(b. Paulerspury, Northampton, England, Aug. 17, 1761; d. Serampore, India, June 9, 1834). Father of modern missions. He was the author of An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792); preacher of the sermon at the Baptist associational meeting in Nottingham, May 31, 1792, on text of Isaiah 54:2-3 and the theme, "Expect great thing from God; attempt great things for God"; and leader in founding The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (later named the Baptist Missionary Society) at Kettering on Oct. 2, 1792, which in turn launched the "society method" of missionary support and direction, and the whole modern evangelical missionary endeavor. With physician John Thomas he went to India under the appointment of the Baptist Missionary Society, devoting 41 of his 73 years to India without a return to his homeland. He was an able linguist and translator; a botanist of considerable reputation; and a missionary statesman par excellence.
Carey, who was born into a devout Anglican home, had an avid appetite for books. He was influenced most by the Voyages of Captain Cook, Guthrie’s Geographical Grammar, the biographies of John Eliot and David Brainerd, and the Bible. Debates with fellow apprentice shoemaker John Warr, a Nonconformist, and a guilty conscience over a petty dishonesty led to a conversion experience in 1778. Three years later he became a charter member of the Congregational church at Hackleton. His contact with John Sutcliff of the Particular (Calvinist) Baptists and study of the Greek New Testament led to the conviction that baptism must be by immersion following a confessional experience. John Ryland baptized him in the River Nene on Oct. 5, 1783, and he later joined a Baptist church (Olney). He pastored successively at Moulton and Leicester, supplementing his meager income by teaching school and making shoes. During these years he acquired a profound linguistic skill through the study of Hebrew, Latin, Greek, French, and Dutch. Burdened with the "vastness of heathenism" and the "urgent duty which rested upon the Christian church to supply that need," he prepared the Enquiry, "one of the greatest achievements of Carey’s career." After stimulating the organization of the missionary society in Kettering, he became its first missionary. Reaching India on Nov. 11, 1793, he endured six years of extreme trails before establishing the noted missionary colony at Serampore. He soon mastered numerous Indian languages, preached in the vernacular, labored constantly for the conversion of individuals, and led in establishing 20 churches and mission stations in India by 1814. His linguistic ability gained for him a 30-year professorship of Bengali and Sanskrit languages in the crown college, Fort William, of Calcutta. The leading figure in the "Serampore Trio," with William Ward assisting him as printer and Joshua Marshman as educator, Carey sought to give the Indian people literary tools and resources that would enable them to evangelize their own country. Therefore, he led in building a paper mill, setting up a printing press, publishing the first Indian newspaper, and publishing the Bible in the language of the people. From his life’s earnings he contributed over £40,000 to mission work in India. This noted linguist superintended the translation of the Bible into 42 Oriental tongues and thus made the Word of God accessible to a third of the world. In spite of a fire in 1812 that destroyed the press and valuable manuscripts, the Serampore press issued during Carey’s lifetime 212,000 copies of the Scriptures. Carey also wrote grammars and dictionaries for six major Indian languages, translated many Sanskrit classics into English, and functioned as government censor for literary productions.
Serampore College, which Carey and his colleagues established in 1810 to train Christian leadership, remains today one of the outstanding educational institutions of Asia and stands as a tribute to its founder’s original vision and careful planning. His prolonged efforts for social reform led to the passage of laws prohibiting the heathen practice of infanticide, disposing of children for religious or economic motives; and abolishing the suttee rite of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Carey, who was a century ahead of his day in insights into co-operative Christianity, is beyond doubt "the greatest and most versatile Christian missionary sent out in modern times."
Dakin, Arthur. William Carey, shoemaker, linguist, missionary, 1942.
George, Timothy. Faithful witness: The life and mission of William Carey, 1991.
Walker, Frank D. William Carey: missionary, pioneer and statesman, 1951.
Archival sources in Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
Baptist Missionary Society Archives. MF 5350.