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Serampore letters : being the unpublished correspondence of William Carey and others with John Williams, 1800-1816 online

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Copyright, 1892





Electrotyped, Printed, and Bound by

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G. P. Putnam's Sons


HTHE introduction of Mr. Wright presents very clearly
the English setting of the letters included in this
collection, and the notes which have been interspersed
among them give sufficient explanation to form a con-
tinuous narrative. A word, however, may be premised
here as to the special interest of the letters in connec-
tion with the centennial of the Baptist Missionary

The letters throw a new and unexpected Hght on
the American connection with the Serampore Mission
of the English Baptists. The obstacles placed in the
way of the English missionaries by the East India
Company made it necessary for them to make the voy-
age by way of America, and they were thrown on the
hospitality of their American brethren. A regular
correspondence thus sprang up between the society at
home and the Serampore missionaries, carried on from
this country mainly by Dr. William Rogers, of Phila-
delphia, and the Rev. John Williams, of New York.
A warm friendship seems thus to have grown up be-



tween the brethren on both sides of the sea, a friendship
which, in the providence of God, proved of no little
benefit to the Baptists in this country. The letters
furnish also important evidence of indebtedness to the
English brethren in the commencement of work in
America, as will be seen by the letter from William
Carey to John Williams announcing the conversion of
Judson to Baptist views. The letters have a third
source of interest in the evidence which they afford of
the active missionary sympathies and efforts of the
New York churches at this early period. The credit
of the formation of the Missionary Union has hitherto
been given almost exclusively to the Baptists of Mas-
sachusetts ; but it will appear from these records that
the earliest missionary society in this country was
formed in New York City, and that of that Society
John Williams was a Director and Dr. Carey a corre-
spondent. Before the date of Judson' s departure for
India a Baptist Society had also been formed in this
city in connection with the Baptist Association ; and
even before the formation of the Society the Associa-
tion itself had supported the Rev. Klkanah Holmes as
a missionary to the Indians. In this work of Mr.
Holmes, Carey seems to have felt the deepest interest.
When the Baptist Missionary Society was formed in
New York, John WilUams became its first president,
and John Cauldwell, a deacon of his church, was
elected its treasurer, and later the first treasurer of the


Missionary Union. We have thus the evidence of a
share in the origin of the Missionary Union on the part
of the New York brethren fully as large as that rightly
claimed by those in Boston. But after all, perhaps the
chief interest of the letters to the general reader will be
found in the vivid portraiture which they bring before
us of the man to whom, under God, the work of mod-
em missions is most largely indebted, as his character
is presented unconsciously to himself in the thoughts
and feelings to which he gives expression in these
letters to a friend whom he had never seen, but whom
he knew to to be like-minded in faith and purpose.
From the example which they afford of wide, unselfish
interest, and a firm, unshaken faith and determination,
we may well glean lessons of the highest value to our-
selves, as well as a juster appreciation of the narrow
resources and deep draughts on faith out of which this
great work has grown.

Our grateful acknowledgments are due to the fiiends
who have aided in this compilation, especially to
Thomas Wright, Esq., and to Sir William Thomas

It is proper to state that the letters are given as they
were written, and that in all cases the spelling of native
names has been left unchanged.



WiiviyiAM Care;y Frontispiece.

SuTci,iFF's House, Oi^ney 2

Baptist Chapei. at Oi^ney — Sutci^iff's Tomb in

Left Foreground 12

The River Ouse, near Oi,ney 26

Baptist Church in Fayette Street, New York . 56

Oi,ney 74

John Wii,i,iams 94

Andrew FuIvI^er . • 106





'T'HH year 1892, the centenary of the foundation of
the Baptist Missionary Society, is a fitting time
to take some note of the humble twig from which has
sprung the magnificent growth of Foreign Missions —
a growth, moreover, which, notwithstanding its noble
proportions, is as nothing compared with that vastness
whereunto, under God, it will doubtless hereafter

To whom belongs the honor of first pressing the
claims of the heathen on the Christianity of this coun-
try it is difficult to say, but it must be remembered that
in the spring of the year 1784, at a meeting of the
Northamptonshire Baptist churches, it was agreed, on
the motion of the Rev. John Sutcliflf of Olney, to set
apart an hour on the evening of the first Monday in


every month for social prayer for the success of the
Gospel, and to invite Christians of other denominations
to unite with them in it. The measure thus recom-
mended was eagerly adopted by great numbers of the
churches, and so marked a revival of religion ensued
that it was afterwards regarded by the associated min-
isters and the missionaries as the actual commence-
ment of the Missionary movement.

The Rev. John Sutcliff, who was born at a place
called Straithey, near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, in
1752, was trained for the ministry at Bristol College,
then under the care of the Revs. Hugh and Caleb
Evans. A paper containing ' ' a view ' ' of Mr. Sutcliff 's
studies during one year, and the letter in which, when
about to leave college, he thanks his tutors for * ' all
favours conferred upon him," are in the possession of
Sir William Thomas I^ewis. Mr. Sutcliff was tall of
stature, being over six feet ; and another distinctive
feature of his personal appearance was a very decided
Roman nose, which was responsible for several amusing
anecdotes. A Baptist minister of my acquaintance re-
lates them with great unction, but as so much depends
upon the way they are told, I shall make no attempt to
reproduce them here. Mr. Sutcliff lived in a large
house adjoining the chapel. It was owned by and the
residence of a Mrs. Andrews, a member of his congre-
gation. The house is still standing, though much
altered. A stone near the roof is thus cut :






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It was in 1776, at an association meeting at Olney,
that Sutcliff became acquainted with Andrew Fuller,
and they were fast friends during the rest of their lives.
Born in 1754 at Wicken, near Ely, Fuller, who was thus
two years Mr. Sutcliff 's junior, had, in 1775, been or-
dained to the pastorate of the church at Soham. But
both he and his people were "very unhappy. The
place was truly a Bochim ! ' ' Three of the letters
written by Fuller to Sutcliff are in the possession of Sir
W. T. Lewis. In one, dated 13th of March, 1781, Fuller
"admires " Sutcliff 's *' thoughts on divine Jealousy,"
and happily remarks, in connection with the import-
ance of searching the Scriptures : * ' We have undoubt-
edly many excellent bodies of Divinity extant, but none
perfect. Notwithstanding the numerous and elaborate
productions of the pious and the wise through succes-
sive ages, scripture still remains and will remain an
unexplored deep." On August 15th of the same year
Fuller wants Sutcliff 's thoughts on the question : In
what manner may we now unwarrantably expect divine
direction f In another letter he recommends his friend
to " Read the Bible, not with a system before your


eyes, but as a little child, with humility and prayer ' ' ;
and Sutcliff 's letters in reply were in a similar strain.
In 1782 Fuller removed from " Bochim " to Kettering,
where he found himself separated from his friend Sut-
cliff, and also from another of his friends, Ryland of
Northampton, by only a few miles.

For the furtherance of his motion of 1784 Sutcliff in
1789 republished Jonathan Edwards' work entitled
"' An humble attempt to promote explicit agreement
and visible union of God's people in Extraordinary
Prayer," which, according to the title-page, was
'* Printed at Boston in New England 1747, Reprinted at
Northampton in Old England 1789." After stating
that he does not consider himself answerable for every
statement the book contains, Mr. Sutcliff concludes his
preface in the following beautiful manner : "In the
present imperfect state we may reasonably expect a
diversity of sentiments upon religious matters. Each
ought to think for himself ; and every one has a right
on proper occasions to show his opinion. Yet all
should remember there are but two parties in the world,
each engaged in opposite causes ; the cause of God and
of Satan ; of holiness and sin ; of heaven and hell.
The advancement of the one and the downfall of the
other must appear exceedingly desirable to every real
friend of God and man. If such, in some respects, en-
tertain different sentiments and practise distinguishing
modes of worship, surely they may unite in the above


business. Oh for thousands upon thousands divided
into small bands of their respective cities, towns, vil-
lages, and neighbourhoods, all met at the same time
and in pursuit of one end, offering up their united
prayers like so many ascending clouds of incense before
the most High."

" This publication," says Fuller, " had a very con-
siderable influence in originating that tone of feeling
which in the end determined five or six individuals to
venture, though with many fears and misgivings, on
the mighty undertaking of founding the Baptist
Missionary Society. ' '

Our eyes next turn to the remarkable William Carey.
Born at Hackleton in Northamptonshire of poor
parents in 1761, Carey was at the age of fourteen ap-
prenticed to the shoemaking, and for many years his
life was a continuous battle with poverty. Being
determined to improve his mind, however, this did not
deter him. He got hold of some books and soon we
find him studying the Greek Testament. The preach-
ing of the Rev. Thomas Scott and other divines of the
neighborhood led him to serious thoughts, and the
perusal of a work by the Rev. Robert Hall, senior, con-
vinced him that it was his dut^^ to proclaim to others
the Christ he had found for himself. Consequently in
the year 1780, when he was only nineteen, he made his
appearance in one of the village pulpits, and preached
his first sermon.


An important event to Carey was the meeting of the
Northamptonshire Baptist Association at Olney in 1782,
for then it was that he first heard the Rev. John (Dr.)
Ryland preach. The text was '' Be not children in
understanding." Says Carey : "I, not possessed of a
penny, that I recollect, went to Olney. I fasted all day
because I could not purchase a dinner ; but towards
evening, Mr. Chater, in company with some friends
from Earl's Barton saw me, and asked me to go with
them, where I remember I got a glass of wine." Pre-
viously Carey had been attached to the Established
Church, but during this period his views on the subject
of baptism changed, and accordingly he was immersed
by Dr. John Ryland in October, 1783. Having now
become intimate with the Rev. John Sutcliff, Carey
began to show himself more frequently at Olney, and
by and by joined Mr. Sutcliff s church, his chief
reason for doing so being because he could not see with
the people of Hackleton, who were hyper- Calvinists,
After his name in the Hackleton church-book are the
words —

" W^ent away without his dismission."

Mr. Sutcliff put a lyatin grammar into his hand, and
through his help Carey began to read the Scriptures
in Greek and Hebrew.

There are six entries relating to Carey in the Baptist
church-book at Olney. The first relates to his admis-


sion to the church there, and the last to his dismission
to the church at Moulton in Northamptonshire, of which
he became minister in 1787. He had for some time
been married, and a young family was growing up
around him, consequently seeing that his congregation
could only raise him ;^i6 a year, it was necessary to
keep on with the shoemaking as well. For a time, too,
he kept a school, and it was while perusing Cook's
^ Voyages and teaching his pupils geography that the
great project of his life was formed, for no sooner had
he become acquainted with the spiritual degradation of
the heathen than he felt desirous of communicating
the Gospel to them. As he sat in his little workshop he
turned his eyes every now and then towards a large map
suspended on the wall, on which he had rudely repre-
sented the spiritual condition of the various countries,
and as much information as he had been able to gather
regarding the national characteristics and the popula-
tion. In this workshop, as Mr. Wilberforce afterguards
said in the House of Commons, the poor cobbler formed
the resolution to give to the millions of Hindoos the
Bible in their own language.

Very few of Carey's ministerial friends gave him any
encouragement, but among those few was one who was
a host in himself, namely, the Rev. Andrew Fuller.

When Mr. Fuller first heard Carey's proposal he was
so startled by the novelty and magnitude of it that his
feelings resembled those of the infidel courtier in Israel


who cried, " If the I/Drd should make windows in
heaven might such a thing be ? "

At a meeting of ministers held about this time at
Northampton, Carey suggested as a topic for discussion,
the duty of Christians to attempt the spread of the
Gospel among the heathen ; when Mr. Ryland, senior,
sprang to his feet exclaiming, " Young man, sit down !
When God pleases to convert the heathen. He will do
it without your help or mine ! ' ' Neither daunted nor
discouraged by repulses^ Carey embodied his views in
a pamphlet, which he showed to Mr. Fuller, Dr.
Ryland, Mr. Sutcliff, and Mr. Pearce of Birmingham,
and they advised him to prepare it for publication.
Meantime, in spite of his industry — for he still worked
at shoemaking, — his family were almost starving ; for
many weeks they had nothing but bread, and only a
scanty supply even of that. Now, in a greater degree
than it had ever been, his indomitable energy was in
requisition ; but difficulties seemed only to spur him
onward and he carried everything before him. Neither
poverty nor disease, neither the discouraging remarks
of his friends nor the unsympathetic conduct of his
wife, had any effect on his tenacity of purpose, or if
effective at all they only strengthened it.

At first Sutcliff and Fuller had counselled deliberation,
but in April, 1791, in their lectures at the Association
at Clipstone, they expressed themselves as eager for
instant action as was Carey. Both the lectures or


sermons bore upon the meditated mission to the
heathen, Sutcliff's subject being ** Jealousy for God,"
from I Kings xix., 10.

After the meeting Carey, with almost agonizing
earnestness, pressed immediate action, urging that some-
thing should be done that very day towards the for-
mation of a society to propagate the Gospel among the

The ministers recommended him to publish his
"Thoughts," and soon afterwards his pamphlet
appeared under the title oi An Inquiry into the Obli-
gations of Christians to Send the Gospel to the Heathen.
The next Association was held at Nottingham on the
30th of May, 1792, and Carey was appointed to preach.
His sermon on this occasion has ever since been remem-
bered as having laid the foundation of the Baptist Mis-
sionary Society. He took for his text : ' ' Enlarge the
place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtain
of thy habitations. Spare not ; lengthen thy cords and
strengthen thy stakes ; for thou shalt break forth on
the right hand and on the left ; and thy seed shall in-
herit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be
inhabited." From this text he deduced and enforced
the two principles which were embodied in the motto
of the Mission, *' Expect great things ; attempt great
things. ' ' And such ardor did he put into his discourse,
and so ably did he expound his views, that the minis-
ters at length came to the resolution that ' * a plan should


be prepared against the next ministers' meeting for the
establishment of a society for propagating the Gospel
among the heathen." ''If," said Dr. Ryland, "all
the people had lifted up their voice and wept as the
children of Israel did at Bochim, I should not have
wondered at the effect ; it would only have seemed
proportionate to the cause, so clearly did Mr. Carey
prove the criminality of our supineness in the cause of
God. ' ' At the next meeting, which was held at Ket-
tering on the 2d of October, 1792, in the house (which is
still standing) of Mrs. Beeby Wallis, the question of
establishing a Missionary Society was discussed ; and
all objections having been overruled by Mr. Carey's
energy, a society was constituted **to convey the mes-
sage of salvation to some portion of the heathen world. ' '
In other words, the Baptist Missionary Society was
formed, the first of our great societies that have done
so much towards spreading Christianity in foreign
lands. The committee of five ministers which was
appointed consisted of Andrew Fuller of Kettering,
John Ryland of Northampton, John Sutcliff of Olney,
Reynold Hogg of Thrapston, and William Carey. The
first subscription amounted to ^13, 2s. (yd., a surpris-
ingly small sum when we think of the thousands of
pounds that have since been collected. And yet,
trifling as were the incipient resources, no sooner was
the subscription paper filled up than Mr. Carey offered
to embark for any countiy the Society might select.


His mind was fired with enthusiasm, but at the same
time he was fully aware that great difficulties would
have to be encountered.

Subscriptions now began to come in apace, and the
committee soon found themselves in possession of a
considerable sum.

The question now was where the proposed Mission
should be established. Carey, who had drunk deep
draughts from Cook's Voyages, thought of Ota-
heite ; Pearce, who had been reading about the recent
kindness of their king to the shipwrecked crew of the
Antelope, suggested the Pelew Islands. But just at
this moment a gentleman named Mr. Thomas returned
from Bengal, who had repeatedly written thence to the
leading Baptist ministers in England, giving an account
of his conferences with the natives.

*'We found," says Dr. Ryland, ''that he was now
endeavouring to raise a fund for a mission to that
country, and to engage a companion to go out with
him. It was, therefore, resolved to make some further
inquiry respecting him, and to invite him to go back
under the patronage of our Society. ' ' Although a man
of real piety, Mr. Thomas had been " guilty of many
faults, many weaknesses, and many failures ' ' ; but
the result of the inquiry proved on the whole satisfac-
tory, and it was resolved that Carey and Thomas should
proceed to India together.

"It is clear," said Andrew Fuller to Carey, " that


there is a rich mine of gold in India." *' And I will
go down," returned Carey, ''if you will hold the

The following entries occur in the newly discovered
diary of Samuel Teedon, the Olney schoolmaster. The
year is 1793 :

'' March 24 Sunday * I went and heard Mr. Storton
at Mr. SutclifPs meeting give a very affecting acct. of
the progress of the Gospel among the hindows
(= Hindoos) under the ministry of Mr. Thomas and
that he and Mr. Gary were to be here and soon embark
for their mission after a collection.'

'* March 26 Tuesday I went to Mr. Sutcliff's meetg.
and heard Mr. Gary preach the Missionary to go to the
Hindos (= Hindoos) with his Son about 10 years of
age, a collection was made I gave 6d. it amounted
almost to £10. The Lord prosper the work."

It is deeply interesting to recall this scene in the
quaint old meeting-house. The enthusiastic preacher
in the tall narrow pulpit against the long back wall ;
the cumbrous galleries and the old-fashioned square
pews before him crowded with eager listeners — the
deep and perpendicular-backed pews with their doors
fastened by wooden buttons and their backs of green
baize and rows of brass-headed nails ; the large-faced
clock whose solemn tickings filled up the pauses in
the sermon ; the candles in their wooden blocks dotted
about on the tops of the pews ; and the noiseless- footed

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brother, whose duty it was, moving hither and thither
with the snuffers. The old chapel is still standing,
and has been but little altered.

The sermon which Carey preached, and which poor
Samuel Teedon listened to, was from Rom. xii., i :
'' I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that
ye present your bodies a living sacrifice," etc. ; and
after the sermon he gave out the hymn commencing —

*' And must I part with all I have,
Jesus, my Lord, for Thee ?
This is my joy, since Thou hast done
Much more than this for me " —

pronouncing with great emphasis the first four words
of the second verse —

** Yes, let it go : — one look from Thee
Will more than make amends
For all the losses I sustain,
Of credit, riches, friends."

All difficulties having been surmounted, Mr. Carey
and his family and Mr, Thomas embarked in the J^ron
Princessa Maria, a Danish Indiaman, on the 13th of
June, 1793.

The commander of the ship, Captain Christmas,
" one of the most polite, accomplished gentlemen, who
ever sustained the name of a sea captain," treated them
with every kindness. With one of the passengers, a
Frenchman, and **the most presumptuous and hard-
ened Deist ' ' he had ever seen or heard of, Carey


engaged in disputes almost daily. His arguments with
the Frenchman, whose der7iier ressort was "to turn all
into badinage," availed nothing ; but with the crew,
Danes and Norwegians, amongst whom was ' ' much less
irreligion and profanity " than among English sailors,
he had more success. Near the Cape the ship got into
such a violent sea that it was thought every moment
she would go to the bottom. When he thought of his
own ' ' barrenness ' ' and the mighty work that lay
before him, Carey's courage almost failed him, conse-
quently he always felt peculiarly happy during the
times when he knew public worship was going on in
England, and in the reflection that ' ' hundreds if not
thousands " were praying for him. It is very charac-
teristic of him that in this his first letter from Bengal he
should ask Fuller ' ' to send me all that are published
of Curtis's Botanical Magazine and Sowerby's English
Botany, and to continue sending them regularly, &
deduct what they cost from my allowance."

At Calcutta Carey met with fresh difficulties and
troubles : in the first place, Mr. Thomas, by his impru-
dence, dissipated their money as soon as it came in ;
again, the government were hostile, and he was in
constant fear lest he should be sent back to England ;
his wife, too, gave him additional trouble, and was
constantly upbraiding him with their wretchedness ;
and, to crown all, his family were attacked by sickness.
Driven almost to distraction by these accumulated


troubles, lie removed to the Sunderbunds, where he

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Online LibraryWilliam CareySerampore letters : being the unpublished correspondence of William Carey and others with John Williams, 1800-1816 → online text (page 1 of 9)