Mills, Samuel John, Jr. (1783-1818)

Prime mover in the founding of the first foreign mission societies in North America

Mills led in the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the American Bible Society, the United Foreign Missionary Society, and a number of other missionary and benevolent organizations. Son of a Congregational pastor in Connecticut, he learned stories of missionary pioneers from his mother. He was one of five participants in the famous 1806 Williams College “haystack prayer meeting” that soon led to the beginning of a secret missionary fraternity called the Society of Brethren, the first Protestant foreign missions organization in America. After he enrolled in Andover Theological Seminary, the society’s membership grew to include not only Gordon Hall and Luther Rice, companions from Williams College, but also Samuel Nott, Samuel Newell, and Adoniram Judson. In 1801, four of these, including Mills, appeared before the Congregational General Association of Massachusetts and offered themselves to be foreign missionaries. The ABCFM was formed the next day. In February 1812, Judson, Newell, Nott and their wives, together with Hall and Rice, sailed for India, the first foreign missionaries to be sent from North America. Why Mills was not also sent is unclear, but apparently he was needed more in the United States to promote the cause to which he was so committed.

Always involved in multiple projects and activities, Mills engaged for a time in missionary work in the Mississippi valley and later among the poor and destitute in New York City. Returning in 1818 from a journey to West Africa, where he and a colleague had been sent by the America Colonization Society to locate a site for the repatriation of freed African-American slaves, Mills died at sea. He was only 35. Though distinguished neither in appearance nor as an orator, Mills was a natural leader. During his brief lifetime he inspired, as few others, individuals, churches, and denominations to be part of the world mission endeavor.

Alan Neely, “Mills, Samuel John, Jr.,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 460.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Eddy, George Sherwood. Pathfinders of the World Missionary Crusade. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1945. Pp. 37-40.

Richards, Thomas C. Samuel J. Mills. Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1906.

Spring, Gardiner. Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel J. Mills. New York: Evangelical Missionary Society, J. Seymour Printer, 1820.

A biographical sketch of Samuel J. Mills.

A reprint of an article, “The Haystack Prayer Meeting In Depth,” written by Edward Warren Capen, PH.D., president of the American Board of Commission­ers for Foreign Missions, now Global Ministries, and published in 1906 as part of the Centennial.

A biographical sketch of Samuel J. Mills taken from Hewitt, John H. Williams College and Foreign missions. Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1914.