One of my favorite women from history is Ann Hasseltine Judson. She was an extraordinary woman, one who was called by God to serve, and she lived out that calling faithfully and sacrificially.
In 1811, twenty-one-year-old Ann Hasseltine attended a dinner party given in her parents’ home. The Hasseltines were Congregationalists with a strong interest in missions. At the party was a young man who felt called to be a missionary: Adoniram Judson. Adoniram was greatly impressed by Ann (I am guessing she was a beauty, but I know for certain that she was very bright and opinionated).
Over the next few months, Adoniram returned frequently to the Hasseltine home, pleading with Ann to marry him. Ann wrote about her struggle to make this decision in her journal:
I am a creature of God, and he has an undoubted right to do with me, as seems good in his sight. I rejoice, that I am in his hands—that he is everywhere present, and can protect me in one place as well as in another. He has my heart in his hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, he can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in him. . . . But whether I spend my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God.
Ann’s father, however, did not want his daughter to marry Adoniram and declared that he would tie her to a bedpost before letting her live in a foreign country. Apparently, he gave up on this idea for eventually he relented and gave his blessing to the marriage.
On February 5, 1812, the couple married, and two weeks, yes, just two weeks, after their wedding, they set sail for India. While on board the ship, they studied the New Testament and contemplated the Baptist understanding of baptism. Ann wrote to a friend of the struggles concerning their understanding of baptism, “The more Adoniram examined scripture, the more his doubts increased; and unwilling as he was to admit it, he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong.”
Initially, Ann told her husband that if he became a Baptist, she would not. But after the two young missionaries read, studied, and prayed, Ann wrote that “we were constrained to acknowledge that the truth appeared to lie on the Baptists’ side. It was extremely trying to reflect on the consequences of our becoming Baptists.” But become Baptists they did. They reached India and were baptized by immersion on September 6, 1812.
Ten months later, the Judsons finally reached their final destination of Burma. Ann wrote of the country: “It presents a very extensive field for usefulness, sustaining seventeen million inhabitants:—and the Scriptures have never been translated into their language.” The Judsons slowly learned the language and then began making progress in conversing with the people and in bringing them to Christ. In 1819, after six years of serving in Burma, Adoniram baptized their first convert. Three years later, eighteen Burmese had converted to Christianity.
In Burma, Ann experienced the heartbreak of losing a child. In 1815, Ann gave birth to a son, which they named Roger Williams Judson. Roger lived only eight months, and after his death, Ann wrote, “Our hearts were bound up with this child; we felt he was our earthly all.”
In March 1824, a war began between Burma and Great Britain, one that for two years kept the American missionaries in a state of terrible suspense. The Burmese leaders insisted that all white-skinned foreigners were spies, and Adoniram was soon arrested and taken to prison. The authorities kept him in a horribly crowded, filthy building with no ventilation. He was chained to other prisoners and subjected to various types of torture.
During his imprisonment, Ann prayed constantly for her husband’s safety. She worked diligently to obtain his release and supplied him with food each day, for the prison did not provide provisions for prisoners. She also smuggled his translation of the New Testament into the prison.
In December 1825, after nineteen total months in captivity, officials allowed Adoniram to leave, and upon his arrival at home, he discovered that Ann had been ill for a month with cerebral spinal meningitis. She never completely recovered, and in July 1826 Ann contracted another fever and died three weeks later.
For further reading:
James D. Knowles, Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Late Missionary to Burma, 6th ed. (Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1835).
Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (London, 1853)