With the influx of black experience movies that have come out in the past few years, I’ve come to realize that it’s imperative that some stories be told. Unfortunately, many of the stories that need to be told are untraveled journeys, lost in the depths of uncharted territories. The lives of faithful minority saints that precede us get forgotten in the shadows others.
Until a year ago, I wasn’t aware that black missionaries existed. I hoped they did, but they were faceless and nameless in my heart and mind.
In the grand narrative of the gospel story, these vantage points of the drama that continues to unfold before us will give us a more comprehensive view of our Savior. The life of Betsey Stockton is one seat in the auditorium of those watching the awe-inspiring narrative of the gospel transpire.
Born A Slave
God knew Betsey Stockton before she was born, and her being born a slave was no accidental mishap or typo by the Author.
She was born a slave in 1798 in Princeton, New Jersey. Her owner, Robert Stockton, was a well-known and respected attorney in the Princeton area. When Betsey was young, Robert gave her to his eldest daughter Elizabeth and her husband Ashbel Green, a Presbyterian Minister.
Records indicate that Ashbel Green, was quite fond of Betsey. She was included in the family prayers and was educated by Dr. Green, which was unusual of this time. It was in Green’s living room that Betsey first began to hear the truth of the gospel.
When Betsey was 14 years old, Dr. Green became the eighth President of The College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). During Green’s tenure, there was a spiritual revival at the college, influencing many of the students. One student, Eliphalet Gilbert, began sharing his faith with Betsey. As a result of Gilbert’s faithful labor, Betsey was born again at the age of 18. She was publically baptized, admitted to the Lord’s table and became a member of The First Presbyterian Church (today known as Nassau Church Presbyterian Church).
Soon after coming to faith, she was legally manumitted by Dr. Green.
“They are men and have souls…”
As Betsey walked with the Lord, she developed a heart for the nations. She first heard about the opportunity to labor for the gospel in Hawaii (then known as The Sandwich Islands), from Princeton seminary student, Charles Stewart. Charles was converted during Green’s tenure at The College of New Jersey.
On September 3, 1821, when Betsey was 23 years old, Dr. Green wrote to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM)—the first North American Christian missions organization— recommending Stewart and Betsey as missionary candidates. They agreed that Betsey would join the Stewart family; however, her role on the team, as stated in the ABCFM records, was quite ambiguous, as she was joining the team “neither as a servant nor an equal, but as a humble Christian friend.”
Although her title was obscure, on November 19, 1822, Betsey, Charles and Harriet Stewart, eleven other missionaries and four native islanders set sail for Hawaii. Five months later, in April 1823, after a long and difficult journey, the team settled on Maui. Upon arriving to Hawaii, she quotes in her journal: “Are these, thought I, the beings with whom I must spend the remainder of my life? They are men and have souls-- was the reply of my conscious.”
Betsey’s greatest contribution was as a teacher. She helped open the first school on the island for commoners, who were predominately farmers. She learned their language and taught English, Latin, History and Algebra.
The Return Home
Due to Mrs. Stewart’s poor health, Betsey returned to the U.S. with the Stewart family in 1826. In 1829 (age 31), Betsey spent a few months teaching at a school for Native American children in Canada with a Methodist missionary, Mr. William Case.
In 1833 (age 35), Betsey moved back to Princeton, NJ. In the mid-1830s, First Presbyterian Church, Betsey’s first home church, experienced much racial tension. This caused the black members of the church to separate and form a new church a few blocks away called Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
One of the first woman teachers at Witherspoon, Cecilia Can Tyne, went to Rio de Janeiro in 1848 having been influenced by Betsey. After finishing the race, Betsey was called home October 24, 1865 in Princeton, NJ.
Consider the Saints of Old
1. How is God's sovereignty over Betsey's life evident in her story?
2. What do you learn or are reminded of about God's character from Betsey's life?
3. What is a theme verse you would use to sum up the life of Betsey Stockton?
SharDavia Bell graduated from Radford University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She now lives in Lynchburg, VA where she works full-time with Campus Outreach, a college ministry that is passionate about “glorifying God by building laborers on the campus for the lost world”.