April 27: Betsey Stockton

From Slavery to Service for her Savior
by Rev. David T. Myers

stockton_betsey_c1798-1865History does not record the date of her birth in slavery. But we do know that it was around the year of 1798. We do know that the place of her birth was . . . Princeton, New Jersey. And she took the name of her slave owner master, an attorney named Robert Stockton. Obviously, slavery was not restricted to the South.

In a providential move, Betsey Stockton was presented as a “gift” to the new husband of Richard Stockton’s daughter, in Princeton, New Jersey. His name was the Rev. Ashbel Green, the third president of the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University. Rev. Green home schooled the young woman in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and yes, theology. She was allowed into Rev. Green’s own personal library to read the great books of the Christian faith. She even went to classes at the college. A revival which started in the College spread out to the town, and Betsey was gloriously converted to faith in Christ. In 1817, she became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, and baptized a week later. At that time, she was granted her freedom from the terrible yoke of slavery. Betsey was kept on as a paid domestic servant, and eventually accepted as a daughter to the Green family.

As Betsey Stockton grew in her faith, she began to express an interest to go to the mission field. Joining a couple named Charles Stewart and his wife, who had an interest to go to the Sandwich Islands, (known as Hawaii today), they set sail from Connecticut with a dozen other missionaries under the auspices of the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions, on November 22, 1822. The trip took five months to complete, but it was on this day, April 27, 1823, that they arrived at their destination.

Sensing her calling to teach, she persuaded the Stewart’s to allow her to teach the children of the common people on the islands. Learning the language, she opened her school, teaching history, English, Latin, and Algebra. Later, when the king wanted his son to learn English, she opened up a special school teaching English and Hawaiian side by side. It was said that 8000 Hawaiians received an education due to her initial efforts.

Two years later, when Mrs. Stewart became sick, Betsey Stockton returned to America with them. But her ministry did not end. She began schooling for Native American children in Canada. This was followed by various schools for black children around Princeton, New Jersey, including the Witherspoon Street Colored School, which was an offshoot of Witherspoon Presbyterian Church.

She went into glory in 1865, loved by all for her Christian piety. John McLean, president of the college, and Charles Hodge, conducted the funeral service. She is buried in Cooperstown, New York, beside the graves of Charles Stewart and his wife, her fellow missionaries in Hawaii.

Words to Live By:
From human slavery to human and spiritual liberty, that was the life of Betsey Stockton. She stands as an individual, who regardless of the circumstances of birth, and early life, went on through Christ to serve her Savior and Lord. Let us all examine our hearts and life, and serve Him regardless of outward circumstances with which we entered this world. To God be the glory!

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