Notable Appearances of the ABCFM in U.S. and World History

Written by Clifford Putney

1806:  The Haystack Revival at Williams College sparks the Second Great Awakening in America and leads directly to the creation of the ABCFM.

1810:  The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions is formed.  It is the first American organization to sponsor Christian missions overseas.

1812:  The ABCFM sends missionaries to India.  They are the first American missionaries to go overseas.

1816The ABCFM establishes the first American mission in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

1817:  The ABCFM opens its Foreign Mission School in Connecticut.  It is the first school for “international” students in America.

1819:  The ABCFM sends the first Christian missionaries to Hawai‘i.

1820The ABCFM opens the first American mission in the Middle East.

1820s:  ABCFM missionaries, in collaboration with Hawaiian women, invent the muumuu.

1822:  Elisa Loomis, an ABCFM missionary, sets up a printing press in Hawai‘i.  It is the first printing press in Oceania.

1823:  Betsey Stockton, a freed slave and missionary for the ABCFM, arrives in Hawai‘i.  She is one of the first American single women to be sent out as a missionary.

1827:  Samuel Worcester, an ABCFM missionary and printer, creates syllabic characters for the Cherokee language.

1830Elijah Coleman Bridgman and David Abeel, both of the ABCFM, become the first American missionaries to China.

1831:  David Abeel of the ABCFM becomes the first American missionary to visit the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Siam (Thailand).

1832:  Samuel Worcester, an ABCFM missionary, gains national prominence from the US Supreme Court case of Worcester v. Georgia.  The verdict in the case grants nationhood status to the Cherokee Indians.  But President Andrew Jackson memorably declares, “John Marshall [the Chief Justice] has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

1833The ABCFM opens the first American mission in Africa.

1833:  The ABCFM sends the first Christian missionaries to the Marquesas.

1833:  Samuel Wells Williams of the ABCFM becomes the first American missionary to learn the Japanese language.  In 1854 he serves as the interpreter for the Perry mission to Japan.

1834:  Peter Parker, an ABCFM missionary, becomes the first full-time medical missionary to China.

1839:  ABCFM missionaries publish the first Hawaiian-language Bible, Palapala Hemolele.  It is the culmination of their effort to turn Hawaiian into a written language.

1839:  ABCFM missionaries set up the first printing press in the Pacific Northwest.  It produces the first book printed in the region:  A religious primer in the Nez Perce language.

1840:  William Richards, an ABCFM missionary, helps to write the first constitution for Hawai‘i.

1841:  ABCFM missionaries in Hawai‘i establish Punahou School, the alma mater of U.S. President Barack Obama.

1841:  ABCFM missionaries in Madurai, India, establish a boys’ boarding school, which becomes the American College in Madurai in 1881.  It is one of the oldest colleges in India.

1843:  Samuel Damon, an ABCFM missionary in Hawai‘i, creates the Seamen’s Friend, the first newspaper to be published west of the Rocky Mountains.

1847:  The Whitmans, a family of ABCFM missionaries, are massacred by Native Americans in present-day Washington State.  The massacre exacerbates tensions between white settlers and Native Americans.

1853Rev. David Alfred Rood, an ABCFM missionary, establishes the Amanzimtoti Institute (now Adams College) in South Africa.  It was named after Newton Adams, who died on September 16, 1851.  It is the alma mater of John Dube (the first president-general of the African National Congress) and Albert Luthuli (the first African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize).

1850s:  The ABCFM sends the first Christian missionaries to the Gilbert, Marshall, and eastern Caroline Islands in the South Pacific.  ABCFM missionaries begin to turn the languages of those islands into written languages.

1857:  Luther Gulick, an ABCFM missionary, sets up the first printing press in Micronesia.

1862:  John Gulick, later an ABCFM missionary, takes some of the first photographs in Japan.

1863:  Cyrus Hamlin (an ABCFM missionary) and Christopher Robert (a Congregational philanthropist) establish Robert College in Istanbul.  It is the oldest American college in existence abroad, and the first college in Turkey to hire a woman professor.

1866:  Daniel Bliss, an ABCFM missionary, establishes the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University of Beirut) in Lebanon.  In 1924 it becomes the first coeducational college in the Middle East.

1870:  John Gulick (an ABCFM missionary) and James Gilmour (a missionary from the London Missionary Society) become the first Protestant missionaries to preach in Mongolia.

1875:  ABCFM missionaries establish Doshisha College in Kyoto.  It becomes the first coeducational college in Japan.

1875:  Orramel Gulick, an ABCFM missionary, founds Shichi-Ichi-Zappo (Once in Seven Days), the first Christian newspaper in Japan.

1883Charles R. Hager, an ABCFM missionary, baptizes Sun Yat-sen, a future leader of China.

1886The Andover Controversy, a theological dispute that began at Andover Seminary and within the ABCFM, becomes a nationwide topic of conversation, prompting people to ask whether non-Christians can be saved in the afterlife.

1891:  Alice Gordon Gulick, an ABCFM missionary, establishes the International Institute for Girls in Spain.  It becomes the first school in Spain to prepare women to obtain degrees in higher education.

1893:  The children of ABCFM missionaries take a leading role in the Hawaiian Revolution, which overthrows the Hawaiian monarchy.

1896:  The Rev. Edwin Munsell Bliss, an ABCFM missionary to Turkey, publishes Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities, the first book to chronicle the Armenian genocide.

1900A number of missionaries from the ABCFM are killed in the Boxer Uprising in China.

1901The novelist Mark Twain spars in print with the ABCFM over what he views as the misbehavior of its missionaries in the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising in China.

1901Robert Allen Hume, an ABCFM missionary, receives the Kaiser-i Hind gold medal from Queen Victoria for his work in combating famine in India.

1905:  The ABCFM accepts $100,000 from John D. Rockefeller.  The Rev. Washington Gladden, a leader of the Social Gospel movement, refers to the gift as “tainted money,” initiating a widespread debate about philanthropy among reformers.

1915:  James Barton of the ABCFM takes charge of Near East Relief, the first large American overseas relief operation, to rescue the Armenians.

1924To regulate immigration, the U.S. Congress passes the National Origins Act, which is based on an idea first put forward by Sidney Gulick, a former ABCFM missionary to Japan.

1939The World’s Living Religions, a book by the former ABCFM missionary Robert Ernest Hume, is placed in a time capsule at the World’s Fair in New York.  It is the only book on religion other than the Bible to be placed in the capsule.


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