Of Faith and Courage: The History of the ABCFM


"The Field is the World"


"The long expected hour is at length arrived, and I am called to bid an eternal adieu to the dear land of my nativity, and enter upon a life replete with crosses, privations, and hardships... Think of Harriet, when crossing the stormy ocean – think of her, when wandering over Hindostan’s sultry plains. Farewell, my friend, a last, a long farewell."

--Harriett Newell to Miss S. H., Andover

Haystack Monument
Haystack Monument at Williams College

The story of the American Board begins in a haystack in western Massachusetts, where five students from Williams College took refuge from a sudden thunderstorm. On that day in the summer of 1806 they decided to pray boldly. Our "field is the world," they told each other, declaring "we can do it if we will."

And they did. In June 1810, at the urging of those students, the General Association of Massachusetts voted to establish an "American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions," charged with the task of spreading the Christian message to every corner of the earth.

On February 6, 1812, five graduates of Andover Seminary – Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, Samuel Newell, and Luther Rice – knelt for ordination in the Salem Tabernacle; three young wives – Ann Hasseltine Judson, Rosanna Nott, and Harriett Newell – joined them as they set sail for British India.

This first group battled hardship and discouragement, including the deaths of young Harriett Newell and Gordon Hall. But by the 1830s, mission schools had opened in both Madura and Madras, and the American Board was active in all parts of the world, from Hawaii to Istanbul, Kyoto to Cape Town.

first American Board missionaries
Ordination of the first missionaries in Salem Tabernacle