- Williams, John
- ( 1796-1839 )pioneer missionary to the South PacificJohn Williams was born at Tottenham High Cross, London, England, in 1796 and apprenticed to an ironmonger as a youth. He joined the Moorfields Tabernacle, a church established by George Whitefield in the previous century, and in 1814 offered himself to the London Missionary Society (LMS) as a missionary for the South Seas. He was ordained a Congregationalist minister and married shortly before sailing.After a long trip, he arrived at Moorea in the Society Islands in 1817. He settled in Huahine in 1818 but left in a disagreement with certain LMS policies and launched work on Raiatea. He learned the language, and in 1821 purchased a schooner, the Endeavour, to extend his missionary work to other islands. He introduced Protestantism to the Hervey Islands and visited the islands of Rurutu and Rimatara in 1823.In 1827, Williams visited Raratonga, in the southern Cook Islands, and while there translated part of the Bible into Rarotongan; he also built a new boat, the Messenger of Peace, to further extend his work. While in Tonga, in 1830 he negotiated an important agreement with the British Methodist leadership on a division of labor to prevent competition among the different missionary agencies then at work in the Pacific region. In 1834, he sailed to England, where he oversaw the publication of his Rarotongan New Testament by the British and Foreign Bible Society. He took the opportunity to publish an account of his work, speak widely on the mission cause, and raise the funds to buy a new ship.Williams returned to the South Seas and continued to found new LMS mission stations. In 1839, while traveling in the New Hebrides, he landed at Erromanga in what is now the nation of Vanuatu. The island's residents attacked his group, and he was among those killed.Williams was widely revered as a martyr for the missionary cause. Over the years, no fewer than seven LMS mission ships were named after him.See also South Pacific.Further reading:■ Cecil Northcott, South Seas Sailor: the Story of John Williams and His Ships (Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1965)■ Basil Mathews, John Williams the Shipbuilder (London: Humphrey Milford, 1915, 1947)■ John Williams, Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands (London: John Snow, 1839).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.