Carey, William (1761-1834)
English Baptist Bible translator, pastor, and father of the Serampore mission
Born into an Anglican home in rural Northamptonshire, England, Carey was largely self-taught in geography and European languages. Drawing from the thinking of Baptist and Dissenting pastor-theologians in the Edwardsian tradition, such as Philip Doddridge, Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliff, he challenged the hyper-Calvinist view, prevalent among British Baptists, that God would bring the nations to Christ without human assistance. In 1792, as a young Baptist pastor in Leicester, he published An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792). This missiological pamphlet argued that Christians should undertake evangelistic missions overseas. Expecting “great things” from God, he urged the leaders of the Northampton Baptist Association to found a “society for propagating the gospel among the heathen.” Thus was a Particular Baptist voluntary society born in 1792 that became known as the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS).
Carey, the first Baptist missionary of the modern era, arrived in colonial Calcutta in November 1793 without any travel permits. His family managed to survive because he accepted employment as manager of an indigo plantation in the interior of Bengal. After missionary colleagues arrived from England in 1799, he moved to the Danish colonial enclave of Serampore, 13 miles up to the River Hooghly from Calcutta. There he spent the rest of his life with Joshua Marshman and William Ward in a unique partnership dubbed by mission promoters “the Serampore Trio.” A strange combination of stiff political opposition and unusual emoluments from the East India Company significantly shaped the nature and work of the mission Carey established at Serampore. He spent well over half his time working as a professor of Bengali and Sanskrit at Fort William College, Calcutta. In partnership with several veteran colleagues and scores of Indian pundits, he accomplished much in the areas of philology, Bible translation (into dozens of languages), Orientalism, literacy, education (founding Serampore College in 1818), publishing, technology, relief work, social reform, botany, evangelization, and mission promotion. During his last 20 years, he was stymied by rampant dissension between younger and veteran Baptist missionaries that led to a costly split between Serampore and the London-based BMS in 1827. He died like a humble patriarch and has been highly revered by generations of Bengalis for his contributions to the renaissance of their culture.
A. Christopher Smith, “Carey, William,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 115.
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.
Anderson, Rev. William. Kings of Society; or, Leaders of Social, Intellectual, and Religious Progress. London: Elliot Stock, 1866.
Barnes, Lemuel Call. Two Thousand Years of Missions before Carey, based upon and Embodying many of the Earliest Extant Accounts. 1900.
Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In Which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, Are Considered. Leicester: Ann Ireland, 1792.
Carey, William. Serampore Letters: Being the Unpublished Correspondence of William Carey and Others with John Williams, 1800-1816. Edited by Leighton and Mornay Williams; with an introd. by Thomas Wright.
Hervey, Rev. G. Winfred. The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands: From the Time of Carey to the Present Date. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barnes, 1884.
Holcomb, Helen H. Men of Might in India Missions; the leaders and their epochs, 1706-1899. New York, Chicago [etc.]: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1901.
Schirrmacher, Thomas. Be Keen to Get Going: William Carey’s Theology. Hamburg: Reformatorischer Verlag Beese, 2001. Online version is a resource of the World Evangelical Association.
Walsh, Right Rev. W. Pakenham. Modern Heroes of the Mission Field. New York, Chicago [etc.]: Fleming H. Revell Co., .
Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In Which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, Are Considered. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1961. Orig. Leicester: Ann Ireland, 1792.
_____. Dialogues Intended to Facilitate the Acquiring of the Bengalee Language. Serampore: Mission Press, 1818.
_____. Serampore Letters: Being the Unpublished Correspondence of William Carey and Others with John Williams, 1800-1816. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892.
De Jong, J. A. As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millenial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-American Missions, 1640-1810. n.p: J. H. Kok V. V. Kampen, 1970.
George, Timothy. Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey. Birmingham, AL: New Hope, 1991.
Marshman, John C. The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, Embracing the History of the Serampore Mission. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1859.
Mulholland, Kenneth B. “From Luther to Carey: Pietism and the Modern Missionary Movement.” Bibliotecha Sacra 156 (1999): 85-95.
_____. “Moravians, Puritans, and the Modern Missionary Movement.” Bibliotecha Sacra 156 (1999): 221-232.
Murray, Iain H. The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971.
_____. “William Carey: Climbing the Rainbow.” Evangelical Review of Theology 17 (1993): 355-368.
Myers, Travis. “Tracing a Theology of the Kingdom of God in William Carey’s Enquiry: A Case Study in Complex Mission Motivation as Component of ‘Missionary Spirituality.’” Missiology: An International Review 40 (2012): 37-47.
Nettles, Tom. The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming A Baptist Identity. Volume One: Beginnings in Britain. Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2005.
Nicholls, Bruce J. “The Theology of William Carey.” Evangelical Review of Theology 17 (1993): 369-380.
Oussoren, Aalbertinus Herman. William Carey, Especially His Missionary Principles. Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1945.
Payne, Ernest A. “Carey’s ‘Enquiry’.” Evangelical Review of Theology 17 (1993): 309-315.
_____. “Introduction.” In William Carey, Enquiry. Facsimile edition. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1961.
Piggin, Stuart. Making Evangelical Missionaries, 1789-1858. Abingdon: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1984.
Potts, E. Daniel. Baptist Missionaries in India, 1793-1837: The History of Serampore and Its Missions. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
Smith, A. Christopher. “The Spirit and Letter of Carey’s Catalytic Watchword: A Study in the Transmission of Baptist Tradition.” Baptist Quarterly 33 (1990): 226-237.
_____. “Willam Carey.” In Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, edited by Gerald H. Anderson et al. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994. Pp. 245-254.
Smith, George. The Life of William Carey, Shoemaker and Missionary. London: John Murray, 1887.
Stanley, Brian. The History of the Baptist Missionary Society 1792-1992. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992.
Travis, William. “William Carey: The Modern Missions Movement and the Sovereignty of God.” In The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will. 2 vols. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, 323-336. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995.
Van den Berg, Johannes. Constrained by Jesus’ Love: An Inquiry into the Motives of the Missionary Awakening in Great Britain in the Period between 1698 and 1815. Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1956.
Walker, F. Deaville. William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman. Chicago: Moody Press, 1960.
Walls, Andrew F. “Missionary Societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church.” In Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of the Faith, 241-254. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.
Winter, Ralph D. “William Carey’s Major Novelty.” Missiology: An International Review 22 (1994): 203-222.
The most complete electronic collection of Carey’s works is available on the web through William Carey University’s Center for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA.
Portrait #1: Public domain. Available at many websites.
Portrait #2: “William Carey as School Master.” From website of William Carey University (unattributed).