Remembering Ann Judson 190 Years Later

With her husband Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) she was the first of a long line of American evangelical missionaries.

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death?

 

This post is adapted from Eight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin.

A Remarkable Woman

Historian David S. Schaff, son of the famous historian Phillip Schaff, was surely right when he noted that the name of Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789–1826) “is one of the immortal names in missionary biography.”1 Francis Wayland (1796–1865), the major nineteenth-century biographer of Ann’s husband, said after he spent time with her in 1822: “I do not remember ever to have met a more remarkable woman.”

With her husband Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) she was the first of a long line of American evangelical missionaries. In fact, her embrace, and that of her husband, in 1812 of Baptist principles is one of the key turning points in the history of the American Baptists: it marked this community’s entry into the modern missionary movement, an event sealed two years later by the formation of the Triennial Convention, so called because it met every three years. Moreover, Ann’s life story was repeated innumerable times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—almost every year between 1830 and 1856 there was a new edition of her biography, which prompted one author, Lydia Maria Child, to describe it as “a book . . . universally known.”

Thus, she became, along with her husband and others such as William Carey (1761–1834) and Hudson Taylor (1832–1905), a key source of inspiration for the modern missionary movement.

An Extraordinary Letter

On June 28, 1810, Adoniram Judson, Ann’s future husband, came for lunch at her parents’ home with three other students, all Congregationalists and all of whom had offered themselves to serve as missionaries with their body of churches under the auspices of what was called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They would be the first overseas American missionaries.

Almost immediately Adoniram was smitten by Ann’s vivacity, charm, and beauty, and a month later he formally asked her in a letter if she would consent to have him court her. She replied that he must secure her father’s permission. So it was, in July of 1810, that Adoniram sent her father one of the most extraordinary letters from a prospective son-in-law:

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from the heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?2

Ann’s parents, John and Rebecca Hasseltine, allowed Ann to decide for herself. For her part, Ann was not able to answer Adoniram immediately. First, she barely knew him. And then she realized that to marry Adoniram was to commit herself to a missionary vocation, and she was not initially sure this was what God wanted for her life. For two months she wrestled with her feelings, her love for her family, and her dread of suffering alone in a foreign land. Finally, although many of her friends and acquaintances deemed her decision to leave America a “wild, romantic undertaking,”3she came to the conclusion that marriage to Judson and a missionary life was indeed God’s will for her life.

Notes:

  1. Cited in Leslie K. Tarr, “Ann Judson—Woman of Courage,” Decision, Canadian ed., 33 (October 1994): 25.
  2. Cited in Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma: A Life with Selections from Her Memoir and Letters (Durham, UK: Evangelical Press, 1998), 33, 35.

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