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Rufus Anderson Edit Profile


Rufus Anderson was an American minister who spent several decades organizing overseas missions.


Rufus Anderson was born in North Yarmouth, Maine, on August 17, 1796. His father, also named Rufus Anderson, was Congregationalist pastor of the church in North Yarmouth. His mother was Hannah Parsons.


Graduate Bowdoin College, 1818, honorary Doctor of Laws 1866. Graduate Andover Theological Seminary, 1822. Honorary Doctor of Divinity, Dartmouth, 1836.


He worked at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) as an assistant while studying at Andover. In 1822 he applied to go to India but was asked to remain at headquarters and later appointed assistant secretary. In 1832 he was given total responsibility for overseas work.

Missions were for:\r\n converting lost men,\r\n organising them into churches,\r\n giving these churches a competent native ministry,\r\n conducting them to the stage of independence and (in most cases) of self-propagation. Anything beyond this, he felt, was secondary. He also prohibited any mission becoming engaged with a government or engaging in any kind of business.

He advocated cooperation with other societies to avoid the waste of people and money. To Anderson, civilisation was not a legitimate aim of the mission but would come as an impact of the gospel, this went against the nature of mission in his time which started with civilisation of the natives. The missionary was not to be a pastor or ruler but an evangelist, moving on to the next place as soon as possible.

Their business was with unbelievers, not believers. The society existed solely to help the missionary discharge their duty rather than making them a servant. Native ministers were to be the spiritual leaders.

Though there is dispute as to who wrote about the idea first, the "three-self" method is attributed to both Anderson and Henry Venn. They both wrote about the need for creating churches in the missions field that were self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. He published several books, as well as many articles in The Missionary Herald.

He traveled to the Hawaiian Islands in 1863 after crossing the Panama Canal, described the trip in a book, and after retiring in 1866 wrote a history of the missions there.


  • Other Work

    • Editor, Missionary Herald (organ of America Board Foreign Missions), 1822, later editor-in-chief for a time. Assistant to secretary, American Board Foreign Missions, 1822-1824, assistant secretary, 1824-1832, correspondent secretary, 1832-1866. Lecturer Andover Theological Seminary, 1867-1869.

      A founder Mount Holyoke Seminary, 1837. A founder American Oriental Society, 1842. An organizer Hanover Street Church, Boston.

      Author: Irish Missions in the Early Ages, 1839. Missions in the Levant, 1860. A History of the Missions of the American Board of Foreign Missions, 5 vols., 1872.


Married Eliza Hill, January 8, 1827. Children: Henry Hill, Edward, Sarah, Mary, William Porter.

Rufus Anderson

Hannah (Parsons) Anderson

Eliza Hill

William Porter Anderson

Henry Hill Anderson

Edward Anderson

Mary Anderson

Sarah Anderson