—Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951)
The A.B.C.F.M. sent its first missionaries to India (1812), then Ceylon (Sri Lanka) (1816), then the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) (1819), then the Middle East (1820). They were by all accounts and for a variety of reasons most successful in the Sandwich Islands. They had mixed results in India and Ceylon. And while nowhere on earth stirred their seminary-trained imaginations more than the locale where the sacred episodes of the Old and New Testaments had taken place, they ended up having little to show for their efforts there, either. They also racked up significant failures in China and Africa, where A.B.C.F.M. enterprises began in 1830 and 1833, respectively. As for the A.B.C.F.M.’s “home missionaries,” who, beginning in 1820, set up missions in the Midwest, South, and West in attempts to convert both indigenous people and wayward settlers, their results were perhaps most disastrous of all. But the movement, while it failed in its stated mission to convert the world, did succeed in spreading the word about the inferiority of races other than white and creeds other than Christianity. For that reason, the currently prevailing image of nineteenth-century missionaries, at least among secular humanists, is that of narrow, paternalistic, ethnocentric agents of imperialism. It's simplistic, but not unfair. And yet to leave it dismissively at that prevents any understanding of missionaries of all types who are operating in the world today.
I was drawn to this subject for a variety of reasons, but foremost among them was the connection between missionaries and the printed word. The nineteenth-century philologist J. Hammond Trumbull wrote in Origin and Early Progress of Indian Missions in New England that before Reverend Eliot’s time, “an idea generally prevailed, that Indians must be taught English, before they could receive religious truths.”  Eliot’s Bible changed that way of thinking. The conundrum wasn’t completely settled by the Eliot Bible’s publication, however. The effectiveness of the translation depended on speakers of Algonquin learning to read on a printed page what had been a perfectly adequate, oral language system for eons, albeit a complicated one. Commenting on the length of many Algonquin words, Cotton Mather scoffed: “One would think they had been growing ever since Babel, unto the dimensions to which they are now extended.”  One wonders what he would have thought about a certain word yet to be coined, since there was no need for it in his lifetime: antidisestablishmentarianism.
By the early nineteenth century, the failure to convert New England's indigenous communities was acknowledged. And although comparable failure lay in foreign lands, from the A.B.C.F.M.'s perspective those faraway places seemed enticingly clean slates. Besides, the British had already made inroads. What is more, missionaries need to migrate. It goes along with the leaving behind of a former self. “Migration, in the mass, strengthens the spirit and unity of a movement," Eric Hoffer opined in The True Believer.  “Emigration offers some of the things the frustrated hope to find when they join a mass movement, namely, change and a chance for a new beginning.” 
Not that the A.B.C.F.M. gave up on the home missionary enterprise. On the contrary, in 1812, Reverend Leonard Woods of the Andover Theological Seminary, in a sermon delivered before the Massachusetts Missionary Society on its thirteenth anniversary, pleaded for men to join the cause: “Behold the immense territories on the North, West, and South of these United States." “Lift up your eyes, my hearers, and see a world in ruins.” “Remove the gospel ministry from New England for one generation, and we should be in danger of sinking in moral degeneracy below the heathen.” “Behold our savage wilderness; and the continents and islands, which lie in pagan darkness.” “With proper exertion on the part of clergymen and opulent christians, ten years might bring forward an army of consecrated youth for the pastoral and missionary office. It is fundamental in all our plans for the enlargement of the church.” 
To be sure, the harvest was great and the laborers few. (Luke X: 2) But all those languages! To learn any one of them was a daunting task. But there was a solution at least to the linguistic problem. In the A.B.C.F.M's Annual Report for 1816, its stated goal for the Cherokee mission was to "make the whole tribe English in their language, civilized in their habits, and Christian in their religion.”  The Annual Report went on: "Assimilated in language, ‘they will more readily become assimilated in habits and manners to their white neighbors; intercourse will be easy and the advantages incalculable.”  And so they had come full circle to a pre-Eliot Bible stance.
1. J. Hammond Trumbull, Origin and Early Progress of Indian Missions in New England with a List of Books in the Indian Language Printed at Cambridge and Boston 1653-1721 (Worcester, Massachusetts: For Private Distribution, 1874), 6.
2. Magnalia Christi Americana; or the Ecclesiastical History of New England (Hartford: Silas Andrus, 1820), Volume 1, Book 3, 507.
3. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), 21.
4. Ibid., 20.
5. Leonard Woods, A Sermon Delivered before the Massachusetts Missionary Society, on their thirteenth anniversary, May 26, 1812. (Boston: Printed by Samuel T. Armstrong, 1812).
6. Quoted in Althea Bass, Cherokee Messenger (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1936), 31. A.C.B.F.M.'s Seventh Annual Report, 11-12.