Missionary Work 


The Bridgmans of Belchertown: An American Family   home

Elijah Coleman Bridgman

Elijah Coleman Bridgman was born on April 22, 1801 to Lt. Theodore and Lucretia Bridgman in Belchertown, MA. He attended Amherst College and Andover Theological Seminary. He graduated from Amherst in 1826, and Andover in 1829. After graduating from Andover Theological Seminary, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions asked him to go to China as a Protestant missionary. He became the first American missionary to China.

      Elijah arrived in Canton, China on February 25, 1830. He remained in Canton until 1842, when he moved to British Hong Kong. In 1844, he served as a translator during the first treaty negotiations between China and the United States. He married Eliza Jane Gillet on June 28, 1845. Eliza was also a missionary in China, and she established some girls schools in China. One of the schools was in Shanghai, which she ran for 15 years, and another girls school in Peking, called Bridgman Academy.  Although Elijah and Eliza never had any children of their own, they did adopt two Chinese girls. Elijah returned to the United States only once, in 1852, due to poor health. He returned to Belchertown for four months with Eliza and a Chinese lady. When he returned to China, he moved to Shanghai, where he spent much of the rest of his life translating the Bible into Chinese. He died in 1861, and was buried in Shanghai.

      Elijah Coleman Bridgman is best known for being the first American missionary to China and for translating the Bible into Chinese. He also published a magazine, called “The Chinese Repository”, between the years 1832 and 1851. The magazine explained Chinese culture, traditions, etc., to Americans. Elijah’s importance has not diminished. He is still the subject of much research today, in both the United States and China. Elijah Bridgman had a significant impact on two very different cultures.
                     ---Heather Minott


Eliza Jane and Elija Coleman Bridgman


 

Elijah Bridgman's hat.   Courtesty of the Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA

 

 

James Granger Bridgman

            One of the nine children of Jonathan and Jerusha Bridgman, James Granger Bridgman was born in 1820 in Amherst.  Along with his brothers and sisters, James Granger Bridgman received his first schooling in the home of Dwight Dickinson, a one-room schoolhouse in the southeastern corner of his hometown.  After this early education, James enrolled in Amherst College at the age of sixteen and graduated second in the class of 1842.  Immediately after finishing college he became the principal of Monson Academy, in which he served for a year and a half.  After this he decided to follow his cousin, Elijah Coleman Bridgman to Canton, China and learned how to speak Chinese. James's departure from his family was very difficult for all of the Bridgman's because it was as though he was departing from their world with the possibility of no return. After his brother Edward drove him to Hartford on a carriage, he spent four long months traveling to China on a ship.  When he arrived he was welcomed warmly by Elijah and had a large amount of work to accomplish. On May 31, 1846 he was ordained and hence became the first Protestant ordination in China .  In 1847 he took over the position of editor of the Chinese Repository from his cousin Elijah Coleman Bridgman who created the monthly magazine in 1832.  

            In 1850 James's family received word that he was ill and was going to make a journey home to visit and recuperate.  They all awaited his return home with great anticipation; however, they soon read in a religious paper that he had died and was buried on the island of Whampoa.  He died from a serious head injury, inflicted by someone who had thrown a rock at Bridgman while he was walking on a street in Canton, China.  Bridgman's death was not sudden;  the rock attack had caused an inflammation of the brain, which drove James to insanity.  His insanity manifested itself in extremely violent behavior, which eventually lead to his death.  Soon after his passing the Bridgman's received letters of condolence from his fiancé who lived in China and was a missionary with James.  Along with her letters Elijah Coleman sent his regrets as well as a copy of James's life work, Notitia Lingual Sinicae of Premare, which had been translated into English.  Once his family had finished they sent his book to the Amherst College Library where it resides still today. 

--- Allison Greco and Cara Fuller