Adoniram Judson [1788-1850] was born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Adoniram Judson, Sr., a Congregational clergyman, and Abigail.
Judson was a brilliant boy. At 16 he entered Brown University as a sophomore and graduated at the top of his class three years later in 1807.
What his godly parents didn’t know was that Adoniram was being lured away from the faith by a fellow student named Jacob Eames who was a Deist. By the time Judson graduated, he had cast away his Christian faith. On his 20th birthday, he announced to his parents that he had no faith and intended to go to New York and write for the theater.
He joined a travelling theatre company, and, as he said later, lived “a reckless, vagabond life.” On a visit to his uncle in Sheffield, he met a “pious young man” who stunned him by being firm in his Christian convictions without being “austere and dictatorial.” This was his first step toward conversion.
The next night he stayed in a small village inn. The innkeeper apologized that his sleep might be interrupted because there was a man critically ill in the next room. Through the night he heard comings and goings and low voices and groans. It bothered him to think that the man next to him may not be prepared to die. He wondered about himself and had terrible thoughts of his own dying. He felt foolish. Good deists weren’t supposed to have these thoughts. When he was leaving in the morning, he asked if the man next door was better.
“He is dead,” said the innkeeper. When Judson asked who he was, the innkeeper said, “A young man from the college in Providence. Name was Jacob Eames.”
Judson pondered the death of his friend. If Eames were right, then this was a meaningless event. But Judson could not believe it: “That hell should open in that country inn and snatch Jacob Eames, his dearest friend and guide, from the next bed—this could not, simply could not, be pure coincidence.”
His conversion was not immediate. But God was on his trail. After months of struggle, he was saved, entered Andover Seminary in October 1808 and dedicated himself to God.
Judson’s interest in missions began in 1809.
In 1812 Judson (24) and his wife Ann (23) of 17 months left on a mission to India. On their arrival, they entered into ministry with William Carey.
By order of the British East India Company, the Judsons were forced to leave India. They escaped to Burma and in 1813, established the first mission station of American Baptists. Burma was a hostile, unreached place. All previous missionaries had died or left. Their work included evangelism and Bible translation.
In 1824, following completion of Judsons’ first dictionary, the couple relocated to Ava. However, Judson was charged with being an English spy and was imprisoned in June 1824. In a 21-month period of incarceration during the Anglo-Burmese War, he suffered from fever and malnutrition and underwent a forced march.
As a result of the courage and resourcefulness of his wife, he was released in February 1826 to serve as a translator for the Burmese government during negotiations for the Treaty of Yandabo. Ann Judson died of complications of smallpox later the same year.
Judson moved his mission to Moulmein in 1828. With the assistance of Jonathan Wade, he built a church and school and continued work on the Burmese Bible, which he completed in 1834. Later that year, he married Sarah Hall Boardman. In 1845, following the birth of their eighth child, Sarah’s health declined and the Judsons embarked for the United States. Sarah died en route; Judson completed the trip and remained in the United States for nine months’ furlough.
While at Madison University in upstate New York, he met and married Emily Chubbock, a writer and educator. They returned to Burma in 1846 for continued work on an enlarged Burmese dictionary, which was finished in 1849. Shortly afterward, Judson contracted a respiratory fever and attempting to travel to a better climate, died at sea.