Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), the first foreign missionary from America, was born in Malden, Massachusetts, on August 9, 1788, the son of a Congregational minister. Young Adoniram was said to have been able to read the Bible at the age of three. He entered Brown at sixteen and he graduated in 1807 as valedictorian of his class. In college he came under the influence of a free-thinking upperclassman, Jacob Eames 1806, and chose to deliver at Commencement “An Oration of Free Enquiry.” He went home to Plymouth to parents distressed by his new philosophy, and opened a school. The next year he published two textbooks, Elements of English Grammar and The Young Ladies’ Arithmetic. He closed his school in August of 1808 and set out on a tour of the northern states. At an inn where he stopped, he was kept awake by the suffering of a man in the next room, who died during the night. Learning that the man was his friend Jacob Eames had such a profound effect on Judson, that he soon entered the newly founded Andover Theological Seminary and joined his father’s church. He was determined to become a missionary, and in January 1811 embarked for England to gain the help of the London Missionary Society. He arrived in May, after being captured by a French privateer and imprisoned. Back in the United States, he married Ann Hasseltine on February 5, 1812, and the next day was ordained at Salem with his fellow missionaries, Samuel Newell, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall and Luther Rice.
The new missionaries departed for foreign lands, the Newells and the Judsons on the ship Caravan, the others on the Harmony. On the journey Judson became converted to the Baptist religion and, on arrival in Calcutta, both he and his wife were baptized by the Reverend William Carey, the first foreign missionary from England. Deprived of the support of the Congregationalists, he appealed to the Baptists, and Luther Rice, who had also become a Baptist, returned home to raise funds. The Judsons were expelled from Calcutta by the British East India Company and traveled to Rangoon, arriving in July of 1813. There Judson learned the language and, with a printing press received from the Serampore Mission, issued a tract, “A Summary of the Christian Religion,” a catechism, and the beginning of his Burmese translation of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew. Six years after his arrival, the first Christian service in the Burmese language was held in April 1819 and the first Burman convert was baptized in June.
In 1823 the Judsons and Dr. Price, who had joined the mission, left Rangoon for Ava, where the missionaries had been given land by the King. The next year, when the war with the British East Indian Government began, Judson and Price were imprisoned as suspected spies. Mrs. Judson was a house prisoner. Judson spent eleven months in prison in Ava and six months in Oung-pen-la in the jungle. When the peace talks between the Burmans and the British began, he was used as interpreter by both sides. Their house in Ava having been ruined, the Judsons moved to the new British settlement of Amherst. Mrs. Judson and one remaining child died in 1826. In 1835 Judson completed his translation of the Bible into Burmese, and he married Sarah Hall Boardman, widow of missionary George Dana Boardman. They had eight children of whom three died in infancy. Judson, now living in Maulmein, began work on a Burmese-English dictionary, which he interrupted in 1845 in order to take his wife on a trip to the United States for her health. Mrs. Judson died and was buried at St. Helena, and Judson continued to Boston with his children. In November 1845 he visited Brown, where he met with the members of the Philermenian Society and the Society for Missionary Inquiry. He had been awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity of degree by the University in 1823, but refused to use that title. In June 1846, he married Emily Chubbuck, a poetess who used the name of Fanny Forester, with whom he returned to Rangoon and then to Maulmein. He completed the English-Burmese section of his dictionary, but his health was failing. On April 3, 1850 he was carried aboard the Aristide Marie, following directions of his doctor that a long sea voyage was the only hope of regaining his health. He died on board on April 12 and was buried at sea. He left behind him in Burma 26 churches and nearly five thousand converts. Four sons and a stepson came to Brown University; Adoniram Brown Judson 1859, a physician, Elnathan Judson 1859, a journalist, Edward Judson 1862, a Baptist clergyman, Henry Hall Judson 1864, who left Brown for Williams College, and George Dana Boardman 1852, a Baptist minister.