1810 American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
The ABCFM was founded during the Second Great Awakening by several students from Williams College, with the intention of helping to spread Christianity worldwide. The organization was supported by individual donations and financial apportionments from the Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed denominations. It sent its first missionaries to British India in 1812, and added missions to Ceylon, China, Singapore, Siam, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Persia, western Africa, southern Africa, and the Sandwich Islands.
All missionaries were ordained, trained individuals, often from colleges like Middlebury, Amherst, and Williams where evangelical feeling then burned brightly. Many of them translated the Bible into new, sometimes previously unwritten, languages. They built schools and health facilities. Lots ended up advising local governments. More than 1,230 missionaries were sent afield in the organization’s first 50 years, almost always in married couples.
The ABCFM also developed a strong emphasis on missions to American Indians. They first ministered to Cherokees in Tennessee, and then followed displaced southeastern tribes to Michigan, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Oregon. During Indian uprisings, missionaries attended to Indians in jail or sent on exile. They produced Bibles, dictionaries, and schoolbooks in Dakota and Ojibwe when there were no print versions of these languages. They trained indigenous preachers and leaders.
Another religiously driven, philanthropically funded missionary society that had major effects on America and overseas countries during the nineteenth century was the American Missionary Association. For more information on that group, see the 1846 entry on our companion list of achievements in Public-Policy Reform.
- Dissertation on the formation of the ABCFM, maxfieldbooks.com/abcfm.html
- Brief history, christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/american-missions-11630355.html