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Chapter VIII - Life in Amherst. 1826-1827

The treaty of peace was signed by the British and Burmese Commissioners on the 24th of February, 1826. On the sixth of the following month, Mr. and Mrs. Judson, with the infant Maria left the English army encamped at Yan-ta-bo. They sailed down the Irawadi in a British gunboat, and arrived at Rangoon March 21, 1826. Having at last emerged from the long nightmare of Oriental imprisonment, Mr. Judson turned to his lifework with undiminished ardor. The English desired to retain his valuable services as interpreter, and offered him a salary equivalent to three thousand dollars. But the offer was declined. Like the late Professor Agassiz, he had "no time to make money."

Mr. Judson had rapidly recovered from his imprisonment, and was now in perfect health.

"Even little Maria," he writes, "who came into the world a few months after my imprisonment to aggravate her parents' woes, and who has been, from very instinct it would seem, a poor, sad, crying thing, begins to brighten up her little face, and be somewhat sensible of our happy deliverance."

Missionary reinforcements had already come from America. Mr. Wade, while waiting in Calcutta for the war to close, was joined by George Dana Boardman, whose brief and saintly career was destined to make his name peculiarly fragrant to American Christians. He seemed an ideal missionary, so completely was he fitted for his work by his scholarly tastes, affectionate disposition, and fervent piety. He had taken up a newspaper a little while before, and had seen a notice of Colman's untimely death in Arracan. In the twinkling of an eye there flashed through his mind the question and answer: "Who will go to fill his place?" "I will go."

He had married Sarah Hall, a native of Salem, Massachusetts. Those who knew her speak of "faultless features, molded on the Grecian model, beautiful transparent skin, warm, meek blue eyes, and soft hair, brown in the shadow and gold in the sun." She was pronounced by her English friends in Calcutta to be "the most finished and faultless specimen of an American woman that they had ever known." From her earliest years she had possessed an enthusiasm for missions. When ten years old, she wrote a poem upon the death at Rangoon of Mrs. Judson's infant, Roger. Little did the child dream that many years after she was to take the place of the ideal heroine of her childhood, who, worn out with the prolonged horrors of Ava and Oung-pen-la, lay down to rest beneath the hopia-tree at Amherst.

Mr. Wade and Mr. Boardman waited anxiously in Calcutta for news from the Judsons. They did not, however, wait in idleness. They were learning the Burman language as best they could, and preaching in English in the Circular Road Baptist Chapel, where they were permitted to see, as a result of their labors, many persons converted and baptized. When news came at last from Mr. Judson, they were ready to join him and labor wherever he should think it best.

But to return to Mr. Judson in Rangoon. Not only did he find that the white teachers and their wives had been driven away by the war, but the native church membership was much reduced. He had left a church of eighteen disciples. He found on his return only four. With the exception of two, none however had disgraced their holy profession. The learned teacher, Moung Shwa-gnong, had gone into the interior of the country, and soon afterward died of the cholera. The only four whom Mr. Judson could muster after the war had swept over Rangoon, were Moung Shwa-ha, who had remained at the mission house, Moung Ing, who with such fidelity served Mrs. Judson through all her long, bitter experiences at Ava, and two faithful women, Mab-men-la and Mah-doke, who had been living in boats at Prome, the halfway place between Rangoon and Ava, and who instantly resolved to accompany the Judsons to Rangoon. These four faithful disciples were ready to follow their white teacher wherever he should think it best to establish a mission.

It was out of the question to think of remaining at Rangoon. The English were only holding the place temporarily, until the Burmans should pay their war debt. Indeed, at the close of the year, the English army did vacate Rangoon, and the Burmans resumed possession of their chief seaport. Should the missionaries therefore remain in Rangoon, they would still be under the cruel sway of Burman despotism. In addition, the monarch at Ava was peculiarly exasperated with his subjects in the southern part of the empire, because they had put themselves under the benignant protection of the English; many of the peaceful inhabitants were no doubt to be massacred by the royal troops. A state of anarchy followed the war. A famine succeeded, in which beasts of prey became proportionally bold. Tigers began to infest the suburbs of Rangoon, and carry off cattle and human beings. A tiger was killed even in the streets of the city. All these circumstances impelled the missionaries to leave Rangoon.

It was now no longer necessary for them to remain there in order to reach the native Burmans. One of the results of the war was that the British had wrested from the Burmans a large part of their seacoast, the Tenasserim provinces having been ceded to them. These embraced a strip of country along the sea, five hundred miles long, and from forty to eighty miles wide. This country was peopled with Burmans, and the cruelty of the despot at Ava was sure to cause a large overflow of the population of Burma proper into it. Here the Judsons might teach the new religion unmolested, under the protection of the British flag.

But where upon this long strip of ceded territory should the mission be established? Just at this time Mr. Judson was invited by Mr. Crawford, the British civil commissioner of the new province, to accompany him on an exploring expedition. The purpose of the expedition was to ascertain the best location for a town, which was to be the capital of the new territory -- the seat of government and the headquarters of the army. Mr. Judson's acquaintance with the language of the Burmans made him an invaluable assistant in such an enterprise; and finally Mr. Judson and Mr. Crawford selected as the site for the new city the promontory where the waters of the Salwen empty themselves into the sea. "The climate was salubrious, the land high and bold to the seaward, and the view of the distant hills of Ballou Island very captivating." The town, in honor of the Governor-General of India, was named Amherst.

On July 2, 1826, Mr. and Mrs. Judson began their missionary life in Amherst. They had the four faithful Rangoon converts as the nucleus of a native church, and expected soon to be joined by Mr. and Mrs. Wade and Mr. and Mrs. Boardman. They were among the first settlers, and made their home right in the very jungle. There was a prospect that the new town would have a very rapid growth. Three hundred Burmans had just arrived, and reported that three thousand more were on their way in boats. It would not seem strange if in two or three years a city of twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants should spring up on this salubrious, wooded promontory.

But before missionary operations were fairly begun, Mr. Judson was compelled reluctantly to visit Ava, the scene of his imprisonment. The English Government desired to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Burman king, and Mr. Crawford, the civil commissioner of the newly ceded provinces, was appointed envoy. He invited Mr. Judson to accompany him as a member of the embassy. The missionary's profound knowledge of the Burman language and character well qualified him for the delicate and difficult task of treating with the court at Ava. At first he firmly declined. He had no relish for diplomatic occupation, and he longed to plunge again into his own work. But when he was assured that if he would go as an English ambassador every effort would be made to secure the insertion of a clause in the treaty granting religious liberty to the Burmans, so that the whole country would be thrown open to the gospel, he reluctantly consented. The stubborn intolerance of the native government had hitherto been the chief obstacle in his missionary work, and religious freedom for the Burmese was a blessing for which he had long prayed and striven in vain.

This step, which proved to be a most unfortunate one, was, however, the result of the most mature deliberation. Mr. Judson, with the English embassy, arrived at Ava September 30, 1826, and remained there about two months and a half. This period embraces one of the saddest periods of his life. He was forced to witness the scene of his prolonged sufferings in prison, and yet was separated from the wife and babe who had shared with him those horrible experiences. He was engaged in the tedious and uncongenial task of wrestling as a diplomat with the stupidity and intolerance of the Burmese court. He soon learned that the king would on no terms agree to a clause in the treaty granting his subjects freedom of worship. And to crown his sorrows, on the 4th of November there was placed in his hands a sealed letter, containing the intelligence that Mrs. Judson was no more.

After the departure of her husband for Amherst she had begun her work with good heart. She built a little bamboo dwelling-house and two schoolhouses. In one of these she gathered ten Burman children, who were placed under the instruction of faithful Moung Ing, while she herself assembled the few native converts for public worship every Sunday.

But in the midst of these sacred toils she was smitten with fever. Her constitution, undermined by the hardships and sufferings which she had endured, could not sustain the shock, and on October 24th, 1826, in the thirty-seventh year of her age, she breathed her last. The hands so full of holy endeavors were destined to be suddenly folded for rest. She died apart from him to whom she had given her heart in her girlhood, whose footsteps she had faithfully followed for fourteen years, over land and sea, through trackless jungles and strange crowded cities, sharing his studies and his privations, illumining his hours of gloom with her beaming presence, and with a heroism and fidelity unparalleled in the annals of missions, soothing the sufferings of his imprisonment. He whom she had thus loved, and who, from his experience of Indian fever, might have been able to avert the fatal stroke, was far away in Ava. No missionary was with her when she died to speak words of Christian consolation. The Burman converts like children gathered helplessly and broken-hearted about their white mamma. The hands of strangers smoothed her dying pillow, and their ears received her last faint wandering utterances. Under such auspices as these her white-winged spirit took its flight to the brighter scenes of the New Jerusalem.

Mr. Judson returned to Amherst, January 24, 1827. The native Christians greeted him with the voice of lamentation, for his presence reminded them of the great loss they had sustained in the death of Mrs. Judson. His heart was desolate. His motherless babe had been tenderly cared for by Mrs. Wade. Mr. and Mrs. Wade had arrived from Calcutta about two months before, and with them Mr. Judson made his temporary home. Two months later Mr. and Mrs. Boardman arrived, so that the missionary force was increased to five. The little native church of four members was however reduced by the departure of Moung Ing. This poor fisherman, who had been Mrs. Judson's faithful companion at Ava, had of his own accord conceived the purpose of undertaking a missionary excursion to his late fishing-grounds, Tavoy and Mergui, towns south of Amherst, situated on the Tenasserim coast. He was henceforth to be a fisher of men.

Mr. Boardman, in speaking of his first meeting with Mr. Judson, said: "he looks as if worn out with sufferings and sorrows." He did not, however, neglect his missionary work. He met the Burmans for public worship on Sunday, and each day at family worship new inquirers stole in and were taught the religion of Christ. He was also busily employed in revising the New Testament in several points which were not satisfactorily settled when the translation was made; for his besetting sin was, as he himself describes it, "a lust for finishing." He completed two catechisms for the use of Burman schools, the one astronomical, the other geographical, while his sorrowful heart sought comfort in commencing a translation of the book of Psalms.

Little Maria was the solace of his studies. But she too was taken from him. "On April 24, 1827," he writes, "my little daughter Maria breathed her last, aged two years and three months, and her emancipated spirit fled, I trust, to the arms of her fond mother."

Mr. Boardman, who had only just arrived from Calcutta, constructed a coffin, and made all the preparations for the funeral. At nine o'clock the next day little Maria was placed by her mother's side beneath the hopia-tree. "After leaving the grave," Mr. Boardman writes, "we had a delightful conversation on the kindness and tender mercies of our Heavenly Father. Brother Judson seemed carried above his grief."

And so at the age of thirty-nine he found himself alone in the world, bereft of his wife and two children.

The time had now come when the little mission established at Amherst, with such doleful omens, was to be broken up. Amherst was being rapidly eclipsed by the town of Moulmein, situated on the coast about twenty-five miles farther north, at the very mouth of the Salwen. Moulmein was also a new town, the settlers building their houses right in a thick jungle. But within a year of the first settlement, while the number of houses in Amherst amounted to two hundred and thirty and the population to twelve hundred, the population of Moulmein had rapidly swelled to twenty thousand. The reason for this growth was an unfortunate misunderstanding between the civil commissioner, Mr. Crawford, and the commander-in-chief, Sir Archibald Campbell.

The latter made Moulmein instead of Amherst the headquarters of his army. He regarded Moulmein as a more strategical position. The harbor too, of Amherst, though spacious and capable of accommodating ships of large burden, was difficult of access, and being farther out from the mouth of the Salwen than Moulmein, was dangerous during the southwest monsoon. The presence of the commander-in-chief and of his army at Moulmein, naturally attracted emigration thither, and it soon became apparent that this town instead of Amherst was to be the metropolis of the ceded provinces of Tennasserim. Accordingly it seemed best to transfer the mission to Moulmein. On May 28, 1827, Mr. and Mrs. Boardman removed thither from Amherst, and took possession of a frail bamboo mission house situated about a mile south of the cantonments of the English army. The site for the mission had been presented by Sir Archibald Campbell. "It was a lonely spot, and the thick jungle close at hand was the haunt of wild beasts whose howls sounded dismally on their ears in the night time."

On the 10th of August Mr. Judson left Amherst, and the little enclosure, the hopia-tree, and the graves which contained the mouldering remains of those who were dearest to him on earth. He joined the Boardmans at Moulmein, and on the 14th of November was followed by Mr. and Mrs. Wade, and the native Christians, together with thirteen native school children. Mah-men-la, however, the first female convert among the Burmans, had already been laid to rest by the side of her white mamma. Sorrows do not come as single spies, but by battalions. Six months intervened between the deaths of Mrs. Judson and little Maria, and within three months of the burial of the latter, even before leaving Amherst, Mr. Judson heard of the death of his venerable father, who departed this life at Scituate, Massachusetts, November 26, 1826, in the seventy-fifth year of his age.

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