Parsons, Levi (1792-1822)
American missionary to the Near East
Born into a pastor’s family in Goshen, Massachusetts, Parsons manifested unusual piety in his youth and early felt a missionary call. He graduated from Middlebury College (1814) and from Andover Theological Seminary (1817) and was ordained by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions as a missionary in 1817. For two years he served as an effective missions promoter, soliciting contributions and organizing Palestine Societies, particularly among young people, for the support of a mission to be based in Jerusalem. The millennial hope of Israel’s conversion was widespread and sometimes took surprising forms: a group of New York Indians gave Parsons $5.87 and sent a message “to their forefathers in Jerusalem.” In a farewell service at Park Street Church, Boston, Parsons and his companion Pliny Fisk were given a generous mandate: Two great questions were to be ever in their minds, “What good can be done, and by what means?” for Jews, pagans, Mohammedans, and people in Egypt, Syria, Persia, Armenia, or other countries which they might investigate. Fisk and Parsons sailed in November 1819, arrived at Smyrna in January 1820, and went to the island of Scio, where they studied modern Greek. Then they toured Asia Minor, visiting the “seven churches of Asia” noted in the Book of Revelation, and distributing tracts and Testaments. At the end of 1820 Parsons went on to Jerusalem, the first Protestant missionary to enter with the intention of making that city his permanent base. He visited around the city, distributed tracts and Bibles, and talked with people from many places. His reports received much attention in America. In May 1821 Parsons left for Smyrna, suffering a serious illness en route, rejoined Fisk, and with him started again for Jerusalem via Egypt. At Alexandria, Parsons again took sick and died there.
David M. Stowe, “Parsons, Levi,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 517.
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.
Parsons, Levi. Memoir of Rev. Levi Parsons, First Missionary to Palestine from the United States: Containing Sketches of his Early Life and Education, His Missionary Labours in this Country, in Asia Minor and Judea, with an Account of his Last Sickness and Death. 2d ed. Also Extracts from a Farewell Address Delivered Before “The Society of Enquiry upon the Subject of Missions,” at Andover, September, 1817. Edited by Rev. Daniel O. Morton. Hartford: Cooke & Co. and Packard & Butler, 1830.
Parsons, Levi. The Dereliction and Restoration of the Jews: A Sermon, Preached in Park-Street Church, Boston, Sabbath, Oct. 31, 1819, Just Before the Departure of the Palestine Mission. Boston: Published by Samuel T. Armstrong, U. Crocker, printer, 1819.
_____. Memoir of Rev. Levi Parsons. Edited by Daniel Oliver Morton. Poultney, Vt.: Smith & Shute, 1824.
Tracy, Joseph. History of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Compiled Chiefly from the Published and Unpublished Documents of the Board. New York, M.W. Dodd, 1842. (the annual accounts summarize reports from Parsons and Fisk)
Parson’s obituary is in Missionary Herald 21 (1825): 265-268.