Chapter III - Voyage to Burma. 1812-1813
After the shores of America had faded from their eyes, almost four months elapsed before Mr. Judson and his missionary associates caught sight of land. They made the long trip around the Cape of Good Hope, and at last descried the towering mountains of Golconda. Now that the Suez Canal has been opened, and a railroad track laid across our continent, the missionary to India goes either through the Mediterranean Sea, or by the way of San Francisco and Yokohama, and the voyage consumes only about two months.
While taking the long voyage from America to India, Mr. Judson changed his denominational latitude and longitude as well. He was a Congregational minister; his parents were Congregationalists; and he had been sent out by a Congregational Board. All his sympathies and affections were bound up with the life of that great denominational body. On his way to Burma, however, he became a Baptist. His attention was at this time especially drawn to the distinctive views of the Baptists by the fact that he was now about to found a new Christian society among the heathen. When the adult heathen accepted Christ by faith and love he should of course be baptized, and thus formally initiated into the Christian church. But, ought the children also to be baptized upon the strength of the parents' faith? This was a practical question.
Again, Mr. Judson expected to meet in India the eminent English Baptist missionaries, Carey, Marshman, and Ward. In the immediate neighborhood of these men he proposed to institute a Congregationalist form of church life, and he would of course have to explain to the natives these denominational differences. His mind was cast in a scholarly and argumentative mold. Controversy might possibly arise between himself and the Baptist missionaries. He thought it best while he was on the ocean to arm himself beforehand for the encounter with these formidable champions, in order successfully to maintain the Pedobaptist position.
In the enforced seclusion of a long sea voyage he had plenty of time for thought and study on this important subject. The result of his search and investigation was the conclusion, reluctantly formed, that he was wrong and that the Baptists were right. Of course they held many fundamental doctrines in common with Christians of all other evangelical denominations; but there were two distinctive tenets, that faith should always precede baptism, and that baptism is immersion. He was convinced that in these views they had the Bible on their side.
It was only after a great struggle that he yielded; for he had to break with all the traditions and associations of his ancestry and childhood. He pictured to himself the grief and disappointment of his Christian friends in America, especially of his venerable parents. He saw that he would be separated from those young students, the choice companions with whom he had originated this great scheme of American foreign missions. In their discussions, his wife always took the Pedobaptist side. He knew that he and she might find themselves without bread in a strange, heathen land. For who could expect the American Board to sustain a Baptist missionary, even if he could on his part obey their instructions? He could have little hope that the Baptists of America, feeble, scattered, and despised, would be equal to the great undertaking of supporting an expensive mission in distant India. Ah! what long anxious conversations must he and his wife have had together in their little cabin on the brig "Caravan."
The question may have arisen in his mind, are these doctrines so important after all? Can I not cherish them in secret, and still remain identified with the religious body that I so much love and honor? No; because if individual faith is the prerequisite of baptism, what scriptural authority would we have for baptizing the unconscious infant? If baptism is a symbol, then of course the form is all important. If faith must precede baptism, and if immersion is essential to baptism, then he himself had never been baptized at all. He knew that baptism had been expressly commanded by our blessed Lord, and that alone was sufficient to necessitate obedience. Prompt and straightforward obedience to Christ was the keynote of his life. His was too positive a character to try to effect a compromise between conviction and action. He had one of those great natures that cannot afford to move along with the crowd.
The four missionaries arrived in Calcutta on June 17th, and were warmly welcomed by Dr. Carey. They were invited to visit the settlement of English Baptists at Serampore, a town about twelve miles from Calcutta, up the Hugli River. Here they awaited the arrival of the other group of American missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Nott and Messrs. Hall and Rice, who had sailed from Philadelphia in the ship "Harmony," and who did not arrive until August 8th. On September 6th, Mr. and Mrs. Judson were baptized in Calcutta by the Rev. Mr. Ward, and on the first of November, Mr. Rice, one of his missionary associates who, though sailing on a different vessel, had experienced a similar change of sentiment, was also baptized. "Mr. Rice was thought," Dr. Carey says, "to be the most obstinate Pedobaptist of any of the missionaries."
But becoming Baptists was only the beginning of trouble for these missionaries. India was ruled by the East India Company, which was opposed to the introduction of missionaries, especially of Americans -- for England and America were not at that time on friendly terms. Besides, the English feared that the natives of India, finding themselves beset by the missionaries of a foreign religion, and their own sacred institutions undermined, would rise against the whole English race, and a war ensue which would be rendered more intense by the spirit of religious fanaticism. The Oriental meekly submits to oppression, except where religious questions are involved; it was the greased cartridge which brought on the Sepoy rebellion. The English authorities feared, as once was stated in the House of Lords, "That every missionary would have to be backed by a gunboat." There might arise endless complications, and they determined to arrest the danger before it really began.
Mr. and Mrs. Judson and Mr. Rice were peremptorily ordered to repair from Serampore to Calcutta. When they appeared at the government house they were told that they must at once return to America. They asked leave to settle in some other part of India, but this was refused. They then asked if they could go to the Isle of France (Mauritius). This request was granted; but the only ship then setting sail for that port could convey but two passengers, and by common consent Mr. and Mrs. Newell embarked. Mr. and Mrs. Judson and Mr. Rice remained behind for another vessel. After two months, they received an order to go on board one of the company's vessels bound for England, and their names were even printed in the official list of passengers. But a vessel named the "Creole" was just about to sail for the Isle of France. They applied to the government for a passport. This was refused. Then they asked the captain if he would take them without a passport. He said, good-naturedly, "There was his ship; they could go on board if they pleased." They immediately embarked under cover of the night. But while sailing down the Hugli River from Calcutta to the sea they were over taken by a government dispatch. The pilot was forbidden to go farther, as there were persons on board who had been ordered to England. They were put ashore on the bank of a river and took shelter at a little tavern, while the vessel continued her course down the river without them.
After three or four days, however, a letter came from Calcutta containing the much-desired passport to sail on the "Creole." Who procured the passport has always remained a mystery. But now they had every reason to suppose that the vessel had got out to sea. She might, however, be anchored at Saugur, seventy miles below. With all haste they put their baggage in a boat and sped down the river. They had to row against the tide, but arrived at Sangur before the evening of the next day, and had the happiness of finding the vessel at anchor. "I never enjoyed," says Mrs. Judson, "a sweeter moment in my life than that when I was sure we were in sight of the 'Creole.'" After a voyage of six weeks they arrived in Port Louis, on the Isle of France, January 17, 1813.
The Isle of France, or Mauritius, lies in the Indian Ocean, four hundred and eighty miles east of Madagascar. It is about thirty-six miles long and thirty-two wide. It had only a few years before been wrested from the French by the English. During the wars between the French and the English it had furnished harborage for the French privateers which, sallying forth from its ports, attacked the richly freighted English merchantmen on their way from England. The scene of St. Pierre's pathetic tale of "Paul and Virginia," it was to our missionaries also who took refuge here, a place of sorrow. They learned of a death which rivals in pathos the fate of Virginia. Mrs. Harriet Newell, the first American martyr to foreign missions, had only just survived the tempestuous voyage from Calcutta, and had been laid in the "heathy ground" of Mauritius; one who "for the love of Christ and immortal souls, left the bosom of her friends and found an early grave in a land of strangers." She never repented leaving her native country. When informed by her physician of her approaching death, she lifted up her hands in triumph, and exclaimed, "Oh, glorious intelligence!"
What a sense of desolation must have crept over the little band of missionaries, now that death had so early broken into their ranks! On February 24th, Mr. Newell embarked for Ceylon, and on the 15th of March, Mr. Rice sailed for America in order to preach a missionary crusade among the Baptist churches there; and thus Mr. and Mrs. Judson were left alone. They were obliged to remain about four months on the Isle of France; and while much of their time was spent in self-sacrificing labors among the English soldiers who formed the garrison of the island, the missionaries still longed to reach their final destination. Mrs. Judson writes: "Oh, when will my wanderings terminate? When shall I find some little spot that I can call my own?" Her mother's ominous words, uttered long ago, were coming true. She was indeed having her fill of "rambling." They had left America nearly fifteen months before, and yet after all their journeyings they seemed no nearer a field of labor than when they first set out. Their destination was still a mirage -- an ever-dissolving view.
They decided to make another descent upon the coast of India. On May 7, 1813, they embarked on the ship "Countess of Harcourt," for Madras, intending to establish a mission on Pulo Penang, or Prince of Wales Island, lying in the straits of Malacca. It was a little island of commodious harbors and salubrious climate, which had recently been purchased by the English, and the small native population of Malays was being rapidly increased by emigration from Hindustan, Burma, Siam, and China. On June 4th, they arrived in Madras, where they were kindly received by the English missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Loveless. But they knew that they could not remain long, for they were again under the jurisdiction of the East India Company. Their arrival was at once reported to the governor-general, and they feared they would be immediately transported to England. There was no vessel in the harbor bound for Pulo Penang, and the only vessel about to sail in that direction was bound for Rangoon, Burma. They dreaded to pass from the protection of the British flag into the power of the Burman despot, whose tender mercies were cruel. But their only alternative was between Rangoon and their native land, and they chose the former.
On June 22d, they went on board the crazy, old vessel "Georgiana." The captain was the only person on board who could speak their language, and they had no other apartment than that made by canvas. The passage was very tedious. Mrs. Judson was taken dangerously ill, and continued so until at one period her husband came to experience the awful sensation which necessarily resulted from the expectation of an immediate separation from his beloved wife, the only remaining companion of his wanderings. About the same time, the captain being unable to make the Nicobar Island, where it was intended to take in a cargo of cocoanuts, they were driven into a dangerous strait, between the Little and Great Andamans, two savage coasts where the captain had never been, and where, if they had been cast ashore they would, according to all accounts, have been killed and eaten by the natives. But as one evil is sometimes an antidote to another, so it happened with them. Their being driven into this dangerous but quiet channel brought immediate relief to the almost exhausted frame of Mrs. Judson, and conduced essentially to her recovery. And in the event, they were safely conducted over the black rocks which they sometimes saw in the gulf below, and on the eastern side of the islands found favorable winds, which gently wafted them forward to Rangoon. But on arriving there, other trials awaited them.
They had never before seen a place where European influence had not contributed to smooth and soften the rough, native features. The prospect of Rangoon, as they approached, was quite disheartening. Mr. Judson went on shore just at night to take a view of the place and the mission house; but so dark and cheerless and unpromising did all things appear that the evening of that day, after his return to the ship, he and his wife marked as the most gloomy and distressing that they ever passed.
However, on July 13th, they reached Rangoon, and took possession of the English Baptist mission house, occupied by a son of Dr. Carey. This young man was temporarily absent, and soon afterward resigned the mission in their favor, and entered the service of the Burmese Government.
When the tidings reached America that Mr. and Mrs. Judson and Mr. Rice, Congregational missionaries sent out by the American Board, had been baptized at Calcutta, the Baptists throughout the whole land were filled with glad surprise. God had suddenly placed at the disposal of the Baptist denomination three fully equipped missionaries. They were already in the field, and action must be prompt. Several influential ministers in Massachusetts met at the house of Dr. Baldwin, in Boston, and organized the "Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel in India and other Foreign Parts." They also, as well as the American Board, first turned instinctively toward England for counsel and help. They proposed to the Baptist Missionary Society in London that Mr. Judson should be associated with Messrs. Carey, Marshman, and Ward, at Serampore; and that the Baptists in England and America should co-operate in the work of foreign missions. This, however, did not seem wise to the English brethren, and so America was again thrown back upon her own resources.
Mr. Rice, upon his return to this country, traveled everywhere, telling the thrilling story of the experiences of these pioneer missionaries. The greatest enthusiasm was aroused, and missionary societies similar to the one in Boston sprang up in the Middle and Southern States. In order to secure concert of action it seemed best that there should be a general convention, in which all these societies might be represented. Accordingly, on the 18th of May, 1814, delegates from Baptist churches and missionary societies throughout the land convened in the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. These delegates organized a body which was styled, "The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions." The sum of four thousand dollars was put into the treasury, contributed by the local societies, and it was thought an annual income of five thousand two hundred and eighty dollars might be secured. It was the day of small things. In 1845, the Southern brethren withdrew to form a society of their own, called "The Southern Convention." The Northern organization adopted a new constitution, and assumed the name of "The American Baptist Missionary Union." Its receipts for 1893 were over half a million dollars.
Although Mr. Judson's change in denominational attitude occasioned considerable irritation at the time, yet good and wise men of all religious bodies, viewing his conduct from the standpoint of the present, are agreed that it proved a blessing to the Christian world at large. It occasioned the formation of a second missionary society. There came to be two great benevolent forces at work, where there was only one before. What a history making epoch that was! The action of those consecrated students at Andover led to the formation of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and of The American Baptist Missionary Union; the one the organ of the Congregationalists, the other of the Baptists of America. A water-shed was upheaved, from which two beneficent and ever-widening streams flowed forth for the healing of the nations.
Mr. Judson's life also marks the beginning of that wonderful growth which has characterized the Baptist denomination in this country, for in gathering together and rallying for his support the Baptists awoke to self-consciousness. They arrived at the epoch, so momentous in the life either of a society or of an individual, when the infant passes out of a mere sort of vegetable existence into a consciousness of his being and power.
In the history of a social body, as well as of the human infant, the period of self-consciousness is the beginning of all real power. In 1812, the Baptists of America were a scattered and feeble folk, and lacked solidarity. There was little or no denominational spirit. The summons to the foreign field shook them together. A glass of water may be slowly reduced in temperature even to a point one or two degrees below freezing, and yet remain uncongealed, provided it be kept perfectly motionless; if then it is slightly jarred, it will suddenly turn into ice. The Baptist denomination of America was in just such a state of suspense. It needed to be jarred and shaken into solid and enduring form. Mr. Judson's words: "Should there be formed a Baptist society for the support of a mission in these parts, I should be ready to consider myself their missionary," proved to be the crystallizing touch.
Table of Contents
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved