Presbyterian Mission History (5th of 12): Exemplary 19th Century Presbyterian Missionaries

In 1837 the Presbyterian General Assembly established the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Here is a timeline of 95 notable Presbyterian missionaries featured in Gerald Anderson’s Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions.

Here is the same timeline with the names added:

The Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions sent hundreds of missionaries to unreached peoples in Africa and Asia for 150 years, beginning in 1837. Here are some notable Presbyterian missionaries who sailed for distant lands in the 19th century.

Andrew and Elizabeth Happer. Missionaries to China. Andrew Happer (1818-1894) was eleven years old when his mother encouraged him to become a missionary. He began preparing from that time, graduating from Jefferson College in Pennsylvania (1835), Pittsburgh Seminary (1843) and medical school (1844). Happer arrived in Canton, China in 1844, at a time when warlords and opium trade brought catastrophe to the country. Happer opened a medical dispensary in 1847 and began treating 7000 patients every year. By medical work and the founding of schools and the printing of Christian literature in the Chinese language Happer and other missionaries established the Presbyterian mission in China and converted many to Christianity.

Royal G. Wilder. Missionary to India. Royal G. Wilder (1816-1887) was born in Vermont. His parents, Abel and Hannah Wilder, became Christians during a revival there in 1816. Within a year the family moved westward to “the wilderness” of Lake Champlain, New York. At 13 years old Royal Wilder experienced a conversion and felt God call him to become a missionary. At Andover College he found many likeminded Christians, and the formed a “Society of Brethren” to study the Bible and prepare to become missionaries. They sent money to missionaries and corresponded with William Carey and others. Of the 372 members of the “Society” at Andover seminary, 217 entered the foreign mission field Wilder and his wife Eliza Jane sailed for India in 1846 and pioneered the missionary work in Kohlhapur. He served there 30 years. Their son, Robert Wilder, was born in Kohlhapur and lived there for the first 13 years of his life. Royal and Eliza Jane Wilder’s daughter, Grace, persuaded many students at her college, Mt Holyoke, to become missionaries.

Robert Wilder and the Student Volunteer Movement. Robert Wilder ((1863-1938) attended Princeton Seminary, where, in 1883, he helped to organize the Princeton Foreign Missionary Society. Following graduation, he attended revivalist D. L. Moody’s summer Bible conference at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, where one hundred students signed a pledge to become foreign missionaries. This event laid the groundwork for the rise of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions and its famous motto, “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation.” In 1892, on his way to India, he founded the British Student Volunteer Missionary Union. In India he worked with students through the YMCA. When ill-health forced him to leave India in 1902, Wilder moved to Europe where he promoted the mission aims of the World Student Christian Federation. From 1919 to 1927 Wilder was general secretary of the Student Volunteer Movement.

Grace Wilder Royal G. Wilder’s daughter Grace (1861-1911) attended Mt. Holyoke College. There she started a women’s student group whose members pledged, “We hold ourselves willing and desirous to do the Lord’s work wherever He may call us, even if it be in a foreign land.” At Mt. Holyoke thirty-four young women signed their names. Grace sailed for India in 1887, a missionary’s daughter going back to the land in which she was born.

Samuel Hall Young (1847-1927) Missionary to Alaska. In 1904 he established the First Presbyterian Church of Fairbanks. He walked long distances of Alaska with John Muir. One day, during a climb on Mount Glenora, Young fell off the side of the mountain, dislocating his shoulders in the tumble, coming to rest on a narrow ledge. Unable to move, John Muir pulled him to safety.

Robert H. Nassau Missionary to many parts of Africa. Nassau (1835-1911) graduated from Princeton (1859) and Pennsylvania Medical School (1861). He and his wife Mary pioneered work in “the interior of Africa” among the Mpongwe people. Click here to read more about this remarkable physician.

Joseph and Deborah Cochran. Missionaries to Persia (now Iran). Joseph Cochran 1817-1871 graduated from Amherst College (1842) and Union Theological Seminary in New York (1847). Cochran died of typhoid fever in 1871. He is buried at the missionary graveyard in Seir, Iran. I wrote previously about their son, Joseph Plumb Cochran, because he too became a missionary in Urmiah and is buried near his parents in Seir.

Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.” Today we honor the pioneer Presbyterian missionaries who sailed to India, China, Persia, Alaska, the Middle East and all parts of Africa in the 19th century. Next week will will honor Presbyterian missionaries who served overseas in the 20th century.

Presbyterian Mission History. This is Blog #5 in a series 12:

  1. What Francis Makemie Envisioned : Beneficial Relationships between Presbyterian Churches and Mission Agencies
  2. What Early Presbyterian Churches Enjoyed: Denominational Support for Voluntary Societies
  3. How the General Assembly of 1837 Expelled 60,000 church members on account of their partnership with mission agencies.
  4. The General Assembly Establishes the Board of Foreign Missions. An Extraordinary Mission Era Begins.
  5. Exemplary Presbyterian Missionaries of the 19th Century
  6. Exemplary Presbyterian Missionaries of the 20th Century
  7. Ninety-Five Notable Presbyterian Missionaries in Gerald Anderson’s Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions
  8. The Extraordinary Rise of Presbyterian Women’s Mission Societies following the Civil War
  9. What the General Assembly of 1902 Endorsed: Recognition and Regulation of “Special Interest Organizations.”
  10. Time to say Good-bye, Perhaps. How Everything Seems to be Ending.
  11. This is not the End. The Holy Spirit Enables New Mission Initiatives.
  12. Presbyterian Mission History: A Bibliography.