Wade, Jonathan (1798-1872) and Deborah [Lapham] (1801-1868)

American Baptist missionaries in Burma (Myanmar)

0900251h-020900251h-01Jonathan Wade was baptized at age 18 and enrolled as one of the first students at the Baptist Seminary, Hamilton, New York. He met his wife at the local church, which had an active missionary society. After graduating in 1822, he began to study Burmese. The Wades were the first missionaries to go from Hamilton, and they sailed to Burma with Ann Judson when she returned from furlough in 1823. In 1824 war with England broke out. Wade was arrested with other missionaries but released after one day. The Wades stayed in Calcutta for the duration of the war, working on a Burmese dictionary. In 1826 they returned to Burma and took in the daughter of Ann Judson (who had died not long after her husband’s release from prison). Moving to Moulmein, Deborah Wade freed girl slaves, opened day schools, and undertook evangelistic work while Jonathan worked on translations.

As religious interest emerged among the Karens, a tribal people, the Wades began itinerant evangelism in the jungles. Jonathan Wade devised a writing system for the Sgau Karen language and engaged in Bible translation. After a furlough in which they taught Burmese and Karen for a year to prospective missionaries, they returned in 1834 with a group of new missionaries. During the dry season, they conducted village evangelism, itinerating separately with junior missionaries. Deborah gave Bible instruction and did medical work, and Jonathan examined and baptized the candidates she trained. During the rainy season, she taught school and did translation work. After the death of Adoniram Judson, they took over the Moulmein mission, returning to settled work among the Burmese. Jonathan directed ministerial education for a decade and continued his translations. The crown of his work was a five-volume Sgau Karen dictionary. The Wades died in Burma.

Dana L. Robert, “Wade, Jonathan and Deborah (Lapham),” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 711-12.

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.


Deborah Wade’s correspondence with her family from 1850 to 1863 is held by the American Baptist Historical Society in Rochester, N.Y.

Digital Primary

Sau Kao-Too and J. Wade. Thesaurus of Karen Knowledge Comprising Traditions, Legends or Fables, Poetry, Customs, Superstitions, Demonology, Therapeutics, Etc. Tavoy: Karen Mission Press, 1843.

Wade, J. The Anglo-Karen Dictionary. Revised and completed by Mrs. J. P. Binney. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1883.

Wade, J. A Dictionary of the Sgau Karen Language. Recompiled and revised by E. B. Cross. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1896.

Wade, J. Karen Vernacular Grammar. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1897.

Wade, J. A Vocabulary of the Sgau Karen Language. Tavoy: Karen Mission Press, 1849.


Wade, Deborah B. L. The Burman Slave Girl. Boston: J. Loring’s Sabbath School Book-Store, 1828.

_____. Mrs. Wade’s Letter Missionary in India, on Self Denial and a Devoted Life. New York: James Van Valkenbourgh, 1831.

Digital Secondary

Wyeth, Walter N. The Wades: A Memorial. Philadelphia, Penn.: s.n., 1891.


The images are from Walter N. Wyeth’s The Wades: A Memorial. Philadelphia, Penn.: s.n., 1891.