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date: 25 March 2017

U.S. Foreign Mission Movement, c. 1800–1860

Summary and Keywords

In the early 19th century, American Protestants began to send missionaries abroad as part of the foreign mission movement. They were responding to the Great Commission of the Bible: to go into the world and spread the Gospel. This historical moment allowed them to do so because of political and commercial developments that provided Americans with access to the peoples of the world in an unprecedented way. Emerging alongside religious revivalism and other large-scale movements for social reform, foreign missions responded to a sense of optimism at the time over the possibility of human action to be able to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth. This movement aimed at the conversion of the whole world to Protestant Christianity, which for many of these missionaries in these decades would also involve the embrace of cultural changes. In 1810, the new era of international missions began with the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. By 1860, American missionaries were at work around the globe, with important stations in South and East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. The conversion of the world, though, was out of their grasp; few converts came to the American missions in these years. In spite of that, missionaries opened schools, translated and distributed Scripture and other religious texts, and preached as widely as they could. As missionaries went abroad and sought to change the places they reached, they also became important sources of information about those places to their supporters at home. Missionary publications informed American readers about the people, cultures, and religions of the world and in so doing helped to shape American understandings of how the United States ought to relate to these other foreign spaces.

Keywords: missionaries, foreign missions, conversion, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, international, missionary publications, Great Commission


The American foreign mission movement before 1860 was a movement with global ambitions coming from a community of Christians in a nation with limited political power on a global scale. Numerically dominated by Congregationalists and Presbyterians in these years, though including significant numbers of Baptists and other Protestant groups, American missionaries were motivated by a desire to spread the Gospel through the world and save the souls of the millions of peoples across the globe whom they believed were lost without access to Christian baptism. These missionaries believed that Christians in America owed it to what they called the “heathen world” to send out missionaries to convert them and bring them into the Kingdom of God.

Missionary histories tend to date the beginnings of the movement to the “Haystack Prayer Meeting” at Williams College in 1806, though the colonial era had seen its own missionary activities among Native Americans. The revolution had slowed that activity, though, as the Anglo-American institutional connections that had sponsored the movement were cut and the effectiveness of the evangelization seemed limited. Now, though, a new era seemed possible. Caught in the rain, a group of students sought shelter under a haystack and prayed together. In the midst of their prayer, they felt a collective call to answer the Great Commission of the New Testament by serving the global mission movement. Many of those students went on to attend the Andover Theological Seminary, where they met faculty members that supported missions. Encouraged by these teachers and by each other, these students formed secret societies such as the Brethren in which they gathered to learn more about the peoples and places of the world and the meaning of mission work.

The Brethren read the writings of European missionaries, chaplains, and colonial officials to learn about these foreign spaces. They found particular inspiration in the works of British writers in India who described the progress and possibility of mission work there. Claudius Buchanan, for example, described a “rising star in the East” that was symbolic of the new possibilities for Protestant evangelism.1 Indians, he claimed, were becoming more open to efforts for cultural and religious transformation. The Brethren were convinced that the time had come for missionary exertion. They worried about the millions of souls around the world that they were sure were suffering for want of access to the Gospel. They committed themselves to going out and sharing it with them.

A group of these young men, including Adoniram Judson, Samuel Mills, and Samuel Newell, approached Massachusetts and Connecticut Congregational ministers in 1810 and inspired the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in that year. Shortly thereafter, other denominations formed their own missionary societies. By 1860, there were over twenty evangelical and Bible societies that sent American ministers and lay people to mission stations all over the world, in addition to hundreds of local auxiliary societies that organized their American supporters. About two thousand Americans served as overseas missionaries in these years.2

Deep spiritual commitments led to American involvement in foreign missions, but they were not the only important factors that contributed to their participation. The British example was deeply significant. In the 1790s, British missionaries had begun evangelizing in their Asian and Pacific colonies. Their writings were important parts of the libraries of American evangelical readers who wanted to know the news from India and Tahiti about the progress of Christianity around the world. British missionaries such as William Carey described the early 19th century as a moment of possibility and optimism for evangelizing these parts of the world. For American Christians like those at Williams College and Andover Seminary, these examples suggested that it was time for a more active engagement in mission work. It also offered them the possibility of elevating American Christians to the status of partners with the British in the global mission movement. For Anglophilic Protestants of the early republic, this in itself was an exciting motivation.

In addition to these pull factors, American Protestant frustration with Native American evangelization by 1810 served as a push factor motivating them to turn overseas. During the colonial era, Americans were active in British missionary efforts among Native Americans. As British colonists, indeed, Americans experienced these as joint Anglo-American endeavors. After the American Revolution, these transatlantic missionary organizations split into British and American groups. In the new United States, Christians within individual states created new missionary groups (such as the Connecticut Missionary Society, the New York Missionary Society, etc.) to evangelize Native Americans within their state borders.

By 1810, American missionary supporters described a lack of progress in the North American missions. Few American Indians were converting, and missionaries had a difficult time inspiring supporters that there was much hope for the immediate, or even long-term, conversion of Native American communities. This pessimism about North America was part of the reason for the enthusiasm among Americans about the reports they were receiving from British missionaries. In contrast to their pessimism about the American continent, they saw cause for optimism about other places around the world.

Even after the Revolution and the creation of local missionary groups, American and British evangelicals continued to correspond across the Atlantic, and Americans saw no reason why they could not join the British in the work of world missions. At first, the young men who became the first missionaries of the ABCFM had approached the London Missionary Society to serve as missionaries with that organization. Throughout the early 19th century, missionaries and mission boards continued to work together from the United States and Britain as part of what all considered a shared religious project of converting the whole world.

American Christians were able to see these possibilities, finally, thanks to the expanding American economy and wide reach of Anglo-American trade and empire. Over the course of the early-19th-century movement, foreign missions would be tied to British and American commerce and imperialist expansion in important ways, providing them with interesting perspectives on political issues such as Manifest Destiny. Missionaries could only evangelize new places if they could physically get to those places, and the expansion of early American commerce made it possible for them to reach new areas over the course of these decades. American missions followed in the wake of American shipping and British and American attempts to expand their colonial possessions around the world. As the world seemed potentially open to American commerce, Protestant evangelicals wondered if this was a providential sign that the way had been made for them to go abroad and evangelize.

This was certainly the interpretation of the first generation of missionaries, as expressed in Gordon Hall and Samuel Newell’s 1818 book, The Conversion of the World: Or the Claims of Six Hundred Millions and the Ability and Duty of the Churches Respecting Them. Hall and Newell were among the first American missionaries to India, and they wrote this text in order to encourage American churches and American Christians to support the mission movement both with money and with new missionaries. For them, the time in which they lived was a unique moment in which Americans needed to embrace their roles as Christians who had a responsibility to what they called the “heathen world.” The way was opened, would Americans heed the call?3

In the decades before 1860, around two thousand Americans served as missionaries, while thousands more within the United States supported this movement through financial donations and prayer. Although it would be the years after the Civil War that saw the greatest expansion of the foreign mission movement, its first decades revealed that American evangelicals saw themselves as having religious duties to serve the rest of the world. The American missionaries in these years were primarily interested in religious conversion and the adoption of “civilization,” or some aspects of Western cultural norms. By the 1850s, though, this approach was discouraged by leaders such as Rufus Anderson, director of the American Board, who urged his missionaries to separate Christ from culture and emphasized the establishment of native churches. As much as was possible, they sought to convert the entire world through the establishment of schools, the translation of Scriptures, and preaching. Slowly, they also began to establish medical branches as well, though this aspect of mission work would not become a significant portion of their practice until later in the century.

Geographic Scope

Over the first half of the nineteenth century, American foreign missionaries established stations in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, the Mideast, Europe, and the Americas. This wide geographic reach was indicative of the simultaneous spread of American commercial connections and Anglo-American imperial interests. It was these developments that provided the practical requirements of overseas missions: the boats to carry missionaries and supplies, and the networks to spread information about the world to the missionaries and about the missions to the world. It was these developments, too, that first drew American attention toward the world.

After British missionary reports suggested that Asia was receptive to mission work, American missionary supporters were eager to begin their work there. American Protestants accordingly established mission stations in India and Burma in the 1810s. It was to Burma that the first eight American foreign missionaries hoped to go. Upon reaching Calcutta in 1812, however, they decided that it would be an inappropriate choice. While they had been led to believe that Burma would welcome foreign missionaries, once they reached the region and learned more about the government, they realized that this welcome was unlikely. Adoniram and Ann Judson, who had left the United States as Congregationalist missionaries of the American Board, became Baptists in India and would ultimately establish the first American Baptist mission in Burma. The rest of the first missionaries turned their attention to India, eventually establishing a mission in Bombay in 1815 and another in Ceylon shortly thereafter. South and Southeast Asia continued to be important sites of American missionary work in this period, with additional stations in western and southern India, Bangkok, Singapore, Batavia, Sambas, and Pontianak during these decades. Missionaries here hoped to take advantage of the proximity to the British Empire, seeing it as a potential ally in their work to convert the religion and the culture of South Asians to Protestant Christianity.

Throughout this period, missionaries hoped to gain access to China. Its large population, well understood to be highly civilized and literate, appeared to be an ideal candidate for missionary efforts. In this respect, they resembled Western merchants and traders, who were similarly frustrated by the ways that the Chinese government successfully limited foreigners’ ability to enter into the country to trade or evangelize. Not until the end of the First Opium War in 1842 did missionaries have greater freedom to come to China in significant numbers. Before that time, missionaries prepared by focusing on language acquisition and translation efforts. As in India, this work was largely cooperative between American and British missionaries. Robert Morison, of the London Missionary Society, and Elijah Bridgman, of the ABCFM, headed the Protestant mission to China for most of these years, translating Scripture and publishing both English-language periodicals to inform Westerners about Chinese history and culture and Chinese-language texts to teach the Chinese about Western history and culture, including of course Christianity. In Singapore, too, missionaries prepared for their hoped-for entry into China with years of text preparation and distribution. There, they hoped to take advantage of a highly mobile population who would come to Singapore for trade before returning to their home communities throughout East and Southeast Asia. If missionaries could provide them with tracts to read and share, they hoped that they would be able to have an effect even in the places where they could not physically go themselves.

American missionaries also went to Africa in these years, focusing their efforts in West and South Africa. In South Africa, small mission stations paralleled the efforts of British missionaries. In West Africa, these missions centered on the American colonial efforts in Liberia, which brought free African Americans, many formerly enslaved, to settle and colonize the region. Just as missionaries in Asia and South Africa had to work with (or at times, around) the British Empire, missionaries in Liberia had to contend with the American Colonization Society and its peer institutions like the Maryland Colonization Society. Domestic racial discussions and tensions accordingly found their way into the mission field in West Africa. White and black missionaries came from the United States to Liberia, aiming to work with both African and African American populations.

Missionaries also came to the Middle East and Mediterranean in 1819, eventually establishing stations in Beirut, Jerusalem, Smyrna, and Constantinople. The Middle Eastern missions were distinct from those elsewhere in the world, as they were generally portrayed as exploring missions that were hoping to reclaim the world of the Bible for the kingdom of God. Missionaries here focused on Orthodox Christians and Muslims, expecting the former to be particularly eager recipients of American evangelization. Orthodox Christians, American missionaries understood, had limited access to the Bible and sacred texts. Accordingly, they expected their arrival in the Middle East to be greeted with excitement as they delivered the Scriptures to the homes of Eastern Christians.

One of the most successful of the American foreign missions in terms of conversion rates was the mission to Hawaii. Here, missionaries arrived in 1820 at a transitional moment in local political and cultural history, and found themselves embraced in ways that they could only have imagined elsewhere. In the aftermath of the death of the king, the new government in Hawaii abolished the kapu system that had created taboos that shaped much of Hawaiian culture and tradition up to that point. The royal family and other elites were quick to embrace the missionaries, and others seemed to follow suit. Americans saw the hands of Providence in all of these developments, clearing the way for what seemed like the immediate conversion of an entire population, though Hawaiians themselves would have explained it differently. For years, Hawaiians had smartly taken part in foreign relations with various European and American commercial and military groups who were attempting to trade and explore in the region. Their embrace of American missionaries was considered and reflected as much their thoughtful response to this international context as the hands of God. The missionaries brought with them, as they did everywhere, the promise of schools and educational opportunities. Here, though, their schools educated thousands of students each year. The American Board employed over 100 missionaries on the islands before 1860, numbers well above what any of the other overseas missions saw.

With the long tradition of Native American missions, foreign missionaries at first understood themselves as needing to go both eastward across the Atlantic and westward into the interior of the North American continent. At the beginning of the century, Native American missions were largely considered to be part of the foreign missions of the American churches. By the Civil War era, however, that understanding had shifted considerably and Indian missions were considered to be domestic or home missions. The change in categorization was gradual, but reflects a sea change in thinking about American Indians before and after the era of removal. These decades saw large-scale missions to the Cherokee and the Choctaw, both of which employed large numbers of missionaries and lay assistants dedicated not only to evangelizing but also to spreading the arts of civilization, including agricultural skills. Teachers and missionaries emphasized the importance of separating children from their parents at boarding schools in order to ensure the immersion of students in Protestant life and culture. They worried that, if allowed to remain at home, children would not learn the cultural lessons that missionary teachers were providing. This civilizing work received direct support from the US government, which provided financial contributions to missionary organizations working with Native Americans throughout North America. After removal, missionaries followed Native Americans to new lands to the west of the Mississippi, where they continued their civilizing work alongside their more explicitly religious work. These missions could see large numbers of converts as well, as was the case at the missions to the Cherokee.

Conversion and Missionary Methods

The ultimate goal of American foreign missions was the conversion of non-Christians to the Protestant faith. Deeply connected to this religious change was a cultural change; missionaries also sought to introduce what they called civilization to populations around the world. As they pursued these twinned goals around the world, they employed similar methods at diverse locations. Preaching, teaching, and translation work dominated missionary methods in these decades, though medical services increasingly became a part of missionary practice over this period.

Preaching was, of course, one of the most important tasks that missionaries faced. Missionaries might preach at mission chapels or they might itinerate and preach to crowds in the streets. Many did both. The ultimate goal of the missions was to establish churches in which native Christians were in leadership positions, both as lay members and ordained ministers. Reaching that goal was expected to take a long time. When crowds were not interested, they would try to preach the gospel in conversation with individuals they came across. But language training frequently slowed the period between a missionary’s arrival in a new location and his ability to preach to potential converts. Sometimes it could be hard to get people to come through the doors of the chapel, or to listen to the missionaries’ messages with anything other than an air of curiosity. So preaching was not the only tool that missionaries used as they evangelized.

Mission schools were created just about everywhere that American missionaries went. This was often one of the first things that missionaries did, and one of the things that had the best chance of endearing them to the local population (medical services would eventually be similarly useful). Missionaries saw schools as essential for forming the kind of civilization that they saw as necessary for the practice of a Protestant Christianity that they would recognize as legitimate. In particular, they wanted to teach literacy to give people access to the Scripture. This, they felt, would be the key to conversion for many peoples around the world (including Catholics and Orthodox Christians), but would also allow for the missionaries to access even people who did not hear them preach. Missionaries worked hard to translate the Scriptures and to print religious texts in vernacular languages, but these would only be legible if people knew how to read them. Parents, too, liked schools. In Liberia, for example, the missionaries were able to come to Cape Palmas because the local chief had granted land to the Maryland Colonization Society on the condition that schools would be established for the local Grebo children. The mission was responsible for opening these schools.4 In many places where missionaries went, they responded to the interest (missionaries called it the demand) of parents. Parents were often eager to send their children to mission schools, or at least more likely to send them there than to walk through the doors of the chapel. These parents recognized the value that a missionary education could provide their children in opening new economic opportunities for them after graduation.

The schools took several forms, depending on local opportunities and needs. Sometimes, they would be staffed by the missionaries and their wives. For the married and single women who were part of the mission family, teaching became an important avenue for participation in the mission movement during these years. Students might board with the mission family or be day scholars. These were usually sex-segregated, with all students learning the basics of literacy but girls and boys being taught different skills believed important for them to live as civilized adults. For girls, this would mean learning how to sew and some basic domestic skills. For boys, this could mean more academic subjects or, in some locations, agricultural training. Missionaries were insistent on the importance of educating girls. When missionaries described the “heathen world,” one of the consistent features that they noted was the ways that girls and women were not given sufficient respect in non-Christian cultures. Educate women, they insisted, and the path would be cleared for Christianity and civilization. Missionaries worried that without educated women, any male converts they reached would ultimately find it impossible to maintain their faith if they could not find appropriate women to marry. The girls’ schools, accordingly, had a dual purpose of improving the lives of the girls themselves and that of the men they hoped they would eventually marry.

Not all schools were taught by missionaries themselves, though. As missionaries itinerated, they tried to open schools in locations farther afield. These mission schools would be established and overseen by missionaries, funded by American missionary supporters, but in fact staffed by local teachers. When parents, teachers, and the missionaries had different ideas about goals, it could lead to tensions. For example, Brahmin and Jewish teachers at schools in India fought with missionary oversight and the attempt of missionaries to bring Christian lessons into the classroom and eventually walked out, threatening to open a competing school.5 In light of this reality, the ability of the schools to assist in the conversion work of the mission was not always clear. Missionaries did hope that schools could be the seeds of conversion. They used Christian themed texts as schoolbooks to help students learn to read. When possible, they required students to attend chapel.

Translation work was an essential part of the early missions. At mission stations around the world, missionaries worked to translate Scripture and other spiritual texts into indigenous languages in order to make their message accessible to readers. Several key missions additionally employed printers to publish missionary-translated texts for distribution. One missionary described how the printing press had the effect of multiplying the tongues of the missionaries, amplifying their voices and going to places where they could not themselves reach.6

Language training was essential to these aspects of mission work. The earliest missionaries left the United States without the languages that they would come to count on in order to converse with those they hoped to convert. Their first several years of mission work would accordingly be spent in large part learning these indigenous languages. Usually, this was done through the employment of an indigenous teacher with whom the missionaries would spend hours every day. Like imperial governments, missions required these local brokers who could help them to be understood and to speak. Later generations of missionaries would be able to build on the language training of those who came before them. Adoniram Judson, for example, was the author of an important Burmese-English dictionary and grammar that would assist later missionaries.7 But all could count on spending at least some of their early time abroad focusing on language. Missionaries to China were told that this aspect of their training would probably consume several years of their time once they left the United States.8

In spite of all of these efforts, the pre-1860 missions saw very few converts at most locations. While missionaries might report large numbers of people at worship on a given Sunday, very few of these would ask to be baptized and become members of the church. Even when someone requested baptism, determining whether or not someone had converted could be a complex and vexing issue. As in American churches, missionaries expected those who sought membership in the churches to have gone through a change of the heart. Foreign contexts, though, often required some element of cultural change as well. The character of a Christian, in missionary eyes, demanded some elements of what they called “civilization,” and an embrace of Anglo-American norms. Some missionary churches also struggled with new converts adjusting to the demands of congregations and saw some of the early converts removed from the membership.

The relationship between civilization and religion was a contested issue in these decades. Over the course of the 19th century, missionary organizations debated whether civilization was a prerequisite of conversion, or whether it could be an effect of conversion. Whichever direction the causation went, few questioned whether it was a necessary feature of the practice of true Christianity. Accordingly, even when mission boards asked missionaries to de-emphasize cultural change (as, e.g., the American Board did under the leadership of Rufus Anderson), individual missionaries in the field continued to find it incredibly important.

Domestic Support

The foreign mission movement was only possible due to the support of laypeople in the United States. That support came in the form of donations to the major missionary organizations, largely managed through local auxiliary societies. These groups, often segregated by sex, would collect money and forward it to the larger organizations. Women’s groups, sometimes called Cent or Mite Societies, were particularly active in supporting world mission work through these means. This model mirrored that of other benevolent organizations from the era, such as Bible and Tract societies.

In order to encourage their American supporters, missionary societies published magazines that both celebrated their work and argued for the necessity of its continuance. The most prominent of these was the publication of the American Board, initially titled the Panoplist, but soon renamed The Missionary Herald. Within the pages of these magazines, readers would encounter letters and journals written by missionaries as well as articles detailing the progress of American and European missions or describing foreign places and peoples. The overall tone, unsurprisingly, emphasized the superiority of Christianity and Anglo-American culture, but readers could travel the world from the comfort of their parlors through these publications. Much of the content consisted of letters and journals from missionaries in the field reporting on daily life and missionary progress.

The reach of this content went beyond the pages of these magazines. Missionary articles were regularly republished in other periodicals, spreading their influence beyond the list of their subscribers. Because missionaries were expected to spend their entire lives in the field, they were embedded in foreign cultures in ways that most other Americans abroad were not. They accordingly could become trusted authorities on the peoples, religions, cultures, and political systems of the world. Missionary accounts thus became authoritative descriptions of the peoples of the world.

Review of Literature

In the 1970s, John A. Andrew and Charles L. Chaney both took up the origins of American foreign missions. Andrew’s Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth was an examination of the relationship between foreign missions and American religious life in the United States. He argued that for the New England supporters of the early mission movement, its origins can be found as much in concerns about domestic religious life as with concerns about foreign needs.9 Chaney’s The Birth of Missions in America was more concerned with linking the emergence of the early republic’s movement to the long history of colonial missions.10 Both, like William Hutchison’s Errand to the World from the following decade, sought to provide interpretations of why the foreign mission movement emerged when it did, and how this related to the history of American Christianity. While both Andrew and Chaney focus on this early moment, Hutchison’s study continues through the mid-20th century. His is an intellectual history of the mission movement as a whole and is largely interested in the pervasive tension between civilizing and Christianizing impulses in the American missionary impulse. It remains an essential text for understanding the American foreign mission movement.11

The connections between foreign missions and broader themes in US history continue to animate scholars in different ways. In The Heathen School, John Demos examines the New England school for students from all over the world established by the American Board. There, it was hoped that students would imbibe the civilization of the surrounding culture and return to their homes as Christian missionaries themselves; instead, the school was a site of controversy that revealed the hardening of American conceptions of race at the time. Christine Heyrman’s American Apostles uses the early missionaries to Palestine to discuss early Americans’ understandings of Islam.12 Erskine Clarke’s biography of missionary John Leighton Wilson uses his “Atlantic Odyssey” from South Carolina to West Africa and back again to provide a new perspective on race and slavery in the history of American religion.13 Gale Kenny’s Contentious Liberties, which examines abolitionist missionaries in Jamaica, similarly examines the intersections between the domestic and international politics of slavery, abolition, and world mission.14

The recent “global turn” in American history has given the historical study of foreign missions a renewed energy. In addition to works that examine foreign missions as a part of religious history, there are also texts that focus on missions within diplomatic history. Emily Conroy-Krutz’s Christian Imperialism provides an overview of the work of the American Board from its formation to 1848, with a particular focus on Anglo-American relations and missionary responses to empire in Asia, Africa, North America, and the Pacific.15 Many important works focus attention closely on particular locations. These studies emphasize the importance of understanding the perspectives not only of missionaries but also of those whom the missionaries would convert. Using foreign language archives and other methods of uncovering the voices of would-be converts, these studies are essential for thinking about the dynamics that existed within particular missions. These historians emphasize the ways that missionaries did not have all of the power in these exchanges, and the ways that the supposed objects of missionary evangelism interacted with the mission strategically and with their own goals in mind. Ussama Makdisi’s Artillery of Heaven, for example, is a history of the American missionary encounter with the Middle East. By telling both sides of the missionary encounter, Makdisi is able to tell the history of the mission as a history of American relations with the region.16 Jennifer Thigpen’s Island Queens and Mission Wives, similarly, looks at American missionaries in Hawaii and the ways that Hawaiians used their connections with the missionaries to meet their own needs in foreign relations. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of women, both American and Hawaiian, for shaping these encounters.17

Women and gender, indeed, have been important themes for histories of American missions. Many of the classics in this field focus on the late 19th and early 20th centuries, after American women established their own separate missionary societies, but women’s participation and support were also important in this earlier period. Dana Robert’s essential American Women in Mission provides an overview of women’s missionary participation. Her study has been joined by other work that examines the ways that American women responded to discussions of the status of women in foreign cultures by becoming active in the mission movement.18 The essays in Competing Kingdoms, edited by Barbara Reeves-Ellington, Kathryn Kish Sklar, and Connie Shemo, highlight the importance of thinking about gender when exploring missionary encounters.19 Historians approach this theme from several angles. Reeves-Ellington’s research in Domestic Frontiers focuses on women’s relationship to the missions to the Ottoman Empire beginning in this period.20

Primary Sources

The papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions are held at Houghton Library at Harvard University. A large portion of the collection has been microfilmed, though much of the pre-1860 materials have not yet been filmed. Annual reports for the Board were printed and are available in book form or digitized with America’s Historical Imprints. The first ten volumes were bound together and are available online at Google Books, as are some later volumes. The Board’s monthly periodical, known variously as the Panoplist, the Panoplist and Missionary Herald, and the Missionary Herald, have all been digitized and can be found through the American Periodical Series. In 1861, Rufus Anderson celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the American Board with the publication of his Memorial Volume of the First Fifty Years of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which includes discussions of the Board’s various missions and management and appendices detailing the names and locations of their missionaries and mission stations.21

The American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society’s papers are at the American Baptist Historical Society at Mercer University. They have also curated an online collection, Judson 200, to celebrate the history of the Judsons’ mission to Burma. The papers of the American Missionary Association, an antislavery missionary society, are located at the Amistad Research Center of Tulane University.

In addition to these organizational collections, major archival collections on foreign missions more generally are held at the libraries of Union Theological Seminary and Yale University. The Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts, also holds an extensive collection of missionary sources.

Many missionaries had memoirs published after their deaths. These are edited collections of writings by and about the missionary, usually with significant commentary by the editor. Accordingly, they are useful if limited sources for learning about the missionary’s work abroad, but are excellent resources for thinking about the American reception of missionaries. Most famous of these is the memoir of Harriet Newell, which is still in print and has been a source of inspiration for evangelical women and men since its first publication in 1815.22 Some converts, too, had memoirs published in the hopes that they would inspire American Protestants to support mission work. The memoir of Cherokee convert Catherine Brown is one of the best known of these.23

Further Reading

Andrew, John A., III. Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800–1830. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976.Find this resource:

Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. Mission for Life: The Story of the Family of Adoniram Judson, the Dramatic Events of the First American Foreign Mission, and the Course of Evangelical Religion in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Free Press, 1980.Find this resource:

Chaney, Charles L. The Birth of Missions in America. South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1976.Find this resource:

Chang, Derek. Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Conroy-Krutz, Emily. Converting the World in the Early American Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Demos, Jon. The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. New York: Knopf, 2014.Find this resource:

Elsbree, Oliver Wendell. The Rise of the Missionary Spirit in America, 1790–1815. Reprint ed. Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1980. (Originally published in 1928.)Find this resource:

Grimshaw, Patricia. Paths of Duty: American Missionary Wives in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Heyrman, Christine. American Apostles: When Evangelicals First Entered the World of Islam. New York: Hill and Wang, 2015.Find this resource:

Hutchison, William R. Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Kenny, Gale L. Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834–1866. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Makdisi, Ussama. Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Perry, Alan Frederick. “The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the London Missionary Society in the Nineteenth Century: A Study of Ideas.” PhD diss., Washington University, 1974.Find this resource:

Phillips, Clifton Jackson. Protestant America and the Pagan World: The First Half Century of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1810–1860. Cambridge, MA: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University, 1969.Find this resource:

Porterfield, Amanda. Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Pruitt, Lisa Joy. A Looking-Glass for Ladies: American Protestant Women and the Orient in the Nineteenth Century. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Reeves-Ellington, Barbara. Domestic Frontiers: Gender, Reform, and American Interventions in the Ottoman Balkans and the Near East. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Reeves-Ellington, Barbara, Kathryn Kish Sklar, and Connie Shemo, eds. Competing Kingdoms: Women, Mission, Nation, and the American Protestant Empire, 1812–1960. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Robert, Dana Lee. American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996.Find this resource:


(1.) Claudius Buchanan, “The Star in the East,” in The Works of the Rev. Claudius Buchanan, L.L.D. Comprising His Christian Researches in Asia, His Memoir on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and His Star in the East, with Two New Sermons (Baltimore: Neal and Wills, 1812), 273–301.

(2.) William Hutchison, Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 45–46.

(3.) Gordon Hall and Samuel Newell, The Conversion of the World: Or the Claims of Six Hundred Millions and the Ability and Duty of the Churches Respecting Them, 2d ed. (Andover, MA: Printed for the ABCFM, 1818).

(4.) Erskine Clarke, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century African Odyssey (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 80–82.

(5.) Emily Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015), 84–91.

(6.) Christine Heyrman, American Apostles: When Evangelicals First Entered the World of Islam (New York: Hill and Wang, 2015), 27.

(7.) On the dictionary’s production, see Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D., 2 vols. (Boston: Sampson and Company, 1853), chaps 5 and 8.

(8.) See, e.g., “Instructions to the Rev. Ira Tracy, and Mr. Samuel Wells Williams, appointed to Labor in Connection with the China Mission,” 1833 ABC 8.1, v. 1.

(9.) John A. Andrew III, Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800–1830 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976).

(10.) Charles L. Chaney, The Birth of Missions in America (South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1976).

(11.) William R. Hutchison, Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

(12.) Christine Heyrman, American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam (New York: Hill and Wang, 2015).

(13.) Erskine Clarke, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey (New York: Basic Books, 2013).

(14.) Gale L. Kenny, Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834–1866 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010).

(15.) Emily Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015).

(16.) Ussama Makdisi, Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008).

(17.) Jennifer Thigpen, Island Queens and Mission Wives: How Gender and Empire Remade Hawai’i’s Pacific World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

(18.) Dana Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996); Lisa Joy Pruitt, A Looking-Glass for Ladies: American Protestant Women and the Orient in the Nineteenth Century (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005); and Amanda Porterfield, Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

(19.) Barbara Reeves-Ellington, Kathryn Kish Sklar, and Connie A. Shemo, eds., Competing Kingdoms: Women, Mission, Nation, and the American Protestant Empire, 1812–1960 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

(20.) Barbara Reeves-Ellington, Domestic Frontiers: Gender, Reform, and American Interventions in the Ottoman Balkans and the Near East (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013).

(21.) Rufus Anderson, Memorial Volume of the First Fifty Years of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. 4th ed. (Boston: The Board, 1861).

(22.) Leonard Woods, Memoirs of Mrs. Harriet Newell, Wife of the Rev. Samuel Newell, American Missionary to India (London: Booth, 1815).

(23.) Rufus Anderson, Memoir of Catharine Brown, a Christian Indian of the Cherokee Nation (Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, and Crocker and Brewster, 1825).