The Legacy of Adoniram Judson

By Brackney, William H. | International Bulletin of Mission Research, July 1998 | Go to article overview

The Legacy of Adoniram Judson


Brackney, William H., International Bulletin of Mission Research


Intelligent, vigorous, visionary, and dedicated to his calling, Adoniram Judson was for several generations of American Protestants the first among American overseas missionaries. His premier standing was earned by the chronology of his appointment and service, as well as the quality of his work and devotion to service; his heroic stature has been enhanced by the literary interpretation of his life from the 1820s through the conclusion of the nineteenth century.

Judson was the first child of Adoniram Judson, Sr., and Abigail Brown. Born August 9, 1788, in the parsonage of First Congregational Church of Malden, Massachusetts (his father's first church), young Adoniram was the older brother of Abigail and Elnathan. His father was a graduate of Yale College and known for his evangelical views in accord with his mentors, Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803) and Joseph Bellamy (1719-90). His mother was a homemaker and Christian activist in her local congregation.

Adoniram, Jr., grew up in Wenham, Braintree, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, the locations of his father's subsequent ministerial appointments. As a young person, he rejected the faith of his parents and prided himself in being a skeptic.

Adoniram went to the College of Rhode Island (later Brown University) at age sixteen. The school, under the denominational patronage of Baptists, was the preferred choice of his father, since Harvard was theologically unacceptable and Yale was suspected of infidelism by many contemporary evangelicals. Adoniram entered the sophomore class and graduated three years later in 1807 with the highest honors in his class. His youthful religious skepticism was enhanced by a close friend at college. Later, when that friend died, Adonizam had a crisis experience and sought the counsel of Moses Stuart (1780-1852), a theological professor at Andover Seminary.

Adoniram completed his education at Andover Theological Seminary, matriculating on Stuart's recommendation in September 1808. He graduated two years later, in 1810, in its first class. During his seminary studies he became a believer and pursued an interest in overseas mission that soon became a passion. During this time he met and married Ann Hasseltine, a school teacher from Bradford, Massachusetts. On February 6, 1812, Judson and five of his friends were commissioned missionaries by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and they sailed for India immediately. Ann and Adoniram sailed with Samuel and Harriet Newell on the Caravan from Salem the next week; Samuel and Roxanna Nott, along with Gordon Hall and Luther Rice, embarked from Philadelphia on the Harmony some two weeks later. En route, the Judsons converted to Baptistic principles and sought the support of the Baptist community in the United States. Originally intent on service in India, or more properly Madagascar, the Judsons went to Burma, and Adohiram served there for almost four decades as the first appointee of the newly formed Baptist Board of Foreign Missions and the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States.

Adoniram and Ann settled first at Rangoon, where they lived from 1813 to 1823. They moved next to Ava (the royal city), where in 1824 Adoniram was taken prisoner as a suspected spy for the British government, then at war with Burma. Upon his release in 1826, they returned to Rangoon and eventually to Amherst. After Ann's death later that year, Adoniram moved between Moulmein, the new chief city of the Province of Tenaserim, and Prome and Rangoon. In 1834 Judson married the widow Sarah Boardman and moved permanently to Moulmein. There they remained until 1845, when Sarah died and Adoniram returned to the United States on furlough for 1845 - 46. Upon his return to Burma with his third wife, Emily, Judson returned to his home at Moulmein, and except for some time spent at Rangoon in 1847 to finish his dictionary project, there he remained until his final voyage. …

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