A Love that Endures: The Legacy of Ann, Sarah, and Emily Judson
Editor’s Note: On Feb. 19, 1812, newly-weds Adoniram and Ann Judson set sail with others as the first American foreign missionaries. Later this year, B&H will release “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary,” edited by Jason G. Duesing with contributions from Southwestern Seminary professors. This article is part of a four-part series on Judson’s life and impact.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails,” 1 Cor. 13:7-8a.
Edward Judson, one of the sons of Adoniram and Sarah Judson, remarked, “There are very few of those who have gone out from this country as missionaries who are not indebted to Mr. Judson for his methods and inspiration.” Indeed, Judson’s life and ministry has left an indelible mark not only on Burma, but also on so many missionaries who have surrendered to God’s call. However, Judson’s story is incomplete without a look at the three incredible women who shared the journey with him at different points along the way.
Ann Hasseltine Judson
(married to Adoniram from 1812 until her death in 1826)
It is hard to realize in these days what it meant to be a missionary during that time. Before Ann left with Adoniram, no woman from America had ever gone overseas as a missionary. In fact, many people in Ann’s life were opposed to her marriage simply because of the uncertainty of missionary life for a woman. In a revealing letter to her friend Lydia Kimball, Ann wrote:
I feel willing and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me. My determinations are not hasty, or formed without viewing the dangers, trials, and hardships attendant on a missionary life. . . . Now my mind is settled and composed, and is willing to leave the event with God.
In her journal two days before they departed for Burma, Ann demonstrated that it was her love for God and her love for the lost that steeled her resolve to go:
But I most sincerely hope that we shall be able to remain at Rangoon, among the Burmans, a people who have never heard the sound of the Gospel, or read, in their own language, of the love of Christ. Though our trials may be great, and our privations many and severe, yet the presence of Jesus can make us happy, and the consciousness that we have sacrificed all for his dear cause, and are endeavoring to labor for the salvation of immortal souls, will enable us to bear our privations and trials, with some degree of satisfaction and delight.
When the Judsons began their work in Burma, it would have been considered the modern-day equivalent of a closed country. All previous missionaries had either died in service or abandoned the area. During the first few years in Burma, she assisted her husband in his translation work and produced a catechism that she used in the school they opened for Burmese girls. She decided to adopt the colorful dress of the Burmese women and learn their customs and formed a society of native women that met together on Sunday to pray and read Scripture. Seeing the mistreatment of women, Ann was even more burdened for the Burmese women to hear the Gospel.
Ann’s writing proved to be one of her greatest contributions to the mission field. Through her pen the world learned the details of her husband’s imprisonment for almost two years, of the child marriages popular in Burma and India, of female infanticide, and of the difficulties faced by Burmese women. She also wrote to women in America, enlisting them to help her through prayer, giving, or, for some, coming to join them on the field. Ann was stricken with fever and died at the age of 37 on October 24, 1826, and was buried under a hopia tree.
Sarah Hall Boardman Judson
(married to Adoniram from 1834 until her death in 1845)
Sarah, Judson’s second wife, attacked the missionary task with an inexhaustible drive and determination. Early in her life, her heart became burdened for the lost:
I have been pained by thinking of those who have never heard the sound of the Gospel. When will the time come that the poor heathen, now bowing to idols, shall own the living and true God?
She and her first husband George Boardman arrived in Burma in 1827. They began their work in Amherst, then Moulmein, and then Tavoy.
However, in 1831 Mr. Boardman succumbed to illness and died. Sarah chose to stay in Burma and continue the work among the people who so desperately needed to hear the truth.
On April 10, 1834, Adoniram and Sarah were married. Adoniram found the companionship of Sarah to be sweet after eight years of loneliness. During their eleven years of their married life, eight children were born to them, three of whom died at an early age.
Sarah’s ministry to and with Adoniram was fruitful over the ensuing years; she translated part of Pilgrim’s Progress and several hymns and other materials into the Burmese language. She wrote four volumes of a Scripture Catechism, and she learned the language of the Peguans, another tribe, to help the translation of the New Testament in their language as well as tracts. Unfortunately, like Ann before her, Sarah’s health declined before her passion for ministry ever died out.
Emily Chubbuck Judson
(married to Adoniram from 1846 until his death in 1850)
Emily, Adoniram’s third wife, was inspired by the life of Ann Judson: “I have felt ever since I read the memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson when I was a child, that I must become a missionary.” However, as a young woman, Emily’s family circumstances necessitated her finding a way to help support her parents and younger siblings, and she turned to writing. She gained notoriety as an author writing under the nom de plume of Fanny Forester. Adoniram met her while on furlough after the death of Sarah and asked her to consider writing the life story of his second wife. Emily accepted the challenge, and this encounter led to courtship and marriage between Emily and Adoniram. In the final years of Adoniram’s life, Emily proved to be a wonderful companion. Before his death Adoniram completed his work on his English-Burmese dictionary, and Emily finished the memoir of Sarah.
The legacy of each of these women is not just in the thousands of women believers in Burma, but also in the inspiration they gave and continue to give to Christians around the world to be faithful, despite circumstances, to God in each step of their journey. They truly exemplified a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” by giving their lives for the cause of Christ so that the people of Burma could hear the Gospel.
For more information about the wives of Adoniram Judson, see Candi Finch’s chapter “So That the World May Know: The Legacy of Adoniram Judson’s Wives” in the forthcoming Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2012).
 James D. Knowles, The Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson,103.
 Sarah wrote these words in her journal shortly after her baptism, recorded in Emily Chubbuck Judson’s Memoir of Sarah B. Judson: The American Mission to Burmah (New York: L. Colby and Company, 1848), 21.
 Taken from a letter Emily wrote to a friend, recorded in Edward Judson’s The Life of Adoniram Judson, 483.