(b. Malden, Mass., Aug. 9, 1788; d. at sea, Apr. 12, 1850). The first Baptist foreign missionary from the United States. Son of a Congregational minister and a graduate of Rhode Island College (Brown University, Judson entered Andover Seminary in 1808. His thoughts soon turned to missions, and with other Andover students, he petitioned the General Association of Massachusetts for advice as to how they might realize the desire to take the gospel to “the heathen.” In 1810 this Congregational group responded by organizing the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the first agency to send foreign missionaries from the United States.
On Feb. 5, 1812, Judson married Ann Hasseltine, and two weeks later the couple sailed for India as missionaries of the Congregational board. On the long sea voyage Judson studied the New Testament mode of baptism. Shortly after landing in India, he became convinced of the Baptist position and in turn convinced his wife. The two were baptized in Calcutta on Sept. 6, 1812, by William Ward, an English Baptist missionary. Luther Rice, another American missionary who had sailed on a different ship, had a similar experience and was baptized on Nov. 1, 1812. Resigning from the Congregational mission, the Judsons wrote letters to Baptists in America, offering themselves as their missionary representatives, should Baptists see fit to organize for their support.
As a result of this challenge and in response to the vigorous efforts of Luther Rice, who returned to the United States to advocate the world missionary cause, the General Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions was formed in 1814. This organization, popularly known as “the Triennial Convention,” served as the agency for the support of foreign missionaries of American Baptists, both of the North and of the South, until the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
Forced out of India by the British East India Company, the Judsons settled in Burma in 1813. Judson, with “marked linguistic and scholarly gifts,” early began translating the Bible into Burmese, completing the task in 1834. He also wrote several hymns, the most familiar of which is “Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine.” After many trials the Baptist cause was firmly established in Burma. For many years this remained the major mission field of American (Northern) Baptists. Ann (Hasseltine) Judson died in 1826, and in 1834 Judson married Sarah Boardman, widow of missionary George Dana Boardman. Shortly after her death in 1845, Judson returned to America for his only furlough. Receiving a hero’s welcome, he stimulated interest in foreign missions wherever he went. In 1846 he married Emily Chubbuck, a well-known writer, and later that year they sailed for Burma. Judson’s latter years were spent largely in work on a Burman-English dictionary. Chronic illness became more severe, and in 1850 his death occurred on an ocean voyage which had been prescribed as his only hope for improvement. He was buried at sea in the Bay of Bengal, Apr. 12, 1850.
Anderson, Courtney. To the Golden shore: the life of Adoniram Judson, 1956.
Hull, John Mervin. Judson the pioneer, 1913.
Judson, Edward. Adoniram Judson: a biography, 1894.
Archival sources in Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives:
Day, Samuel Stearns. Papers, 1825-1912. AR. 143.