While her sacrificial life has rightly been emphasized, she should also be remembered for her importance in the evangelization of both Burma and Thailand. In Burma, she learned to speak the language so well that she could share the gospel with other women on a daily basis. What’s more, she learned the unique Burmese writing system, which allowed her to write a Burmese catechism and translate several tracts, as well as the books of Jonah and Daniel (while her husband translated other portions of the Bible).
Ann Judson, one of the first two women to be sent as American foreign missionaries, is a familiar name for most Christians. She is particularly remembered as the sacrificial wife who hid her husband’s Bible translation inside a pillow and took it to the jail where he had been confined, bribing the jailers in order to get in.
This is just one of the memorable stories that were repeated in countless accounts during the nineteenth century, when she was held up as a role model for other missionary wives. But most of these accounts leave out much information about Ann’s own work as a missionary and educator.
“Beauty in the Way of Salvation”
Ann “Nancy” Hasseltine was born in Bradford, Massachusetts, December 22, 1789. The youngest of five children, she was lively, cheerful, and intelligent. By her early teens, she was already popular and in demand for parties and other social events. A special dance hall her father built next to their house became the center of social life for the young people of Bradford.
Aware of her intelligence, her parents enrolled Ann at Bradford Academy where she left a mark with her lively spirit. Rufus Anderson, who became a renowned strategist of missions, remembered how, during his studies at the same college, Ann used to playfully chase him “about the Academy grounds with a stick.”
Like most families in the town, the Hasseltines attended the local Congregational Church. Ann remembered learning from her mother a list of sins to avoid if she wanted to escape the torments of hell. But serious thoughts on the subject were soon brushed off by the attraction of a life of “gaiety and mirth.”
By the spring of 1806 a revival swept through the Academy. Ann was affected by the sermons she heard but put off by the heavy emphasis on hell and by the idea that God would choose who was destined there. “So far from being merciful in calling some, I thought it cruel in him to send any of his creatures to hell for their disobedience.”
This resentment brought her to the conclusion that she wouldn’t be happy in heaven, even if she made it there. “In this state, I longed for annihilation,” she wrote; “and if I could have destroyed the existence of my soul, with as much ease as that of my body, I should quickly have done it.”
She credited God for coming to her rescue. “But that glorious Being, who is kinder to his creatures than they are to themselves, did not leave me to remain long in this distressing state. I began to discover a beauty in the way of salvation by Christ. He appeared to be just such a Saviour as I needed. I saw how God could be just, in saving sinners through him.”
A few days later, she found confirmation of her discovery in Joseph Bellamy’s True Religion. “I obtained a new view of the character of God. His justice, displayed in condemning the finally impenitent, which I had before viewed as cruel, now appeared to be an expression of hatred to sin, and regard to the good of beings in general.”
Bellamy was a disciple of Jonathan Edward and one of the architects of the so-called New Divinity, a movement born out of the First American Awakening. Ann began to avidly read other similar authors, such as Edwards and Samuel Hopkins. New Divinity authors emphasized missionary work, and Ann became increasingly interested in missionary accounts.
She also began to teach young children. Her diary shows how she was inspired in this venture by a popular book of her day, Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education. Resisting the decorative nature of female education in her day, when women were taught only what could serve to entertain their hosts, More believed that education should lead to a life of usefulness. And Ann, motivated by her renewed love for Christ, wanted to be useful.