching the Gospel."
Judson felt it time to start preaching the Gospel in public after awhile. In
order to make friends with the Burmese people, he would have to make a zayat
for them. This was a large public building where the farmers and businessmen
could gather to talk or relax at any time. Finding a spot on a busy road, he
made the zayat. When the travelers found out the white man was not charging
for this service, they soon became very friendly toward the missionaries. While
building a small chapel by the roadside, he spoke to hundreds as they traveled
back and forth to and from the city. The first Christian service in the native
tongue was held April 4, 1819. After six years of labor, he had his first convert,
Moung Nau, a lady, who was baptized in Rangoon on June 27, 1819. Though it took
him six years for his first convert, within two years he had 18 baptized converts
and a Burmese church started. The Bible translation work was going slow, but
During this time a son, Roger, was born. He lived only seven months then died.
Soon after this Judson himself became sick. Long hours of study in a hot climate
would be difficult, but his "books" were dried palm leaves strung together,
with the letters poorly scratched on them. No wonder he complained of eyestrain
and headaches. For months he lay in bed, his eyes sore from disease.
In 1821, Ann made a two-year visit to America for her health. In 1823 Brown
University granted Judson an honorary D.D. In June, 1823, Ann embarked for the
voyage back to Burma. In December, 1823, the couple left Rangoon. New missionaries
had arrived to care for the growing mission there. Adoniram was encouraged by
the emperor's invitation to found a Christian mission in Ava, the capital city,
and promise to give them land for a mission station. However, Dr. Price, who
had preceded them, met them and warned them that the tide was suddenly turned
against foreigners because of imminent war with Great Britain. All white visitors
were now looked upon with suspicion. Rangoon had fallen to the British and foreigners
were now in trouble in Ava.
On June 8, 1824, begins a story of unbelievable punishments. In their compound
Adoniram was thrown to the floor and dragged away, put in prison. For a while
it was one dark, filthy room. He was forbidden to speak to his fellow prisoners
except rarely, and was denied water and fresh clothing. Fellow prisoners were
whipped and, worse still, led forth at three in the afternoon for execution.
He never knew what day would be his turn.
The question now was how to preserve the precious manuscripts of exhausting
years of Bible translations. Ann decided to hide them in a pillow. She made
a hard one. The jailer grabbed it and kept it as his own. Grief filled their
hearts. Ann, not to be outdone, made a prettier, nicer pillow and brought it
to the prison, and Judson said to the jailer, "How would you like to exchange
the old, soiled pillow for this bright new one?" Many times, smitten down with
disease and at death's door, he breathed out the prayer, "Lord, let me finish
my work. Spare me long enough to put Thy saving Word into the hands of a perishing
people." The prayer was answered. Ann was the first missonary to learn Siamese
and to translate a portion of Scripture, the Gospel of Matthew, into that tongue.
Adoniram was bound during nine months of this period with three pairs of fetters.
Two months the amount was five pairs. His sufferings from fever, excruciating
heat, hunger, repeated disappointments and cruelty of keepers is one of the
most challenging narratives in the history of missions. On one occasion, pitifully
weak and emaciated, he was driven in chains across the burning tropical sands,
until, his back lacerated and his feet covered with blisters, he fell to the
ground and prayed for a speedy death. For almost two years he was incarcerted
in a prison too vile to house animals. One room which he and many other prisoners
were crowded into was without a window and felt like a fiery furnace under the
merciless glare of the tropical sun. The stench of the place was terrible, vermin
crawled everywhere, and the jailer, Mr. Spotted Face, was a brute in human form.
Judson would have fallen except for the tender, persistent ministrations of
his wife Ann. Bribing the jailer, under cover of darkness, she crept to the
door of Judson's den, bringing food and whispering words of hope and consolation.
At one point, for three long weeks she did not appear. But when she returned,
she brought in her arms a newborn baby. This explained her absence. Amid much
pain Adoniram Judson crawled forth and took the child in his arms. Afterwards
he composed 24 stanzas of poetry in her honor.
Smallpox was raging unchecked through the city, and little Maria Judson was
smitten. Ann found herself unable to nurse the little one. Ann took her baby
up and down the streets of the city, pleading for mercy and for milk. Through
the kindness of a native mother who had a small child, the baby was kept alive.
A caged lion starved to death before an alleged plan to turn him loose on some
of the prisoners was implemented. Mrs. Judson cleaned out the cage and secured
permission for her husband to stay there for a few weeks, since he was critically
ill with fever. Her efforts to relieve the sufferings of the English prisoners
received tributes of warmest gratitude and praise. She walked fearlessly and
was respected from palace to prison.
Once the prisoners were moved ten miles away to a jail at Oung-pen-la. Ann
caught up by boat, then oxcart. Not being permitted to put her own little bamboo
house near the prison, Ann took refuge in a little room half-filled with grain
and accumulated dirt.
Here she stayed for many days, stricken down and lying prostrate by tropical
disease. She lay helpless on her mat on the floor for two months. God sent some
help at the last possible moment. A Burmese woman offered to care for and to
nurse the baby. Then Dr. Price was released from prison and hastened to her
bedside. Slowly she was revived, although she could scarecly breathe. She sent
a servant to make one more appeal to the governor to release Adoniram. The governor
sent a petition to the high court of the empire and Adoniram was released about
November, 1825, and that only on a peremptory demand on the part of General
Sir Archibald Campbell. He was given the post of interpreter of message for
the Burmese government-a job which was practically an imprisonment.
Upon release from this servitude his one thought was"Is Ann still alive?" Upon
reaching the room where he knew she was last, he saw a fat, half-naked Burmese
woman squatting in the ashes beside a pan of coals, holding on her knees an
emaciated baby, so begrimed with dirt that it did not occur to him that it could
be his own. Across the foot of the bed lay a human object who at first glance
was no more recognizable than his child. The face was pale and the body shrunken
to the last degree of emaciation. Black curls had all been shorn from the bald
head. It was Ann who roused from her stupor, as warm tears fell upon her face.
Nursed slowly back to health, the Judsons transferred their headquarters to
Amherst in Lower Burma. Amherst was on a long strip of Burmese seacoast which
Great Britain had secured, and here they and their four Burmese Christian converts
created a mission and home in the summer of 1826. In the anticipation that his
presence would be of help in insuring religious liberty to the subjects of Burma,
Judson was prevailed upon to accompany the British Civil Commissioner to Ava
in the capacity of British ambassador. While he was gone, Ann fell victim to
another fever; this time, it proved to be too vicious. Before she died she said,
"The teacher (husband) is long in coming; and 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 in his will."
She died October 24, 1826, when she was not yet 37 years of age. When Judson
returned his heart was broken, as he buried his wife under a hopia tree in Amherst.
About three months later he buried his third child-next to Ann. In 1827
he moved to Maulmain where he continued to work as long as he lived. In 1828
he began preaching to the Karens, a race of wild people living in the remote
areas of the jungles.
An evangelistic opportunity came one day in 1828, when a Karen slave was sold
in the bazaar in Moulmain and bought by a native Christian, who forthwith brought
him to Judson to be taught and evangelized. Ko Tha Byu was a desperate robber
bandit and was involved in some 30 murders. Patiently, Judson instructed the
depraved creature, who yielded to Christ and went through the jungles as a flaming
evangelist among his people. The Karens then prepared for their reception of
the Gospel message. God blessed, and other missionaries arrived to assist-among
whom were the Boardmans. The tasks and terrible climate all took their toll,
and Mr. Boardman died. Mrs. Boardman (born in 1803) remained to teach school
in Burma and, in April, 1834, she became Judson's second wife. Eight children
were born in their eleven years of marriage, three of whom died at an early
Judson completed a revision of the Old Testament in the Burmese language by
1834, and he finished the Burmese New Testament in 1837. That year there were
1,144 baptized converts in Burma. Judson would preach and teach all morning
and in the evening would hold a service for believers and inquirers. But he
was finding it more difficult to speak in public. He had been ill so many times
his voice was growing weak. His wife Sarah also was repeatedly ill, and so he
decided a furlough might be in order. But Mrs. Judson's health never regained,
and she died in the port of St. Helena in 1845, at age 42.
After 33 years of absence, Judson was royally received in the United States,
where he told the story of Burma missions, which Ann had several years earlier
written in book form. The cause of missions was helped, and interest in the
cause he represented was evident by the crowded assemblies gathered to see and
hear him. Like Livingstone, he shunned the public gaze and was modest and shy
when it came to speaking. Home on his first and only furlough, he was asked
if the prospects were bright for the conversion of the world. His famous reply
was, "As bright, Sirs, as the promises of God!"
On July 11, 1846, he set sail for Burma again, having married on June 2, to
Miss Emily Chubbock of Eaton, N.Y. (born in 1817). She became a brilliant writer.
Back in Burma in 1847, divine blessings rested upon his continued Burmese-English
dictionary. This was a work first issued in 1826 but revised constantly through
his life. Many tracts were printed as well. Still
in poor health, in 1850 he was advised to take a sea voyage to recuperate. His
wife, also very ill, could not go with him, so he was carried on board the vessel
too weak to walk. Four days later, on April 12, 1850, en route to the Isle of
France, Adoniram Judson passed on and was buried at sea. His wife died in 1854,
four years later.
Thirty years after Judson's death the native work which he gave birth to numbered
7,000 converts and some 63 churches. The working staff over which he had oversight
consisted of 163 missionaries, native pastors and assistants. There was a publishing
house, schools where natives were taught to read, and many more testimonials
to his life's work. One hundred years later, on the anniversary of his death,
Burma had some 200,000 Christians.
Judson's work not only accomplished something in Burma but his general results
also affected all of India. In his 37 years of missionary labor he succeeded
in gradually working up a sentiment in the East of religious toleration, which
bears much fruit even today. One of his most successful efforts was the organization
of an extensive trained body of native assistants to aid him in the translation
of the Bible and other works into Burmese, and in the compilation of his Burmese-English
and English-Burmese dictionary, Burmese grammar and Pali dictionary. These works,
though intended primarily as aids for missionaries, have been great aids to
the study, by students and scholars, of the languages of the East.
Almost overlooked is the fact that Judson wrote two famous hymn-poems, Our
Father God, Who Art in Heaven (1825) and Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine (1832).
Speaking at the dedication of the Judson Memorial Church in New York City, a
son, Edward, spoke referring to his father: Suffering and success go together.
If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have
suffered; if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you
may succeed. Judson probably illustrated this truth
as much as any man who ever lived.