Academic journal article The Hymn

The Hymns of Adoniram, Sarah, and Emily Judson in Burma

Academic journal article The Hymn

The Hymns of Adoniram, Sarah, and Emily Judson in Burma

Article excerpt

Two hundred years ago, Adoniram Judson (1788-1850, born in Salem, Massachusetts, died in Burma) and Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789-1826, born in Bradford, Massachusetts, died in Burma) arrived in Burma (now Myanmar) on July 13, 1813. The Burmese Baptists celebrate "Judson Day" each July. Having set sail from Salem, Massachusetts, for India, just two weeks after their wedding, the Judsons are celebrated as "America's first effort to send missionaries overseas."1 When they departed, however, they were under the sponsorship of the Congregational Church. Adoniram, along with Samuel Newell, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice were commissioned as "America's first foreign missionaries at America's oldest Protestant church, the Tabernacle in Salem"2 on February 6, 1812. During their four-month journey on the Caravan with the Newells, Adoniram, after reading the Bible, was convicted that his understanding of baptism was in error and upon arriving in India, where he had first thought he would debate William Carey, the English Baptist, on the subject, Adoniram was baptized by immersion. He then faced the dilemma of notifying the Congregational Church in America about his decision and was faced with finding financial sponsorship, which came from the Baptists. He is considered the Father of Baptist Missions.

Eight years after Ann died, Adoniram married Sarah Hall Boardman (1803-1845, born in Alstead, New Hampshire, died at sea), who had remained as a missionary in Burma after her missionary husband's death. After burying Sarah on the island of St. Helena in 1845, he came to the United States for his only visit during his thirty-eight years as a missionary in Burma. While on this visit, he married his third wife, Emily Chub buck Judson (1817-1854, born Eaton, New York, died in New York) who soon returned with him to Burma.

Adoniram is remembered particularly for his translation of the Bible into Burmese and for compiling the first English/Burmese dictionary. While these are his most significant accomplishments, he and two of his wives also wrote hymns. It is not widely known, even by the Burmese, that after her marriage to Adoniram and before 1839, Sarah compiled, at the request of the American Baptists, the first Burmese hymnal, Hymns for Public and Social Worship (HPSW). In the 1844 fourth edition,3 eighteen hymns were by Sarah. Much has been written regarding the Judson history and biography, but the subject of hymns in their life and work is an area that has not been previously considered.

While far from an exhaustive study, this article seeks to give an introductory consideration regarding several references to the Judson hymns found in the primary biographies, an examination of nine Burmese hymnals (primarily different editions of the same title, HPSW), and English translations of the Judson hymns.

It is believed that these translations (with the two exceptions noted in the Appendix), are the first from Burmese to English of hymns written by Sarah, Adoniram, and Emily. The first-edition date is not known but is probably circa 1837, based on evidence and the secondedition date of 1839. The earliest edition examined by the author at the American Baptist Historical Society (ABHS) in Atlanta, Georgia, was the third edition, published in 1840. The ABHS has at least six hymnals of this title in four different editions. The hymn by Emily was added to a later edition, after Emily went to Burma as the third Mrs. Judson. The translations are by Sau Nam,4 a Burmese student from Kachin state who is currently a student at Judson College, Marion, Alabama, and are edited slightly by the author for clarification. They are not in verse form with rhyme. Nor are the tunes that were sung to these texts known or indicated in the hymnals.

Sarah Judson's Hymns and Indications of Authorship

Adoniram, after Sarah's death, spoke on more than one occasion about her hymnwriting. In his "Obituary Notice," he said of Sarah: "and her hymns in Burmese, about twenty in number, are probably the best in our 'Chapel Hymn Book'-a work which she was appointed by the mission to edit. …

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