The origin of Baptist missionary organization in America owes to the labor of two particular men, Adonirum Judson (1788 – 1850) and Luther Rice (1783 – 1836). Both were appointed as Congregationalist missionaries who sailed from America to Calcutta, India, in 1812. Their conversion into Baptists resulted after conferring on the subject of baptism with English Baptist missionary William Carey.
After his baptism, Rice returned to America the following year in order to raise funding for American Baptist missionary and education efforts, a vocation which occupied him for the remainder of his life. Whereas Judson received immense aid in his missionary labors by three “until death do us part” marriages to capable Christian women Ann (1789 – 1826), Sarah (1803 – 1845), and Emily (1817 – 1854), Rice never married.1 Though vigorously committed to his work, Rice also made intentional outreach to court godly women at various points in his life.
His romantic advances did not yield his desired results, yet it was not for lack of persistent effort. One such lady was Sarah Julia Myers, a widow whom Rice met while fundraising on behalf of Columbian College, which he helped establish. Rice wrote to her on multiple occasions, endeavoring to persuade her to accept his invitation to matrimony.2
One of Rice’s handwritten letters to Myers dated January 21, 1831 came into the possession of Southern Seminary’s library courtesy of a donation by Dr. and Mrs. John H. Haldeman in 1981. Having made prior attempts to woo Myers, his hopes were dwindling yet not exhausted. The text of the letter reveals both the tenderness of Rice’s affections and the prudence of Rice’s mind:
“I hope you will not be displeased with me for writing once more as I really feel myself compelled by an affectionate regard which I cannot resist! . . . why should I any longer linger about Sister Myers seeing there is no hope? Why not at once discharge from my mind all farther thought of her and keep away? But when I would think to do this, I cannot! My heart is still there—and when circumstances allow I invariably and unavoidably go there! O, Sister Myers! . . . Let me then, first of all, honestly declare that I do possess an indescribable, deep, personal attachment to yourself; and that on account of this love to yourself personally, distinctly and exclusively, it is my sincere and hearty desire to wed you to myself — to be my wife; will you consent to it?”
Rice labored to clarify that his interest in Myers was founded upon her personal character as a suitable wife for a minister, as opposed to any financial interest in her wealth and property. He praised her virtues as “a Lady whose piety, whose good sense, whose goodness of disposition, whose ladylike appearance and deportment, indeed whose every quality suites to happiness as the wife of a minister of the gospel, I never expect to find surpassed, if even equaled, in all those I might ever think of addressing . . . This is love! This is the affection, intense and pure, and strong, and constant, which my bosom bears for you — Sarah! Must I love in vain?” Though he even conveyed his attraction through poetry, Rice resigned himself to respecting her wishes and the Lord’s will: “I have now said as much probably as I ought to say — perhaps more; but could not feel satisfied with saying less. The final decision of the case I wish devoutly and sincerely to leave with Him whose we are and whose are all our ways: and your decision, my dear-most dear-Sarah! I shall regard as such! . . . and if you shall still find it necessary to signify to me that you cannot consent to my addresses . . . I wish to convey to you the assurance at the same time, that my unfeigned respect for you shall induce me to govern myself accordingly, however withering to my heart and fatal to my repose!”
Sarah Myers ultimately declined his persistent proposals. Despite a strong desire in his later years to cultivate a marriage and a home life, Rice remained a bachelor in declining health without permanent residence until his death on September 27, 1836.3 Although Rice’s life and work entailed many valleys of trial and sadness, his labor on behalf of Baptist missionary work remains an inspiration in the present day. Luther Rice’s letter to Sarah Myers can be viewed in the Archives office of the seminary library, in addition to a full transcription prepared by former librarian Ronald Deering.
- Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists, Volume Two: Beginnings in America (Scotland: Mentor, 2005), 187 – 219. (↩)
- Dispensations of Providence: The Journal and Selected Letters of Luther Rice, 1803 – 1830, ed. William H. Brackney (Rochester, NY: American Baptist Historical Society, 1984), 159 – 162. (↩)
- Elmer Louis Kayser, Luther Rice, Founder of Columbian College (Washington, D. C.: George Washington University, 1966), 29 (↩)