Baptist History Homepage

The Foreign Mission Awakening in Kentucky

By Frank M. Masters
      The final fruitage of the Foreign Mission Awakening in America was in 1812, when in February of that memorable year two ships sailed, on board of which were two bands of the first missionaries of the gospel, who were bound for a foreign country. It is of special interest to observe how God in his providence in a mysterious way thrust American Baptists to the forefront at the very beginning of the great Foreign Mission Movement. This awakening of the Baptists to missionary activity came as the result of two of these missionaries, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice, each on separate ships, after arriving at their destination in India, becoming Baptists. The mighty impulse to missionary success among Baptists can be presented only in relation to these two men embracing the Baptist faith. Their life and work need to be considered briefly to set forth the Foreign Mission Awakening.1

      Adoniram Judson was born in Maiden, Massachusetts, August 9, 1788. He was the son of Adoniram Judson, a Congregational minister, who had great expectations of his son becoming a great man. In 1800, when Adoniram was fourteen years old, the family removed to the old town of Plymouth. In 1804, the young man entered Rhode Island College, two weeks later changed to Brown University, where he graduated with honors in 1807 at the age of 19 years. In October, 1808, he entered the Theological Institute at Andover as a special student, since he was neither a professing Christian nor a candidate for the ministry. He was converted and united with the Third Congregational Church, at Plymouth, May, 1809 at the age of twenty-one years. At the same time he dedicated his life to the ministry in the Congregational Church.2

      Early in the session of 1809-10, the young preacher became seriously concerned about the work of foreign missions. He was greatly influenced in that direction from the reading a sermon of Dr. Claudius Buchanan, a chaplain of the British East India Company, on the "Star in the East," from Matthew 2:2, which described the progress of the gospel in India. "This sermon fell like a spark into the tinder of Judson's soul." Six months after reading the "Star in the East", February, 1810, Judson made his final resolve to become a missionary to the heathen. He was the first to feel the call to Foreign Mission service at the Andover Seminary.3

      Unknown to Judson and his companions at the Seminary, the same impressions were being made on the hearts of a band of young students at Williams College. Among this number was Luther Rice, who was to become associated with Judson in promoting the work of Foreign Missions among American Baptists.

      Lut her Rice was born in the little town of Northborough, Massachusetts on March 25, 1783. Both parents were members of the Congregational Church, but the Rice home was not known for its religious atmosphere, However, a devoted, pious aunt directed Luther's Christian training. He became a Christian after long agony of soul and united with the Congregational Church in his home town, March 4, 1802, at the age of nineteen years.

Evangelistic enthusiasm marked his Christian life from the beginning. Through the influence of a near-by preacher, who saw the young man's zeal and consecration, Rice was induced to enter an Academy called Leicester. On October 11, 1807, Luther Rice entered Williams College, a consecrated Christian. He had not been in college long until his thoughts began to turn to the heathen world, and their need of the gospel. Here Rice was associated with several young men, who experienced the same impressions. These students were Samuel J. Mills, James Richards, Gordon Hall, Francis Robbins, Samuel Loomis, and Bryan Cree.4

      These young men formed themselves into a secret Society of inquiry on the subject of missions. They discussed missionary obligation, consecration, needs, and the fields. They were accustomed to meet under a haystack near the college campus for prayer, where they prayed for the conversion of the heathen.5

      In 1809, Luther Rice and some of his associates at Williams College entered Andover Theological Seminary, where they found Adoniram Judson, from Brown, Samuel Newell, from Harvard College, and Samuel Nott, from Union. The interesting question is which one of this little band, that met at Andover was the first to suggest the missionary idea to the rest, or which one was the earliest to consecrate himself to the great task of foreign missions? Dr. W. O. Carver says, "Every one of them deserves the reverent recognition of the Church of our Lord This band of young men is one of the most significant groups of disciples of Jesus ever united in prayer and consecration, since the first Apostles who waited on the Master and took up his mission. Samuel John Mills, Jr., was no doubt the master of the group and, so, 'the father of foreign missions in America.' But Judson is the best known of the group and it was his name more than any other that was on the lips of the centennial celebrants at the dedication of the Haystack monument in 1909."6

      What steps will this band of young men take to carry out the fixed purpose of their lives to become foreign missionaries? These devoted students first made their desires known to their teachers and then to several influential ministers. These conservative leaders advised them to submit their plans before the General Association of Congregational Churches of Massachuetts, which was to convene in Bradford the following day, June 27, 1810. A memorial was written by Judson expressing the desires and purposes of the group, which was signed by Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Samuel J. Mills, and Samuel Newell. The names of Luther Rice and James Richards were originally signed, but had been stricken out, for "fear of alarming the Association with too large a number."

      In response to this petition, this General Association organized The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which was the missionary organization of Congregational churches. On September 18, 1811, this Board met in Worchester, Massacusetts, and appointed Messers. Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Samuel Newell and Gordon Hall missionaries to labor under the direction of the Board in Asia, in such parts as Providence should open the most favorable doors. On February 6, 1812, in the old Tabernacle meeting house, Salem, Massachusetts, the five young

men including Luther Rice, were ordained to the gospel ministry, and as missionaries. Judson was married to Miss Ann Hasseltine on February 5, the day before his ordination. On February 19, he and Mrs. Judson, and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Newell embarked at Salem on the Caravan bound for Calcutta.7

      On the ship Harmony, which sailed out from Philadelphia on February 18, was the other little band of missionaries, composed of Luther Rice, Gordon Hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Nott. Because of weather conditions the Harmony did not leave the Amercian shores until February 24. Dr. William Johns, an English Baptist Missionary, who had been in America soliciting aid for William Carey, was associated with Rice on the ship.8

      While on this long voyage Adoniram Judson and Mrs. Judson changed their religious views and were converted to the Baptist faith. It is well to be reminded that Judson was a Congregationalist, the son of a Congregational preacher and had been sent out by a Congregational board, from which he received his support. Dr. B. H. Carroll, Jr., in The Genesis of American Anti-Missionism, gleans from all the sources, and shows how this change of views came about:

      1. The instructions given to the five missionaries directed them to baptize the "credible believers and their households." But the instructions forbade them to admit any but the first named class to church membership.

      2. Judson knew that when he reached India he would have to meet Dr. William Carey and the English Baptist missionaries there, and he was fearful that he would be called upon to give a reason for the faith that was in him.

      3. The first point of difficulty was in applying the analogy of the Abrahamic covenant to the Christian church. According to this theory, and to his instruction, he must baptize the still idolatrous servants, and children, young and old, of those who believed.

      4. This theory left him unbaptized, as not being at the time of his christening a proper subject. Judson thus conies to the conclusion "That I, who was christened in infancy on the faith of my parents, have never yet received Christian baptism."

      5. The question then arose as to the mode of baptism and the meaning of the Greek word, which the King James translators anglicized into baptize. Judson said, "But throughout the whole New Testament, I could find nothing that looked like sprinkling, in connection with the ordinance of baptism. It appeared to me, that if a plain person should, without any previous information on the subject, read through the New Testament, he would never get the idea, that baptism consisted in sprinkling."

      6. In these researches, his devoted wife took the Pedo-baptist side. At first she endeavored to dissuade him from pursuing the investigation. In a letter to her parents she says, "I tried to get him to give it up, and rest satisfied in his old sentiments, and frequentlv told him, if he became a Baptist I would not"

      7. Judson remained true to his conscience, his Bible, and his God. He did not allow himself to be swerved by his affection for his wife, his own temporal interest or false sentimentality.9

      Judson and his associates arrived in Calcutta, June 17, 1812, but the ship Harmony on which Luther Rice and his companions sailed, did not reach Calcutta until August 10, nearly two months later. These two small boats sailed the seas at the time of world wide disturbances. Napoleon was making Europe tremble, and England and the United States were in a state of war. It was dangerous to be on the high seas. An embargo had almost shut off shipping. It was fortunate that the missionaries had taken advantage of the opportunities of sailing at the time they did before conditions became such that they might have delayed their sailing indefinitely.

      Though Luther Rice had engaged in some discussions on the Baptist position with the Baptists on board during the voyage, yet when he arrived in Calcutta, he was apparently still firm in his early views. Mr. Judson thus writes of the arrival of Rice six weeks after his own: "At that time I was deeply involved in the subject of baptism, which I had begun to investigate on shipboard, and I soon learned that some of the passengers from Philadelphia were in a similar position, and that Mr. Rice had rather distinguished himself by reading everything within his reach, and manifesting uncommon obstinacy in defending the old system. Soon after my baptism, he came to live with me in order to enjoy better accommodations than he found elsewhere. At first he was disposed to give me fierce battle, but I held off, and recommended him to betake himself to the Bible and prayer." On September 6, 1812, Mr. and Mrs. Judson were baptized by Rev. William Ward of the English Baptist Mission. On September 17 after his baptism, Judson preached a sermon from Matthew 28:19, "Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them, etc."

      Luther Rice was present and spoke thus of the sermon: "His object was to show what baptism is, and to whom it is to be administered. I have some feeling of difficulty on this subject, which I find myself reluctant to disclose to my brethren. May the Lord himself lead me in his own right way." About three weeks later Rice conferred with his Congregationalist friends, Gordon Hall and Samuel Nott, which disclosed the uncertainty of his mind on the subject. On October 12, he wrote his brother Asaph: "Brother Judson has become a Baptist. I am endeavoring to investigate thoroughly the subject of the sacred ordinance of baptism."

      Rice made the final decision and was baptized on November 1, 1812. He wrote his parents the following day: Yesterday I was baptized by Rev. Mr. Ward, and enjoyed the privilege of uniting with the Baptist Church in Calcutta in celebrating the sacred ordinance of the Lord's Supper. It was a comfortable day to my soul."10

      The change to the Baptist faith of these three consecrated missionaries marked a new age for American Baptists. Edward Judson says, "When the tidings reached America that Mr. and Mrs. Judson and Mr. Rice, Congregational missionaries, sent out by the American Board, had been immersed at Calcutta, the Baptists throughout the whole land were thrilled with a glad surprise. God had suddenly placed at the disposal of the Baptist denomination three fully-equipped missionaries. They were already in the field, and action must be prompt."11

      Judson and Rice were perplexed over the situation at Calcutta, as the British East India Company was threatening to return them to America, but they were permitted to sail for the Isle of Prance. They were also concerned about their relations to the boards. They could no longer work under the Congregational Board, which sent them out, since they had become Baptists. Some of the leading Baptists of America were corresponding with them concerning the Baptists in the United States taking up their support. It was decided on the Isle of France that Luther Rice return to America and make adjustments with the members of the Board, which sent them out, and endeavor to enlist the American Baptists in the work of Foreign Missions. Rice was single, while Judson had a family; and it was also thought advisable for Rice to return on the account of his depleted health.12

      On March 15, 1813, Rice bade farewell to the Judson, expecting to return when his mission to the homeland was finished, but they never met again. He arrived in New York, September, 7, 1813, after a long voyage caused by delays. He proceeded to Boston at once to confer with the American Board and formally severed his connection with it. After a rude reception by the American Board, Rice visited a number of influential Baptists in and around Boston, and called together some prominent leaders, to confer about the Boston Baptist Foreign Mission Society, which had already been founded to look after Judson's support. Some thought this organization was sufficient to undertake the support of the eastern mission field. Rice, however, favored a larger organization to be represented by the Baptists of the entire country as far as practicable. His views prevailed and he set out to rally the Baptist forces.13

      Rice visited New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and many smaller towns. The Charleston Association under the leadership of Dr. Richard Furman, arranged to bring the subject of missions before the churches of South Carolina and Georgia. Rice's plan was "That local societies, organized wherever possible, become auxiliary to one larger organization, in each State, and that the State organizations thus formed, send delegates to form one great, general society, its executive officers to be located at some one central point."14

      The Philadelphia Baptist Missionary Society sent out a circular letter to all the friends of missions to meet in Philadelphia and perfect a General Organization. This meeting was held, beginning on May 18, 1814, with twenty-six preachers and seven laymen. Then and there was organized the General Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions, later known as the Triennial Convention. Dr. Richard Furman of South Carolina was chosen President, and Dr. Thomas Baldwin of Boston, Secretary Mr. and Mrs. Judson, who by this time had been providentially located in Rangoon, to begin their prosperous mission in Burma, were appointed missionaries of the newly organized Convention. Rice, who hoped to join them soon, was appointed for "a reasonable time" as the agent of the Board of this Convention. Thus begins Luther Rice's great work of Traveling Agent among American Baptists collecting mission funds, arousing a denominational consciousness and deepening the interest in missions.15

      Luther Rice made his first visit to Kentucky in 1815; and was very cordially received in most of the associations, of which at that time there were twenty-one. There was some mission interest in the associations before the arrival of Luther Rice, but the Baptists of the state had never been brought to face the task of foreign missions, until presented by this dynamic man, Luther Rice. He visited the following places in Kentucky: Maysville, Washington, Lexington, Georgetown, Harrodsburg, Bardstown, Richmond, Louisville, Shelbyville, Frankfort, Versailles, Campbellsville and Glasgow.16

      Rice attended the Elkhorn Association, August 14, 1815. "A Circular Letter from the Revd. Luther Rice, Agent of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions for the United States, addressed to the Moderator of this Association, was handed in by himself, read and contents considered; the purport of which was to present thro' the Association to each Church in our union, a copy of the 'Report' of said Board for 1815 - and by means of a Secretary, to keep up a correspondence with that board; whereupon Elder Silas M. Noel was appointed the Secretary - and pamphets, called the Reports, were afterwards distributed to each Church through their Messengers and paid for, which the Association hopes will be satisfactory to the Churches, as they contain much useful information on the state of the Society." There was raised in cash for Burma Missions the sum of $150.00 or $200.00. From this time on according to the records the churches of Elkhorn Association have been liberal in contributions to Foreign Missions.17

      In September 1815, Rice visited the Russell's Creek Association in session with the Sand Lick Church. "At this meeting the mission spirit seemed beginning to make new impress on the minds and hearts of the denominational, as shown by article 2 of this business record." The Rev. Luther Rice, agent of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions for the United States, was present, and after reading a circular address, presented the Association with fifteen copies of the first annual report of said board inviting a correspondence with the board, and tending to incite the missionary spirit. Accordingly, Brother Rice was invited to preach a missionary sermon on the Lord's Day. After Brother Rice had preached a collection was made for the purpose of the aforesaid mission, which, with a small sum collected on Monday, amounted to $87.75.' The following was also adopted. . . . 'Whereas, Brother Hodgens has heretofore collected $24.00, under the direction of the Association, for missionary purposes, he is directed to add it to collection in the hands of Brother Rice, which, with interest, and $1.25 from Good Hope Church, amounts to $114.40.'"

      Notice was then given: "That the friends of missionary extension have appointed to meet at Mt. Gilead Church on the Friday before the fourth Saturday in October, with the view of forming a missionary society, when all the friends to propagating the gospel among the poor, benighted heathens, and of man, may have an opportunity of lending their aid to so benevolent an object. It is expected that Brother Luther Rice will be present to aid in the business." It was also agreed "to correspond with the Board of Foreign Missions for the United States, and appoint J. Chandler for that purpose."18

      Rice was also present at the Salem Association in sessions at Wilson's Creek Church in Nelson County on the second Friday in October, 1815. "Bro. Rice was invited to a seat with us." He presented a circular letter from the Baptist Board for Foreign Missions.19

      Luther Rice visited several associations in Kentucky during the fall of 1816, according to a letter to his brother dated October 29. of that year which gives some conceptions of his travel and trials: "The next Sabbath, at the North District Association, Montgomery County, Kentucky, 290 miles; raining all the week, excessively bad roads, mountains, rivers, creeks, and mud - my health began to be impaired. The following Sabbath, with the Franklin Association, near Frankfort, Ky., only about 100 miles, riding for the whole week, nearly three days of which were spent in Lexington, preaching, hearing preaching, visiting, and necessary business, etc. The following Friday I was at the Union Association in Knox County, Ky., and left it the same evening, intending to be with the Caney Fork Association, in Warren County, Tennessee on the Sabbath."20

      How this man Rice must have stirred the hearts of multitudes of Baptists in these great associational gatherings throughout Kentucky on the subject of Foreign Missions. Rev. Jesse Mercer, born 1769, for whom Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, was named, says: "Mr. Rice was a powerful preacher. His thoughts were often original, and most generally expressed with a pathos and energy peculiarly his own. There are thousands in these United States, who will long recollect his fine appearance in the pulpit, and the valuable instructions they have received from his sermons."21

      By the close of 1815 there was much interest and an increased zeal manifested among the churches of the state in favor of foreign missions. Early in 1816 at least six missionary societies are known to have existed in Kentucky. The Kentucky Baptist Society for the Propagating of the Gospel held its meetings in Lexington. Besides this state society were the Green River Country Society, the Bardstown Society, the Mt. Sterling Society, and the Washington Society in Bracken County - all auxiliary to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions in Philadelphia.22

      Luther Rice, in his many tours through Kentucky and other states, found that the members of Baptist churches more readily responded to mission appeals than the pastors themselves. He saw the importance of the relation between education and foreign missions and began to advocate a trained ministry as the greatest need of the hour. He greatly influenced Baptists to give attention to founding schools for the training of preachers. During all his life foreign missions was nearest his heart, but in later years he became absorbed in educational work only because he perceived its vital relation to the success of his first love - missions. Luther Rice literally burned out his life in the cause of his Master, and died on September 25, 1836, at the age of fifty-three years.

      It may be observed that nearly all Baptist enterprises of our day were inspired and created by the untiring efforts of Luther Rice, including denominational papers, Baptist state and national organizations and Christian colleges.

1. Carroll, B. H., Jr., The Genesis of American Anti-Missionism, p. 37; Spencer, John H., A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, p. 568.
2. Carroll, B. H., Jr., op. cit., p. 58; Judson, Edward, The Life of Adoniram Judson, p. 1-15.
3. Judson, Edward, op. cit., p. 16, 17.
4. Pollard and Stephens, Luther Rice: Pioneer in Missions and Education, p. 1-11.
5. Carroll, B. H., Jr., op. cit., p. 39, 40.
6. Carver, W. O., "The Significance of Adoniram Judson," The Review and Expositor, October, 1913, p. 477, 478.
7. Judson, Edward, op. cit., p. 34, 35.
8. Pollard and Stephens, op. cit., p. 17.
9. Carroll, B. H., Jr., op. cit., p. 60-66.
10. Pollard and Stephens, op. cit., p. 17-19.
11. Judson, Edward, op cit., p. 53.
12. Barnes, W. W., "Luther Rice - Baptist Seer," Southwestern Journal of Theology, January, 1918, p. 89.
13. Pollard and Stephens, op. cit., p. 24-26.
14. Ibid., p. 27.
15. Barnes, W. W., op. cit., p. 90.
16. Pollard and Stephens, op. cit., p. 34.
17. Minutes of Elkhorn Baptist Association, 1815, p. 2, 3.
18. "History of Russell's Creek Association," Minutes of Russell's Creek Baptist Association, 1895, p. 10.
19. Minutes of Salem Baptist Association, 1815.
20. Barnes, W. W., op. cit., p. 92.
21. Pollard and Stephens, op. cit., p. 88.
22. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 578, 579.

[From Frank M. Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 185-191. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Kentucky Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage