William Cary is considered the Father of Modern Missions. He was an Englishman who went to India with the Gospel at the end of the 18th century. He did not go alone, nor did he go without prayer support from a strong group of friends back home. This first half of the biography chronicles his life up through the first year on the field.
Like the David Livingstone biography, I have provided the full text of the episode below.
I appreciate Magnatune for allowing me to play the beautiful harp music of Cheryl Ann Fulton. Also I would like to thank Janet and Geoff Benge for their book about William Carey. Much of my research started with the contents of their book.
William Carey was born in 1761 as the oldest child to Edmund and Elizabeth Carey in Northamptonshire, England. Today he is known as the Father of Modern Missions, but his humble upbringing to a poor weaver family is how this well know missionary got his start.
His father took the position of church clerk which included the responsibility of being the schoolmaster and therefore young William was able to attend school from the ages of 6 to 12. However this was the extent of what was available to him for school. The rest of his learning would come from what he could gain on his own through any books he could find and experiences he had. He was blessed to have many books available to him. By the time he was 16 he had already taught himself Latin and a friend had taught him to read and write Greek. This love of languages shaped young William Carey into the missionary he was to later become.
After he finished school at the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Though his mom and dad were both weavers by trade, his dad understood that there would be a time when machines would do much of the weaving work. The Spinning Jenny and Isaac Watts’ steam engine were invented during young Carey’s life and Mr. Carey knew that these advancements would lessen the need for weavers. When William was 14 he entered into a 7 year apprenticeship with Clarke Nichols.
Another apprentice with Mr. Nichols was John Warr. John was a couple of years older than William and a member of a dissenter church, or nonconformist church, which included Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian and Quaker churches. While attending a prayer meeting with Warr one night, Carey decided that he belonged in a Baptist church. This was not a quick decision though. He and Warr debated many doctrinal beliefs before William made the decision. As a nonconformist one was not allowed to be a paid officer of the state nor hold rank in the military. Often they were denied entrance to schools.
The shoemaker they worked under died in 1779. By this time John Warr had finished his apprenticeship, but Carey was left without a master and 2 years still to finish on his training. When he found a new master, he also found his future wife. Dorothy Plackett (or Dolly as she was called) was the sister to his master’s wife. William and Dolly were married in 1781 while still in his apprenticeship. Therefore he had no money to support a family when within a year their first daughter, Ann, was born.
Carey became a part time dissenter preacher and he was occasionally asked to preach in his home town, his parents were not able to attend because of his father’s position within the Church of England. But his parents supported him as much as they could.
Tragically, when the baby was just 18 months old, she became sick and died. William was also ill, but was able to make a recovery. Because of his illness though, he was not able to attend the funeral of baby Ann. His mother came to live with them for a short time to help the family with cooking and the devastating loss of their daughter.
Dolly sunk into depression–a condition that she struggled with all her life.
William’s younger brother Tom graciously helped support the family financially during this time. Poverty worsened when William’s new master also died. He had finished his apprenticeship by this time and took over his master’s business. He also felt obligated to support the wife and family of his former boss since she was his sister in law. She remarried a year later releasing him from his self imposed responsibility.
He was baptized by Rev. John Ryland on October 5, 1783 who wrote in his journal “this day baptized a poor journeyman shoemaker.” Ryland did not know at that time, but the two would become life long friends.
William took a small church as part time pastor. His other job was as a shoemaker to make ends meet to support his new son Felix. He became an ordained Baptist minister on May 3, 1787 at 26 years of age. His ordination counsel consisted of John Sutcliff, Andrew Fuller and John Ryland (who had baptized him 4 years before). These three men were to remain an integral part of William Carey’s life.
One day William was invited to bring up a topic for the Ministers Fraternal of the Northampton Association and suggested that the churches of England had a responsibility to carry the Gospel to the nations of the world. This was not at all a popular view in 1787. The belief at the time was that it was the responsibility of the Apostles to share the Gospel. When they died the job did too!
There is a popular story in the life of William Carey, which came out of this meeting, though there are questions as to its accuracy. It is said that as William was making his case for the need of churches to evangelize the heathen that the father of his friend John Ryland stood up and said: “If God wanted the heathen to know He would tell them Himself without any help from man.” Whether John Ryland, Sr. said these words or not, it was obvious to those involved that this was the popular view at the time.
William went away from that meeting wondering if there would ever be anything like the missionary movement he had envisioned. He had been working on a book which became known by the shortened title of Enquiry (the original title was 41 words long). When writing this book he knew that he was fighting many years of this kind of philosophy.
His shoemaker boss doubled his salary to 10 shillings a week to not work so that he could spend full time in his studies and his book. By this time the Careys had three boys, Felix, William Jr. and Peter. Dolly was doing better as well.
He finished his manuscript, but he could not afford to have it published.
In 1789 they moved to a larger church for the same pay.
They were blessed to have another daughter, Lucy. However, she was a constant reminder of their first baby, Ann. Sadly, Lucy too died when she was a year and a half. This devastated Dolly. Her younger sister Kitty moved in to help with the boys.
William continued to improve his manuscript for Enquiry. He met Tom Potts in 1791 who paid for the publishing of his book the following year.
The next time he spoke at a minister’s meeting after the book was published, they seemed eager to hear him out. Because many of these pastors had read his work. He finished the next meeting with the now famous comment, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
With the men who formed his ordination counsel 5 years previously, he started the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel. The first modern day mission board (or more commonly known at the time as a mission society) was born on October 2, 1792.
There was a board, a missionary philosophy and a group of men praying, but they had no missionary to send. Within two months their prayers for a missionary were answered when they received a letter from a Dr. John Thomas.
Dr. Thomas had worked in Calcutta and became a Christian while he was a ship’s doctor for the East India Company. He eventually left his job to work among the nationals. He was a missionary within the country by default. He had contacted Carey’s missionary society to see what kind of help they could lend one another in their efforts to evangelize the lost.
Dr. Thomas was invited to meet with the missionary society in January of 1793. They discussed the possibility of sending him out as a missionary under their group. But before the meeting was over, he had a partner to go with him…William Carey. As they talked about sending workers into the mine shaft to mine for the precious souls, Carey announce that he would go. He looked at his friends and said, “I will go down the mine, if you will all hold the ropes for me.”
William Carey along with Dr. Thomas planned to leave 3 months later in the month of March. But it would still take 5 more months to sail to India.
As Dolly was pregnant and still very emotionally depressed, she was violently set against going to India. It was not unusual for men to leave their wives and families for several months or even years at a time to work or fight in another country. Though Carey would have preferred to have Dolly with him, he was willing to go to India without her. He did persuade Dolly to let him take 8 year old Felix with him as a companion.
Plans were made for William to go and get a mission station established and return for his family in 3 to 4 years.
His father and church did not take the news well either. Eventually his church began to see the need and even considered it an honor to send their pastor out as the first missionary.
With the short time they had available, William Carey and John Thomas set out to raise the funds necessary for the trip. They would have to work their way through the French pirates to get out of British waters and on to India. They also had to deal with the East India Company, which did not want any teachers or missionaries in the country educating the people.
They finally set sail in April of 1793 towards India. When they got to the southern side of England and ready to head out to the open seas, the Capitan saw the need to travel in convoy to help fight the French pirates. They waited in Portsmouth until a convoy could be arranged. In the mean time the Capitan was ordered by the East India Company that if he left port with the missionaries then he would lose his Capitan’s license. He refused to continue the voyage with Dr. Thomas and William and Felix Carey.
While waiting in Portsmouth, Carey first became aware of some of the financial problems of Dr. Thomas. These problems ended up harming the work in India for many years. Dr. Thomas took out many loans to live beyond his means. Even while owing much money, he continued to find creditors that would loan him more.
While waiting for a new ship from Denmark that would take them to India, Mrs. Carey gave birth to their 6th child, Jabez. William had just enough time to return home to see the baby before the new ship set sail. During that short visit, he and Dr. Thomas were able to convince Dolly to join them on the voyage to India. Dolly’s sister Kitty also joined the team.
They finally set sail in June of 1793.
On board William learned as much of the Bengali language as he could from Dr. Thomas. They even started their translation of the book of Genesis during the voyage.
However, the trip did not go well for Dolly and added to her hesitation to travel to India. One of their fellow passengers got sick and died on the trip. They also encountered a storm in late August that cause 50′ sea swells and shredded all of their sails while destroying some of their masts. They were able to make repairs, but they became very far behind schedule to be able to make it to India before the winds turned against them for the year. They did not stop to take on new supplies in Cape Town, South Africa so that they could make up as much time as possible. This meant that the next section of the trip was made with a shortage of fresh food.
They arrived in the Bay of Bengal in October, but still had to sail 200 miles to the north in unfavorable winds. It took them another month to cover this distance. They finally anchored in India on November 9, 1793.
There was still the issue of getting into the country without the East India Company immediately turning them away. One of the rules said that any ship had to declare all their passengers and cargo as soon as an East India Company representative boarded them. William and his team disembarked and took a smaller craft further into India. The Capitan was able to declare all of their materials without having to declare the missionaries themselves.
When the missionaries arrived in a small village along the river where they had to wait for the tide, they began preaching to a crowd which gathered around them. Dr. Thomas preached for 3 hours. The villagers genuinely seemed to understand and asked intelligent questions based on what they heard, but none accepted the Lord. However they urged the missionaries to return in the future. They were able to preach in four villages before they reached Calcutta.
When they finally arrived in Calcutta they were reunited with Mrs. Thomas who had traveled back to India before them. They also were introduced to a man who formed an integral part of the missionary team, Ram Boshu. Ram became William’s language teacher and, eventually, an evangelist for the missionary effort.
William and Ram set straight to work in his language training. Within a week William had learned enough Bengali to preach to the crowds of up to 300 people who gathered in the nearby villages to hear him.
It was during this time that William began to understand the depth at which Dr. Thomas’ unwise money management would effect the ministry. They were struggling financially and had to move to Calcutta after spending a couple of months in a smaller village. One of Carey’s philosophies for missionary service was that the missionary would work on the field to earn the money he needed to live. But since they had not been given permission by the East India Company to even be in India, they were not able to get a job that paid well enough to sustain them. When they moved back to Calcutta Dr. Thomas opened a private medical practice to help with the finances. William was supposed to have a job at the East India Botanical Gardens, but the job did not work out as planned and the family moved with Ram Boshu to a less favorable part of town to be able to afford the rent.
William had been given the use of some land, rent free, where he could build a mission station and have a garden that would sustain the family. The only problem was they did not have enough money to make the journey to the new property. William went to Dr. Thomas to retrieve the money that had been set aside for the construction of a mission station. He discovered that Dr. Thomas had already spent the money and borrowed even more in the name of the mission society in an effort to secure a large house and 12 servants for himself.
William then appealed to Rev. Brown at Ft. William for help in getting the work started. When the Rev. Brown found out that William had worked with Dr. Thomas, Rev. Brown literally slammed the door in William’s face.
William Carey and Family were starving. He had already struck out with the local bankers. Finally, Dr. Thomas appeared at the Carey home with 150 rupees he had borrowed in his own name to get the family moved to the new property. When they arrived at the new property there was a neighboring house. In an effort to properly introduce themselves they found a very kind and generous Charles Short, an Englishman who welcomed them to live and eat with him until they could get a place established.
Mr. Short informed them that many of the locals had moved away because of a tiger infestation in the area. While William worked to build his home and compound, many of the locals returned because William was able to protect them with his rifle. This opened up new opportunity for the people to trust William and listen to his teaching.
When William was on a trip during this time, he saw first-hand a religious practice that sickened him. A man was suspended from a rope with 2 large metal hooks jammed into his back. This was in worship to a Hindu god. William’s burden for educating the people with the Bible increased. The Indian people had many sacred books that they read and followed. William knew that the translation of the Bible must be completed so that they could read about his God.
Before he could get his home built, William had been offered a job as an overseer at an indigo dye factory. He was given a house and a salary 5 times greater than what he had previously ever earned. There would be 90 workers with whom he could share the Gospel. The job was basically a 3 month a year project. The rest of the time he would be free to work on his translations and missionary work.
Towards the end of the first dye making season their 5 year old son Peter got dysentery and died within a few hours. Dolly never recovered from the sadness and depression.
William was starting to feel the strain and loneliness of being in India 14 months and never once hearing from the missionary society. Because of the French pirates neither the societies letters to him, nor his letters to them were arriving at their destination.