Rosewell H. Graves (1833-1912)
Medical Missionary to China
Rosewell H. Graves (1833-1912), a medical doctor and Baltimorean, was appointed to China in 1855. Maryland Baptists served as the instruments by which the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) of the SBC was preserved through the trials of the Civil War. Of the 38 missionaries overseas, only Graves seemed to have received a steady income throughout the war, probably due to his Baltimore connections.
Rosewell was the son of Ann Graves. In 1868, she invited the Southern Baptist women to meet in support of missions while in Baltimore for the SBC annual meeting. Ann Graves was a dedicated Methodist from a wealthy Baltimore family. She married John James Graves, but would not leave Baltimore or Methodism for him, so he relented and joined her at the Maryland estate, Catalpa. Ann was a skilled writer with interests in literature, education, and especially, religion. She had several books published, including Women in American and The Christian Lawyer. She would often host missionaries from various denominations as they came through Baltimore. Her wealth allowed her to hire servants, freeing some time to pursue public service interests, despite giving birth to seven children. Rosewell was her first born.
At age fifteen, Rosewell fell under the spell of a new preacher in town, Richard Fuller, and was baptized into Seventh Baptist Church of Baltimore. He became a medical doctor like his father and his father’s father, but he employed his profession in the direction of his mother’s first love, missions. He left Seventh Baptist Church seven years later for China.
Part of Graves’ success in spreading the gospel was his refusal to separate his medical practice and his evangelistic witness. “He had performed much labor in the practice of medicine, having in the course of a year vaccinated 415 children, and prescribed otherwise to 2,620 patients. He regarded these attentions to the sick as valuable auxiliaries to the work of teaching the people the way of salvation,” as reported in the 1863 SBC foreign missions report said of him.
In October 1864, Graves wrote in his diary: “Employed a Bible woman to read and distribute such portions of the Word of God as have been translated into Chinese.” The Bible woman Graves employed in 1864 became his wife, but she only lived a few months longer. His first wife, Jane Norris Graves, who was commissioned at the same service Rosewell was, died sixteen years earlier. She came from Eutaw Place Baptist where Annie Armstrong served.
At a time when foreign missions among Southern Baptists was at a dangerously low ebb, Ann Graves read of her son’s experiment with Bible women in China. In 1867, she gathered a handful of female Baltimore Baptists into a prayer and support group for the Canton Bible women. For years little or no progress seemed to be made, but Ann Graves continued to write letters, speak with friends, and educate herself about foreign missions of all sorts.
Graves remained in active service in China until his death fifty-seven years later, 1912. Historian William R. Estep wrote that when the SBC foreign mission fields were in almost hopeless disarray after the Civil War “there was still reason for hope, exemplified by R. H. Graves.”
[From: You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen; via Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware website. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
When the Southern Baptist Convention was organized, in 1845, two former missionaries of the Foreign Mission Board who were from the South, decided to work with the new organization. They were J. L. Chuck and I. J. Roberts; and they gave the first start to the South China Mission, with headquarters at Hongkong and Canton. This field has an area almost equal to the three States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and three dialects are spoken on it Cantonese, Mandarin, and Hakka. In 1846 Rev. Roswell H. Graves was sent to this field and gave to it a long life and many-sided service. His work as traveler and preacher was great. In a single year he traveled 1,600 miles on Chinese boats and distributed 9,658 tracts, preaching all along the shores. He had taken a degree in medicine and found plenty of opportunity to practise the art of healing. His literary labors were as important; he compiled two hymn-books for the Chinese,
wrote books on Parables of Our Lord, Scriptural Geography, the Life of Christ, and a text-book on homiletics for his class of native preachers. In the intervals of these occupations he found time to translate parts of both Old and New Testaments.
[From Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of Baptist Missions, chapter VII, Judson Press, 1927, pp. 170-71. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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