The Sailing of the First American Missionaries Overseas

The Sailing of the First American Missionaries Overseas

Go ye into all the world… preach the gospel to every creature.

The day of the ordination and commissioning of the first missionaries who were to go overseas from the U.S. was fiercely cold; yet the Tabernacle Church in Salem, Massachusetts, was crowded. Visitors came from far and near on February 6th, 1812, to see the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions give the solemn charge to Adoniram Judson, Samuel Newell, Samuel Nott, Jr., Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice. Students from Andover Seminary and Phillips Academy, Andover, walked to and from Salem (better than fifty miles round trip) to attend the service.

The proceedings were followed with almost breathless interest. Here were talented and trained young men, before whom life opened so promisingly, committing themselves to the hazards of a foreign mission! The eyes of the congregation were often turned on the faces of two young women who were present – one Mr. Judson’s bride of a day, and the other the promised wife of Newell. Later, the record of her faith during her short life was to become a mighty incentive to the new missionary movement.

That same evening Nott, Hall, and Rice left for Philadelphia supposing they had just time to catch the Harmony before she sailed. The Judsons and Newells remained in Salem awaiting the Caravan, a brigantine which was getting ready to leave for Calcutta. Delays occurred in the sailings of both vessels, trying the spirits of the eager missionaries but bringing relief to the Board’s officers who were seeing the treasury filling fast. When it was known that the Board not merely proposed to send out missionaries but that these young people were embarking, gifts flowed in from all quarters. Within three weeks of the decision to send missionaries in faith, more than $6000 was collected. By the time the Caravan sailed it was possible to furnish the young people with their full outfits and a year’s salary in advance. Consider­ing the disturbed conditions to follow because of war, and the difficulty in transporting money, this was indeed fortunate. In a similar way, offerings of friends in the neighborhood of Philadelphia fully equipped those who sailed on the Harmony.

On February 19th, the Caravan sailed out of Salem, carrying the Judsons and Newells; the Harmony, with Mr. and Mrs. Nott, and Hall and Rice, finally got away from the Delaware Cape on the 24th. Thus was launched, all those years ago, a far, heroic enterprise. Who can conceive of the scope, charac­ter, and power of service of the nearly 5000 men and women who have fol­lowed these eight? They have gone into all areas of the world witnessing the Good News through many projects in evangelism, education, and healing. For what larger purpose has God led us thus far?