Gordon Hall (1784-1826), whose name is one of the seven on the Missionary Bowlder plaque, experienced the Second Great Awakening in his early twenties while he was still living in his hometown of Tolland, Massachusetts. Many of his friends, likewise, “became pious” towards the end of 1806.* In the summer of 1810, Hall, by then a Williams College graduate who was studying at the seminary in Andover, had already decided he wanted to be a missionary and knew the place he wanted to go: India. “Blessed be God there are some parents, who rejoice that they have children willing to forsake them and their country for Christ,” he declared in a letter to a friend. Alas, his parents were not among the rejoicers. (Nor had he been a child for quite some time when he wrote that.) Nonetheless, on February 6, 1812, Hall was one of five men (each commemorated on the plaque) who were ordained at the Tabernacle Church of Salem, in anticipation of their becoming the first missionaries sent abroad by the A.B.C.F.M.
On February 16, 1812, Hall delivered a sermon, "The Duty of the American Churches in Respect to Foreign Missions," in Philadelphia, twice, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon, in which he addressed the usual objections, especially the argument that missionaries would be better off going west rather than east, to attend to the Indians and wayward settlers. Three days later, he and others set sail. “Thus was established the first mission of the American Board,” he wrote after arriving in Bombay in December. Others, including British missionaries, had failed before him. “Can it then be doubted," he asked rhetorically, "that the mission at Bombay, though embarrassed in its first establishment. . . and greatly afflicted since, by the illness, removal and death, of an unusual number of missionaries, will at length prove, not only the means of blessing, to the American churches and to their daughters in other lands, but according to its original design, make Bombay the metropolis of a pure Christianity in Western India.” Years later, Hall himself would die of cholera. But for the time being his faith and his youthful inexperience gave him confidence. In a letter to James Richards, who was still studying at the seminary, he wrote: “The embarrassments we experience, will, in all probability, soon be removed. I think you may safely tell all the missionary brethren, that there is no adequate cause for their relinquishing their purpose.” To another seminarian Hall wrote: “While here, we have been diligent in acquiring the language of the heathen," that is, Mahratta.
By 1815, Hall had managed to translate into that language most of the gospel of Matthew, a harmony of the gospels, and prepared a small tract. He was also preaching in Mahratta. In one day, he recounted, he preached in seven places to a total of about two hundred people. He often got noisy pushback and mockery. He was undeterred: "It is one part of a missionary’s trials, rightly to bear the impertinence, contradictions, insolence and reproaches of men, who are sunk to the lowest degradation, both mental and moral.”
He did have complaints, though: about the people back home. To Samuel J. Mills, another of the men in the initial group of seven who was, like Richards, still stateside, he lamented that people thought there were plenty of missionaries and Bibles in India. To the Society of Inquiry, an organization founded at the seminary for would-be missionaries, he wrote that Christians must be convinced it is “their duty to evangelize the whole world” because Christ commanded it. More important, “Christians must be convinced of the means to be employed for evangelizing the world," by sending men, lots of them. “A small pamphlet on the subject should be prepared," he urged. It should be "printed in great numbers," distributed for free, and in that way "put into the hands of every minister of every persuasion.” Nor should parents stand in their sons' way. “Parents must devote their sons to the work," even if it likely meant they would never see them again.
* Memoir of Rev. Gordon Hall (Andover: Flagg, Gould and Newman, 1834; New York: J. Leavitt, 1834), 16. All subsequent quotes are from this posthumous source. I do, however, often wonder about the veracity of missionary memoirs. How heavily were they edited? How close to the truth are we getting when we read these accounts? They are reportedly derived from correspondence and journals. But those letters were meant to be read by a wide circle of concerned people back home; they were not intimate. Journals of that period, which typically charted one's spiritual progress, were also meant to be communally read; they were not the private, individualistic writings that personal diaries later came to be. (Interestingly, today's bloggers have returned to the earlier traditional of public diary keeping. Hall's could qualify as one.) A comparison of original materials with published accounts would answer these questions, but the manuscripts are not easily found in archives or anywhere else. Still, yes, I have relied on a missionary memoir for this post, because it is what people would have read and understood as fact, whether it was or not, and that would have had an effect on their own, real-world actions.