January 28, 2024

Adventism’s First Female Missionary

Ten years before the church sent its first official missionary, she was winning converts on the west coast of Africa.

Bill Knott

She is one of the lesser-known missionaries who carried the truths of Adventism across national boundaries in the decade before J. N. Andrews was officially sent by the General Conference in 1874 to launch the church’s mission in Europe.

Augustin and Daniel Bourdeau were evangelizing the French-speaking population of Quebec, Canada, by 1858. Adventist preacher Michael Czechowski sailed for Europe in May 1864, albeit under the banner of Sundaykeeping Millerite Adventists. In 1870 Jakob Erzberger was ordained and commissioned by the General Conference to do mission work in his native Switzerland.

Unlike the others, Hannah More (1809-1868) became an international missionary for the just-organized Seventh-day Adventist movement while already serving as an independent missionary in West Africa. Introduced to Seventh-day Adventism through conversations with the young evangelist Stephen Haskell just before returning to Africa in 1862, she was nurtured in her faith by copies of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review) that Haskell shipped to her on the coast of West Africa via monthly packet boat.

Raised in a devout Congregationalist family in Union, Connecticut, Hannah had for a decade petitioned the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to send her as a missionary to the Native Americans in present-day Oklahoma who had been forcibly exiled from the ancestral homelands in the American South by the Federal government. Seven years of missionary service among the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes, whose languages she learned, eventually led her to another seven-year stint with the repatriated Amistad survivors among the Mendi tribe in present-day Sierra Leone. There she again learned the regional languages.

During a five-year span (1857-1862) in the United States to recover her health and continue teaching, Hannah first met Stephen Haskell at an evangelistic meeting he staged in her home region in Connecticut. Fascinated by the ways in which Seventh-day Adventism united the Bible truths to which her personal study had led her, she “read herself into Adventism” through the pages of this journal.

Two letters by Hannah More to the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, both written from Liberia in 1864, are reproduced here. The spelling and punctuation of the originals have been preserved.

Advent Review and Sabbath Herald

March 29, 1864

We take the liberty to publish the following extract from a letter from a Missionary in Africa, to a sister in Mass., knowing that it will interest the readers of the Review, to learn that although no missionary has gone to Africa bearing the Sabbath, yet the Sabbath has gone to missionaries already there. Under date of Cape Palmas, West Africa, Jan. 2, 1864, she writes:

Thank God I now see clearly that the seventh-day is the Sabbath of the Lord my God, and am keeping it according to the commandment. Mr. Dickson also is keeping it. It is quite singular to keep it here.

I do not know of any others on the Coast who keep the seventh-day. But that is no proof against its authenticity. I only wonder that many good people reject the commandments of God by their traditions.

Your people may now consider that you have whole hearted Seventh-day Adventists here, waiting with you for that blessed appearing of him whom we love and adore, and purpose to worship evermore. Oh it will be delightful to see him as he is, to worship him aright, and cast our crowns at his feet. Oh how sublime to see the time near even at the door. So I will labor on and pray on and may God’s special blessing attend and prosper my feeble efforts in his vineyard. I trust you will sympathize with me in these efforts to glorify God and make ready a people prepared for his coming kingdom.

How I would love to recount to you all the way the Lord has led me, and how wedded I was to the traditions I was educated in, of keeping the first-day for the Sabbath. Oh, how hard I found it to decide against what good people had taught me, whose memories I still venerate. But all is over, and for some weeks I have been keeping with you the seventh-day.

How flimsy the excuse that days begin and end at different hours, in different parts of the earth. Our Heavenly Father knew this full well, when he appointed the Sabbath for a day of rest. Though the time here is four hours ahead of you, it furnishes no difficulty. The Jews never found any difficulty about the seventh-day Sabbath, and why should we? Difficulties have fled as they always do before true light.

We have here now warm summer weather. The birds are singing, frogs peeping, insects humming and flowers blooming, and all nature smiling. Man alone is vile. Oh what a pity that vile man should forbear while all nature sings.1

Advent Review and Sabbath Herald

October 11, 1864

Letter from Africa.

Sister H. More writes from Cape Palmas, Africa:

I feel quite lonely keeping the Sabbath by myself. I hope your society may do something toward a Sabbath-keeping mission in this part of Africa. I do not wonder there has not been a greater outpouring of the Spirit, when I think of the follies and traditions which have been set against the eternal truth of God. Oh, that the time might be hastened when all God’s people shall see eye to eye. I love the truth, and by it hope to be made free indeed. Till then I must labor in that sphere allotted me by a wise providence; and may I so labor that God’s blessing may ever attend and crown my efforts with abundant success. I ask no higher boon than to be wise to win souls. I know God can perfect strength even through my weakness, and in him I will put my trust, and on him cast my care. I know not what awaits me, but leaning on his potent arm I am safe.

Oh, how sublime is the looked-for event of his glorious advent. We hail with joy the harbingers of that event to which the eyes of God’s chosen ones are directed, believing “the wise will understand,” and since God will do nothing but he revealeth it to his servants the prophets, Amos iii, 7, I love to think that those who are watching and waiting, will know more than those who are careless or indifferent on so momentous a subject. I can thus see a reason why none of the wicked shall understand. How important to keep our lamps trimmed and lights burning, that when the Lord comes, we may be found ready. Let our conversation be in Heaven, from whence we look for the glorious appearing of the Son of man, who will change our vile bodies and make them like unto his glorious body.2

1 Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald 23, no. 18 (Mar. 29, 1864): 142.

2 Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald 24, no. 20 (Oct. 11, 1864): 155.