William Carey (missionary)

William Carey
William Carey.jpg
Missionary to India
Born(1761-08-17)17 August 1761
Paulerspury, England
Died9 June 1834(1834-06-09) (aged 72)
Serampore, West Bengal, India

William Carey (17 August 1761 – 9 June 1834) was a British Christian missionary, Particular Baptist minister, translator, social reformer and cultural anthropologist who founded the Serampore College and the Serampore University, the first degree-awarding university in India.[1]

He went to Kolkata, West Bengal, India in 1793, but was forced to leave the British Indian territory by non-Baptist Christian missionaries.[2] He joined the Baptist missionaries in the Danish colony of Frederiksnagar in India (Serampore). One of his first contributions was to start schools for impoverished children where they were taught reading, writing, accounting and Christianity.[3] He opened the first theological university in Serampore (India) offering divinity degrees,[4][5] and campaigned to end the practice of sati.[6]

Carey is known as the "father of modern missions."[7] His essay, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, led to the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society.[2][8] The Asiatic Society commended Carey for “his eminent services in opening the stores of Indian literature to the knowledge of Europe and for his extensive acquaintance with the science, the natural history and botany of this country and his useful contributions, in every branch.”[9]

He translated the Hindu classic, the Ramayana, into English,[10] and the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit.[2] William Carey has been called a reformer and illustrious Christian missionary.[11][12][13]

Early life

William Carey's motto on a hanging in St James' Church, Paulerspury, Northamptonshire, which Carey attended as a boy
Memorial plaque in St James' Church, Paulerspury, Northamptonshire, which Carey attended as a boy

William Carey, the oldest of 5 children, was born to Edmund and Elizabeth Carey, who were weavers by trade, in the hamlet of Pury End in the village of Paulerspury, Northamptonshire.[14][15] William was raised in the Church of England; when he was six, his father was appointed the parish clerk and village schoolmaster. As a child he was naturally inquisitive and keenly interested in the natural sciences, particularly botany. He possessed a natural gift for language, teaching himself Latin.

At the age of 14, Carey's father apprenticed him to a cordwainer in the nearby village of Piddington, Northamptonshire.[16] His master, Clarke Nichols, was a churchman like himself, but another apprentice, John Warr, was a Dissenter. Through his influence Carey would eventually leave the Church of England and join with other Dissenters to form a small Congregational church in nearby Hackleton. While apprenticed to Nichols, he also taught himself Greek with the help of a local villager who had a college education.[citation needed]

When Nichols died in 1779, Carey went to work for the local shoemaker, Thomas Old; he married Old's sister-in-law Dorothy Plackett in 1781 in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Piddington. Unlike William, Dorothy was illiterate; her signature in the marriage register is a crude cross. William and Dorothy Carey had seven children, five sons and two daughters; both girls died in infancy, as well as son Peter, who died at the age of 5. Thomas Old himself died soon afterward, and Carey took over his business, during which time he taught himself Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French, often reading while working on his shoes.[citation needed]

Carey acknowledged his humble origins and referred to himself as a cobbler (one who repairs shoes). However, the local community often knew him by the higher status of a shoemaker (or "cordwainer"). John Brown Myers entitled his biography of Carey William Carey the Shoemaker Who Became the Father and Founder of Modern Missions.

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