Mrs. Judson was the daughter of Mr. John and Mrs. Rebecca Hasseltine, and was born December 22, 1789, at Bradford, Massachusetts.
In her earliest years, she was distinguished by activity of mind, extreme gaiety, a strong relish for social amusements, and unusually ardent feelings. She possessed that spirit of enterprise, that fertility in devising plans for the attainment of her wishes, and that indefatigable perseverance in the pursuit of her purposes, of which her subsequent life furnished so many examples, and created so frequent occasions. Her restless spirit, while a child, was often restrained by her mother; and the salutary prohibitions which this excellent parent was sometimes forced to impose, occasioned so much grief, that Mrs. Hasseltine once said to her, "I hope, my daughter, you will one day be satisfied with rambling."
An eager thirst for knowledge is commonly the attendant, and often the parent of a restless, enterprising disposition. It was so in the case of Mrs. Judson. She loved learning, and a book could allure her from her favorite walks, and from the gayest social circle. The desire for knowledge is often found in connexion with moderate intellectual faculties; and in such cases, with favorable opportunities, the individual may make a respectable proficiency in learning. But this desire is almost invariably an attribute of eminent mental powers: and the person thus happily endowed, needs nothing but industry and adequate means, to ensure the attainment of the highest degree of literary excellence.
Mrs. Judson's mind was of a superior order. It was distinguished by strength, activity, and clearness. She has, indeed, left no memorials, which can be produced, as fair specimens of her talents and literary acquirements. She wrote much, but her writings have perished, except letters and accounts of missionary proceedings, written without any design to exhibit her abilities, or display her learning. But no one can review her life, and read what she has written and published, without feeling that her mind possessed unusual vigor and cultivation.
She was educated at the Academy in Bradford, a seminary which has become hallowed by her memory, and by that of Mrs. Newell, the proto-martyr of the American Missions. Here she pursued her studies with much success. Her perceptions were rapid, her memory retentive, and her perseverance indefatigable. Here she laid the foundations of her knowledge, and here her intellect was stimulated, disciplined and directed. Her preceptors and associates ever regarded her with respect and esteem: and considered her ardent temperament, her decision and perseverance, and her strength of mind, as ominous of some uncommon destiny.
At this seminary, hallowed as the place where others of the eminent of her sex have caught the first rays of light which they afterwards scattered so far, she too first sought and found a Savior. In the revival at Bradford in 1806, already noticed in the life of Mrs. Newell, she was roused to a sense of her danger, and after many days of deep distress under a strong conviction of sin, she finally obtained a good hope, through grace, of that salvation which is by Jesus Christ alone. In the account of her religious experience, recorded in her private journals, she thus expresses her feelings after her conversion.
"I now began to hope, that I had passed from death unto life. When I examined myself, I was constrained to own, that I had feelings and dispositions, to which I was formerly an utter stranger. I had sweet communion with the blessed God, from day to day; my heart was drawn out in love to Christians of whatever denomination; the sacred Scriptures were sweet to my taste; and such was my thirst for religious knowledge, that I frequently spent a great part of the night in reading religious books.
"Sin, in myself and others, appeared as that abominable thing, which a holy God hates—and I earnestly strove to avoid sinning, not merely because I was afraid of hell, but because I feared to displease God, and grieve his Holy Spirit. I attended my studies in school, with far different feelings and different motives, from what I had ever done before. I felt my obligation to improve all I had to the glory of God; and since he in his providence had favored me with advantages for improving my mind, I felt that I should be like the slothful servant, if I neglected them. I therefore diligently employed all my hours in school, in acquiring useful knowledge, and spent my evenings, and part of the night in spiritual enjoyments.
"While thus recounting the mercies of God to my soul, I am particularly affected by two considerations; the richness of that grace, which called and stopped me in my dangerous course, and the ungrateful returns I make for so distinguished a blessing. I am prone to forget the voice which called me out of darkness into light, and the hand which drew me from the horrible pit and miry clay. When I first discerned my Deliverer, my grateful heart offered him the services of a whole life, and resolved to acknowledge no other matter. But such is the force of my native depravity, that I find myself prone to forsake him, grieve away his influence from my heart, and walk in the dark and dreary path of the backslider. I despair of making great attainments in the divine life, and look forward to death only, to free me from my sins and corruptions. Till that blasted period, that hour of my emancipation, I am resolved, through the grace and strength of my Redeemer, to maintain a constant warfare with my inbred sins, and endeavor to perform the duties incumbent on me, in whatever situation I may be placed.
'Safely guide my wandering feet,
Travelling in this vale of tears;
Dearest Savior, to thy seat
Lead, and dissipate my fears.'"
The change in her feelings and views, which she has thus described, was a thorough and permanent one. She immediately entered on the duties, and sought for the pleasures, of religion, with all the ardor of her natural character.
Mrs. Judson, early in her religious life, showed her desire to be useful to her fellow men. Her active mind was not satisfied without some effort to benefit those around her. She accordingly engaged, soon after this period, in the occupation of instructing a school, impelled mainly by the desire to be useful. There are few situations, which furnish better opportunities of imparting permanent benefit, than that of the instructor of a school. In New England, this office is regarded with a good degree of the honorable estimation to which it is entitled; and it is to be wished, that a larger number of educated young ladies would employ themselves in a service so beneficial to their own minds, and so vitally important to the rising generation.
The following extract from Mrs. Judson's journal, dated May 12, 1807, shows the conscientious principles which actuated her; and proves that her mind was thus early swayed by the resolution to live not unto herself, but to Him who died for her, and rose again. Her zeal for the spiritual welfare of others, and her decision of character, are here seen, in a very striking light.
"Have taken charge of a few scholars. Ever since I have had a comfortable hope in Christ, I have desired to devote myself to him, in such a way, as to be useful to my fellow creatures. As Providence has placed me in a situation of life, where I have an opportunity of getting as good an education as I desire, I feel it would be highly criminal in me not to improve it. I feel, also, that it would be equally criminal to desire to be well educated and accomplished, from selfish motives, with a view merely to gratify my taste and relish for improvement, or my pride in being qualified to shine. I therefore resolved last winter, to attend the Academy, from no other motive, than to improve the talents bestowed by God, so as to be more extensively devoted to his glory, and the benefit of my fellow creatures. On being lately requested to take a small school, for a few months, I felt very unqualified to have the charge of little immortal souls; but the hope of doing them good, by endeavoring to impress their young and tender minds with divine truth, and the obligation I feel, to try to be useful, have induced me to comply. I was enabled to open the school with prayer. Though the cross was very great, I felt constrained, by a sense of duty, to take it up. The little creatures seemed astonished at such a beginning. Probably some of them had never heard a prayer before. O may I bare grace to be faithful in instructing these little immortals, in such a way as shall be pleasing to my heavenly Father."
She was engaged, at intervals, for several years, in teaching schools in different towns. She was always diligent and faithful in her endeavors to enlighten the minds and to form the manners of her pupils; but she regarded the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom; and she strove to guide her dear pupils to the Savior. She felt herself to be intrusted, in some measure, with the charge of their souls; and she watched for them as one that must give an account.
In June, 1810, Miss Hasseltine became acquainted with Mr. Adoniram Judson, who was then a candidate for a mission to the heathen. The result of this acquaintance in a short time, was an offer of marriage on his part, including of course a proposition to her, to accompany him on his missionary enterprise.
She was thus placed in a situation of peculiar difficulty and delicacy. The influence which her affections ought to have, in deciding a question of this kind, it would not, in ordinary cases, have been difficult to determine. But in this case, her embarrassment was increased, by the conflict which might arise between affection and duty. A person so conscientious as she was, would wish to form a decision on the important question of her duty, respecting missionary labors, uninfluenced by any personal considerations. Hesitation to assume an office so responsible, and so arduous, would spring up in any mind; but Miss Hasseltine was required to decide on the point, in connection with another, itself of the utmost consequence to her individual happiness. It was impossible to divest herself of her personal feelings; and she might have some painful suspicions, lest her affections might bias her decision to become a Missionary; while female delicacy and honor would forbid her to bestow her hand, merely as a preliminary and necessary arrangement.
There was another circumstance which greatly increased the difficulty of a decision. No female had ever left America as a Missionary to the heathen. The general opinion was decidedly opposed to the measure. It was deemed wild and romantic in the extreme, and altogether inconsistent with prudence and delicacy. Miss H. had no example to guide and allure her. She met with no encouragement from a greater part of those persons, to whom she applied for counsel. Some expressed strong disapprobation of the project. Others would give no opinion. Two or three individuals, whom it might not be proper to name, were steady, affectionate advisers, and encouraged her to go. With these exceptions, she was forced to decide from her own convictions of duty, and her own sense of fitness and expediency. [Note: The remark of one lady respecting Mrs. J. would express the feelings of many others. "I hear," said she, "that Miss H. is going to India. Why does she go?" Why, she thinks it her duty; would not you go, if you thought it your duty!" But," replied the good lady, with emphasis, "I would not think it my duty." Many questions of duty, it may be suspected, are decided in this summary manner.]
It was well for the cause of Missions, that God assigned to Miss Hasseltine the honorable, yet difficult office of leading the way in this great enterprise. Her adventurous spirit and decision of character eminently fitted her to resolve, where others would hesitate, and to advance, where others might retreat. She did decide to go, and her determination, without doubt, has had some effect on the minds of other females, who have since followed her example.
The resolution of Mr. and Mrs. Judson, to devote themselves to the service of their Savior as Missionaries, was not formed in the ardor of youthful enthusiasm. It was not the impulse of an adventurous spirit, panting for scenes of difficulty and danger. They had cherished no romantic views of the missionary enterprise. They had calmly estimated its hazards and its toils. They foresaw what it would cost them, and the issue to which it would probably lead them both. They knew well what they must do and suffer; and they yielded themselves as willing sacrifices, for the sake of the far distant heathen.
They were married on the fifth of February, 1812, and on the next day he was ordained to the work of evangelizing the heathen, with his brethren in the mission. Soon after, Mr. and Mrs. Judson sailed in the same vessel with Mr. and Mrs. Newell, to Calcutta. On their arrival at Calcutta, the difficulties already alluded to in the life of Mrs. Newell, prevented a permanent missionary establishment in that part of India. After the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Newell for the Isle of France, Mr. and Mrs. Judson, resided in Calcutta two months, during which time, from a serious consideration of the subject, they were led to renounce some of their former religious tenets and to adopt the opinions of the Baptists. In consequence of this change, their connection with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was necessarily dissolved, and they, with Mr. Rice, another missionary, who had altered his sentiments, were compelled to look to some other quarter for support. Mr. Rice returned to the United States, and by his efforts, and earnest appeals, a large portion of the Baptist denomination were roused to action in the cause of Missions, so that a Baptist General Convention was soon organized, and a Board of Missions appointed, under whose patronage Messrs. Rice and Judson were called to labor, with liberty to choose the field. Mr. and Mrs. Judson had removed to the Isle of France with Mr. Rice, before his departure to the United States, and there they remained till May, 1813, when they sailed for Madras, hoping there to find a passage to the island of Penang, on the coast of Malacca, where they intended to labor among the heathen natives. On their arrival at Madras however, they were unable to obtain a passage to Penang, and at length sailed to Rangoon in Burmah, which thenceforth, became the scene of their missionary labors. Here unfriended and alone, they commenced their noble work in July, 1813; and as their prospects opened before them, they felt a momentary gloom and dejection at the darkness of the future. But they were not left despairing. Their helper God, in whom they had trusted, was present still, upholding them by the consolations of his grace in that dark hour of trial, and by the sure promise of his aid through all their labors yet to come. There the missionaries labored through dangers and trials for six years, before their hearts were gladdened by the conversion of a single Burman. And at length when their labors were rewarded by success, the converts were few and feeble; but still they neither despaired nor desisted while life or strength lasted.
The health of Mrs. Judson was considerably enfeebled by the climate of Burmah and her labors, so that it was found necessary for her in the latter part of the year 1821, to revisit her native country. Before coming to the United States, she passed some time in England, where she was received with the kindest attention by many of the friends of Missions. After a stay of some months she went over to America, where she spent more than half a year, surrounded by Christian friends. Her health being in a great measure restored by repose in her natural climate, in the summer of 1823, she sailed for India, and in December rejoined her husband at Rangoon.
During the war between the Burmans and the British, which was commenced in 1824, and carried on for two years, the situation of the missionaries was dangerous in the extreme, and many times their lives were threatened. The sufferings to which the cruelty of the heathen subjected them, were almost beyond human endurance, and the shocks which Mrs. Judson received, so weakened her constitution, from sickness and anguish of body and mind, that she did not long survive the termination of the war. On the 24th of October, 1826, while her husband was at Rangoon, she died at the British colony of Amherst, where she now rests in a missionary's grave, from a missionary's labors.
[Note: This brief sketch of the life of Mrs. Judson is abstracted from her memoirs by the Rev. J. D. Knowles, a book so well known, and extensively circulated, that a notice of her life here was unnecessary, except that the list of eminently pious American women would be incomplete without her.]
From Memoirs of Eminently Pious Women of Britain and America by David Francis Bacon. New Haven: Published by Daniel McLeod, 1833.
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