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Death of Rev. Elijah E. Davault
Missionary to Tung Chow, China
A Letter from Mrs. Martha Crawford
Tung Chow,
October 15, 1887.

Dear Sister [Sallie] Ford:
      A new grave has just received the mortal remains of another member of our little missionary circle. It is not yet three years since Mr. and Mrs. Joiner and Mr. and Mrs. Davault, buoyant with hope and energy, came among us and entered with enthusiasm upon the difficult task of acquiring the Chinese language. But, alas! our brother Davault, upon the very threshold of his missionary life, has been taken away!

      He was born March 31, 1856, in Sullivan County, near Bristol, East Tennessee, being the youngest of nine children. In infancy he lost his father, and at fourteen his mother, from whom he seems to have imbibed the self-reliant spirit by which she was able to carry through the war her large and dependent family - often by her promptness and courage securing her property from the stragglers of both armies.

      When fifteen years of age, Brother Davault was converted, and, like many young Christians of ardent temperament, had varied experiences of exaltation and depression. He soon decided that he was called of God to the ministry, and at sixteen set himself about getting a suitable education. At his mother's death, the estate was divided among the six living children.

      Elijah E., who found a home with one of his sisters, sold out his property and put the money at interest. By rigid economy, and by working at various callings during the vacations, he managed to go through the course at Carson College, East Tennessee, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, without aid from any one. In a revival at Carson College, while earnestly engaged in laboring for the salvation of his fellow-students, and while enjoying in a high degree the presence of the Holy Spirit, he decided to become a foreign missionary, and wrote to Mr. Crawford expressing a desire to come to Tung Chow. After a full course at the Seminary, he graduated in all the schools, in 1884 - married in July of the same year Miss Laura A. Hurrah, of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and arrived at Shanghai on the first day of December.

      Mr. Davault was naturally frail, with consumptive tendency. Close application to his studies for many consecutive years had told upon his limited strength. Coming up the China coast in a snow-storm, with piercing west winds, he took cold on his lungs and was never well again. He immediately began the study of the language, making most rapid progress. As summer came on he was obliged to shorten his study hours, but spent much time in friendly intercourse with the natives, greatly winning upon them.

      The Mission had made many ineffectual efforts to secure a house in Whanghien, a large city twenty miles west of this, for the purpose of opening a station there. Unexpectedly, in September, 1885, a suitable one was offered, and Messrs. Joiner and Davault promptly volunteered to occupy it. They had been but ten months on the field, yet under the circumstances it was thought desirable they should go. The Sabbath after his arrival at Whanghien, Mr. Davault gathered the native Christians residing there and began public worship, which has continued ever since. Many of the heathen also attended these meetings. In the Spring of 1886, disease began making rapid inroads upon his constitution, and after a thorough examination Dr. Neal advised him to seek a milder climate for the winter, if not permanently. But with the proverbial hopefulness of consumptives, he could not believe there was any necessity for him to leave the field - he would take better care of himself. He passed the next winter comfortably, and early in the spring vigorously resumed his work of preaching among the villages almost daily. But this was not to continue. In June he again became ill, and the fever never left him until his death.

      In July, Mr. and Mrs. Davault visited Tung Chow, but returned to Whanghien after a few weeks, against the wishes of his friends. He resisted all advice to leave his field. He still thought he might do some work, and would grow stronger as the cool weather should come on. It was late in August before he reluctantly consented to try the soft climate of Southern California. On the 6th of September, he came again to Tang Chow, hoping by rest and a skillful physician's care to recover sufficient strength for the voyage. But it was too late. We soon saw he would never be able to travel. It had been a fearful struggle for him to relinquish all hope of prosecuting his mission, and to say, "God's will be done!" - but he had finally acquiesced. For two weeks before his death he was unable to come down stairs. He breathed with difficulty and his fever raged. On the 3rd of October, he was unusually restless, and seemed to recognize no one but his wife and child. Mr. Crawford had gone to spend a few days in preaching at Whanghien. His physician thought the invalid would still linger a few weeks. As he sat up in bed, for easier breathing, I said to him, "You are very weak, had you not better lie down?" He replied, "I am weak; help me to lie down." I assisted him down and drew the cover around his shoulders, when he soon fell into a quiet sleep. Mrs. Davault arose about twelve o'clock and found him still sleeping. About daylight I took the babe up stairs to his mother and she dressed him, supposing Mr. D. still asleep. On going to his bed soon after she found he had slept himself away to the mansions of bliss. He now rests beside many fellow-laborers who have given their lives for the salvation of these people. After years of preparation in the home land, and a brief, but energetic period of similar training here, just entering upon the work to which he had consecrated his life, he is called up higher. Who will fill his place?

      These millions of heathen, dead in trespasses and in sins, have not themselves life to say, "Come, help us!" - but is not their need, therefore, all the more urgent? Mrs. Davault will remain at her post. Her trust is in God, and she bears up bravely. The dear little boy is a treasure, and will be a comfort to her in this unsympathetic land.
      Yours in Christ,
      Martha F. Crawford


[From Ford’s Christian Repository and Home Circle, January, 1888, pp.67-69; On-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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