Emily Chubbuck was born in Eaton, New York on Aug. 22, 1817, near a stream that was lined with alder trees. Her parents were Charles and Lavinia (Richards) Chubbuck, and had moved to the little town in the middle of New York from New Hampshire. Their house was just beside and below the road, and was so close, that you could almost step from the road onto their chimney!
Emily was the sixth of seven children and youngest of the girls.
The family was desperately poor, but not famished. The house was large and when it snowed, they would sometimes have heaps of it inside the house! The owner would not repair it, and they were unable to do it themselves. Her dad was rarely home, working a job delivering newspapers. When he was home, he was very sick from the weather’s impact on his health, so he could do very little. His wife and girls had to do their own foregoing for dead wood in the snow to keep from freezing. School was attended at times it was possible, but the children could not attend regularly.
Her family was very devout, and she attended the different church services in the area, and always asked for prayer. She was saved when she was about eight years old, and one that was always concerned about her salvation and true devotion to the Lord.
When she was eleven, she earned a dollar and a quarter a week, splicing rolls in a woolen factory. It was a noisy and filthy environment, and she had to endure bleeding hands and aching feet, and deep sadness due to treatment and conditions.
The farming venture was a complete failure, so about 1830, when she was around 13 years old, they moved to a little shack outside town, with two rooms and a loft that was reached by ladder. The girls’ bedroom was setup at night, and put away during the day for use as a dining and sitting room. The women did an amazing job dressing up this very rugged little shack, adding curtains and ribbons, to make it as inviting and cheerful as possible. Emily found regular work as an employee to a Scotch weaver, as a thread maker, twisting thread.
She read the story of Adoniram Judson’s first wife, Ann (Hasseltine) Judson who had passed away, and knew that God was calling her to be a missionary. The more she fought the idea, the more miserable she became.
In 1832, when 16, she became the teacher at the district school, in spite of the protests of a trustee and farmer about her being shorter than the students. But she handled the job successfully.
In 1834, she joined as member the Baptist church in the area.
Before she was twenty, she had contributed poems to their local paper of great literary merit, and attracted the attention of a well-known ladies school in Utica. They offered her free training for one term, and then provided her with the full course for free.
In 1840, she took full advantage of the offer, in spite of the fact her health had been broken from the extreme conditions and labors of her youth. During this time she was driven to provide a good home for her elderly parents. So, although constantly fighting illness, and attending a strict school, she wrote a number of stories for children, as well as stories for adults. Each of them carried high and pure morals. In the middle of one night, the mistress of the school saw Emily’s light on, and peeked in on her. She found Emily in her night clothes, with papers all around her, holding her throbbing head in both hands. Miss Sheldon chided her for not letting herself get the needed sleep, but Emily burst into tears saying she must write to do what she can for her poor parents.
In 1841, she was hired by this girls seminary to be the teacher of English composition. She kept this job until her marriage. Although her poetry continued to appear regularly in popular magazines, it was the children’s books, starting with Charles Linn, or How to Observe the Golden Rule that was published in 1841, that produced enough in royalties that enabled her to establish her parents in their own house in 1842.
In June 1844, under her penname as “Fanny Forrester,” that she wrote for the prestigious “New Mirror” weekly entertainment magazine. The editorial praise she received and her witty stories of village life brought her a wide public audience, and soon other popular magazines were asking for her work.
She wrote poetry and stories for different magazines. Later, her work was compiled into one volume in 1945 entitles, Trippings, and two volumes in 1846 entitled, Alderbrook, named from the place of her birth.
In 1845, Adoniram’s second wife, Sarah, had become desperately ill, and died on the voyage to the United States. The widower Adoniram Judson, was very sick himself, but was in demand as a speaker.
In Dec. 1845, Dr. Gillette went to transport the fifty-seven year old missionary from Boston to Philadelphia. On the long trip, they were delayed several hours, and to help pass the time, Dr. Gillette found a book by Emily, Trippings, that he thought would help the missionary pass time. Mr. Judson looked the book over and read several passages from it, and expressed a desire to meet the author, saying, “The lady who writes so well ought to write better. It’s a pity that such fine talents should be employed on such subjects.” Emily was at Dr. Gillette’s house at the time, seeking medical attention, so a day after his arrival in Philadelphia, he called on her, and found her getting a vaccination.
He got right to the point and asked very directly how she could reconcile applying her noble talents of writing to stories that were of so little use or spiritual value. The comment from such a mighty man of God shook her deeply. She explained the circumstances that had brought her to the place of writing the stories that made her so famous: how her parents were in need of her care and support, how she had spent years teaching and writing other books, but that they had brought not been profitable. Then, when turning to the present line of work, things had dramatically changed. After hearing her story, the missionary asked her to write the biography of his second wife. She accepted the job and the two began spending a great deal of time together working on the book.
On June 2, 1846, Emily was 28 and became married to Adoniram Judson. She was his third wife, but the marriage was not at all accepted. The literary world believed that the brilliant Fanny Forester was throwing away her career to marry some old missionary. The Baptists believed that the whole missionary cause was being destroyed by the alliance of a founder and the world of fiction. The couple began preparations to leave the United States.
The three oldest children were placed in the homes of relatives, and last photographs were made and shared, and farewells made.
On July 11, 1846, they left the United States from Boston, with some new missionaries. The trip took 139 days to reach Burma. While on the ship they had two Sunday services and evening services each day that included the ship’s crew. Adoniram was able to complete the first half of the Burmese dictionary just as they spotted land. They arrived at the Judson house on Nov. 30, 1846 in Moulmein, Burma (now Mawlamyine of Myanmar, Mon), and united with the two youngest boys, Henry and Edward.
Emily handled the extreme hardships of being a missionary wife, facing with courage the many self-denials of the pioneer missionary life with Judson.
Mr. Judson went to Rangoon, to find a place to start a church, work on the dictionary, and where they could live. He found a dreary, desolate large brick house to rent that looked like a prison. He set to work catching bats, and had 250 of them bagged the first day. He found that trying to sleep in the house was impossible with all the noise the bats make at night!
On February 15, 1847, the couple with the two little boys moved to the brick house. Emily quickly named it the “Bat Castle.” The house had just a few tiny “windows” with metal shutters, to protect it from being burned by the natives. The little windows did not have glass either. The owner had been told to make the house presentable for his young family, so he had oiled any wood in the house to the point it was dripping fat and oil, and put white wash on everything else. She went to work trying to rub off the excess grease on the doors, but was not able to rid the house of the smell. The doorways were high, so that it one had to go up four steps to enter the room. The ceilings were low and with the many beams, provided ample space for multiplied thousands of bats, which make disturbing noise during the day but at night the noise was unbearable. Their only protection was the mosquito nets at night. Getting up in the morning was an ordeal, with all the fresh dung on the ground, and the circling and flapping around a person’s head by many bats. Even though they would remove the bats by the hundreds, they seemed to double their presence!
But the bats were only one element of the inhuman conditions. There were hordes of cockroaches, beetles, spiders, lizards, rats, ants, mosquitoes, and bedbugs. Trying to write was done by expecting to have about 20 little bugs on the page!
Just as they were settling into this memorable place, the Judsons received news that the bulk of their possessions had been burned up. They had brought on the bare minimum of things to the brick house, and had left their best clothing and valuable things in their house at Moulmein, with the precious gifts from friends. Because of the unsettled nature of the area and government of Rangoon, they had decided to use their Moulmein house as a storage place of supplies, from which they could get what they needed, as they needed it.
The regional governor was the most ferocious and bloodthirsty monster Mr. Judson had ever known. Day and night his house echoed with the screams of people being tortured, and he was not afraid to torture foreigners, so he could extort money. He was also fiercely against Christianity. As a result, missionary work had to be done secretly. Any known proselyting efforts would have attracted immediate attention.
Emily not only tried to keep house in these unusual circumstances, she pursued learning the Burmese language and was able to finish her book on Sarah B. Judson, which was published in 1848.
Mr. Judson was there as a lexicographer, and as such was welcomed by the government, because they believed he was promoting the literature of the two cultures.
There was a real battle with illnesses. The rainy season come and made things much more difficult. At the same time, the government enforced the observance of the Buddhist Lent, which lasts for several months in which no one is allowed to eat meat. They did not know about the prohibition, so were not able to prepare for it. They had to live on boiled rice and some fruit, which did not set well. Dr. Judson came down with dysentery, and the two boys were gravely ill. Dr. Judson became so weak he could not walk across the room without collapsing from sheer exhaustion. There was no way to get help or medical attention. To add to their problems, they did not have the money to pay the rent on the house, and were neither physically able to leave the house, nor did they have a house to go to, since it was gone. Emily was faced with seeing her whole family die before her eyes in this inhospitable land with their strange language.
At one point they begged for literally anything to eat from their helpers, to keep from starving to death. They were given a delicious meal, but could not guess what it was from the bones, and the very little meat on them. No one would say what it was, but just laughed when questioned. They finally found out it was rats, a Chinese delicacy.
Then the governor posted guards outside their house with the orders to capture anyone that left the house that was not a regular servant at the house. This put the church people in grave danger, just as they were involved in large outreach efforts. And the news came and was verified on Saturday, the day before the Sunday services. Dr. Judson felt that if he tried to personally reach the families, he would put them in danger, so he waited until nightfall before sending out messengers to the villages to warn them not to come on Sunday. The Judsons were basically under house arrest, and their missionary efforts were suddenly squelched. Money was not coming from the United States to help them meet obligations, and in fact, support had been largely reduced for all the area missionaries. They wanted to move to Ava, where the government was better and the resources for the dictionary greater, but the rent would be more as well, and they simply did not have it.
They were forced to return to Moulmein on Sep. 5, 1847. It was two years later, long after the window of opportunity had passed, and just before he died, that he received word from the mission of their intended support for his move and work in Ava!
They took the house of another missionary family where were away, and he applied his full efforts to finishing the massive Burmese and English dictionary. The work had extracted more than people could imagine from his health and life!
On December 24, 1847, Emily Frances Judson was born.
In 1849, Mrs. Judson’s health declined. She refused to eat, and the baby became very ill. Their help left at that time as well. She soon could not join her husband on the morning walks, and could not even ride a pony for them. He sent her away by steamer to visit missionaries in another area, but she returned after ten days, weaker and thinner than before she left. She was under the care of a good doctor, but her prospects were not good. She could not even read or write without aggravating her condition.
She had grown greatly in devotion to Christ, and planned to die very soon. She was fully concerned about being wholly conformed to the will of her Savior, and no longer doubted her spiritual salvation.
Then, in Nov. 1849, Dr. Judson was attacked by the disease. He was caring for his wife and children, when he caught a severe cold. It settled in his lungs and brought a fever and a terrible cough. Then after a couple days, he was attacked with dysentery. He took a trip down the coast and got only minor relief. He took a trip to Amherst, but he got worse, so he quickly returned home again. He then with the advice of the doctor, decided to take a prolonged trip at sea.
On Apr. 3, 1850, the dying missionary was carried on board a ship. Delays kept it from sailing until the 8th. On the 12th Judson was dead and buried at sea.
On Apr. 22, 1850, she gave birth to Charles, but he died the same day.
Emily meanwhile was kept in agonizing suspense, not hearing about her husband until four months after he left. Finally she got a letter from a Presbyterian missionary in Calcutta, telling her that he had died.
Finally, exhausted and ill, Emily left Burma on Jan. 22, 1851, with the three children. They arrived in Boston in October, and settled at Hamilton, New York with her elderly parents and children. She spent the winter of that year (1851-1852) in Providence, Rhode Island, helping President Francis Wayland of Brown University collect material for the biography of her deceased husband. She then resumed her own writings, getting three more books published before her tuberculosis put a stop to her pen. Her days were filled with arranging for the care and education of her five stepchildren, a job she took most seriously. An extended stay in Philadelphia in Nov. 1852 to June 1853 did nothing to slow her rapid decline.
Emily died in Hamilton, New York, on June 1, 1854. She was only 36 years old, but in those few short years of great depravation and suffering, she left a life of amazing dedication to helping others and an ability to find joy and humor even from the most dire and frightening circumstances of life.
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, page 629-630. Reproduced by Roger William Heritage Archives Editors, Baptist Biographies (Watertown, Wisconsin: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 2003; 2003) “Judson, Mrs. Emily Chubbuck.”
Mary Hammack, L., A Dictionary of Women in Church History, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997, c1984) “Judson, Emily Chubbuck.”
Earl E. Lewis, “Judson, Emily Chubbuck.” Editors: Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S. Boyer, Radcliffe College. Notable American Women, 1607-1950: a biographical dictionary (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971) Vol. 2, 297-298.
Edward Judson, The Life of Adoniram Judson (New York: Anson D.F. Randolph & Company, 1883) pages 442-549. The portrait of Emily is from page 485 and the family from 546 (retouching and coloration by Clinton Macomber, Aug 2010).