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Betsey Stockton (1798-1865)

Single-minded schoolteacher

During the winter of 1815, a revival on the Princeton college campus spilled over into the life of a young, intelligent female servant in the household of Ashbel Green, the college president. Betsey Stockton was baptized a year later. As her Christian faith matured, she longed to offer herself as a missionary. But what hope had she, an unmarried black woman, to reach such a goal?

Betsey Stockton's mother had been a slave of Robert Stockton, one of Princeton's distinguished citizens. As a small child, Betsey was sent to the home of Robert Stockton's daughter, the wife of Ashbel Green. "By me and my wife," he later wrote, "she was never intended to be held as a slave." She was treated in their household kindly as a servant girl for whom they had a growing affection, included in family prayers, and "home-schooled" by Dr. Green.

Shortly after Betsey's conversion, Charles Stewart, a Princeton seminary student and friend of the Green family, announced his plan to join a team of missionary pioneers to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). This lit a spark of hope in Betsey's mind. Could she not go with them? She had skills as a nurse and was trained by that time as a teacher. But American Protestants were not yet ready to send a single woman overseas without a protector.

Dr. Green intervened with a strong letter of recommendation to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, both for Charles Stewart and "for my Betty." The ABCFM's solution was to commission Betsey as part of the Stewart family—"neither as an equal nor as a servant, but as a humble Christian friend." With this ambiguous but trail-blazing appointment, Betsey Stockton became the first (documented) single ...

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