Mills, Samuel J.

views updated


American Congregationalist minister, who was instrumental in the development of the foreign mission movement in America and in other social and religious reforms; b. Torrington, Conn., April 21, 1783; d. at sea, June 16, 1818. The son of a Congregationalist pastor, he intended to be a farmer until he experienced a conversion (1801) and began to prepare for the ministry, with a view to overseas missionary work. He entered (1806) Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., where he soon influenced other students, culminating in the famous "haystack meeting" (1807), when several experienced a call to the missions. After graduation (1809), he studied briefly at Yale and entered Andover Seminary, Newton Centre, Mass. (1810), where, with some of his Williams College colleagues, he took steps leading to the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He worked for a time as a home missionary in the Mississippi Valley and published A Report of a Missionary Tour (1815). After ordination (1815), he turned his attention to the urban poor and the African Americans, founding the American Bible Society (1816) and associating himself with the newly formed American Colonization Society. As the latter's agent he visited Africa and purchased lands near Cape Mesurado as the site, to be called Liberia, for a settlement of African Americans. After contracting a fever, he died on the return passage.

Bibliography: g. spring, Memoir of the Rev. Samuel J. Mills (2d ed. New York 1829). t. c. richards, Samuel J. Mills (Boston 1906). j. tracy, History of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (2d ed. New York 1842). o. w. elsbree, Rise of the Missionary Spirit in America (Williamsport, Pa. 1928). p. j. staudenraus, The African Colonization Movement (New York 1961).

[r. k. macmaster]