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The Grave of Judson Collins - First Methodist Missionary to China

Judson Collins

by Ronald A. Brunger
(from the Historical Messenger, May 1979)

Location:  Washtenaw County - The grave and gravestone for Rev. Judson Collins, the first Methodist missionary of the former Methodist Episcopal Church to be selected for missionary service in China, is found in a picturesque little family cemetery on the farm on which he was brought up in the hills north of Chelsea.   Proceed northwest from Chelsea on M-52 about 6 miles to Ropeke Road, turn north (right) about 2 1/2 miles to a sign Judson Collins grave.  Turn right and walk a primitive roadway through a field 1/8 mile to the little farm cemetery overlooking Joslin Lake to the east.

Judson Dwight Collins, the son of Alpheus and Betsy Hall Collins, was born in Rose, Wayne Co., N.Y., Feb. 12, 1823.  He was one of a family of eight children (7 boys & 1 girl), all of whom had biblical or missionary names.  Four of the sons went into the Methodist ministry; three of them became missionaries.  In 1830 Alpheus Collins and his oldest son, Wellington, then 14, came to Michigan Territory and built a cabin here and prepared the way for the family. The rest of the family arrived at their new home in Lyndon Township, Washtenaw County, some 25 miles northwest of Ann Arbor in 1831.

The family became a pious Methodist family.  Judson's older brother, Wellington, was converted at a camp meeting in Washtenaw County in 1835, and began to prepare for the ministry.  At the age of 14, Judson made a profession of faith during a revival led by Elijah H. Pilcher in the Methodist Church in Ann Arbor.  In 1841 at the age of 18, the University of Michigan was established under religious auspices, and Judson entered the opening class. Students were required to attend chapel each morning before breakfast.  Always deeply religious, Judson was given an assignment to write a paper on a missionary theme.  He wrote on Henry Martyn, early missionary to India, whose tragic life foreshadowed his own.  Judson had planned to become a minister, following the example of his three older brothers -­ Wellington, Walter, and Isaac.  Now he determined to be a missionary.

Judson Collins graduated with the first graduating class of eleven from the University of Michigan on Aug.6, 1845.  The academic procession marched to the Presbyterian Church. Governor John Berry was there, as were the Judges of the state Supreme Court, the Regents, other state officials and clergymen.  It was a great occasion for our young state.  The program opened and closed with prayer; a student choir sang selection of sacred music, and each graduate made a speech.

When Collins graduated, he started his diary "Today I took sorrowful leave of many of my old schoolmates, never perhaps to see them again...college days are forever past.  The world is before me.  I must endeavor by divine will to fulfill well my part in it."

Collins had been writing church readers offering his services, asking to open the field in China.  Told that there was no financial support for such a mission, Collins wrote Bishop Edmund S. Janes just before graduation "Engage me a place before the mast.  My own strong arm will pull me to China and support me while there."  Such was his determination and dedication.

On Oct.8, 1845, Judson Collins joined the first teaching staff of the Wesleyan Seminary at Albion (later Albion College).  He taught a wide range of subjects, preached on the Tompkins Circuit, taught a Sunday School class, and conducted prayer meetings.

In October 1846, Judson Collins was named as the first Methodist missionary to China. Early in 1847 Moses C. White was appointed as the second.  On April 15, Collins with White and his bride, set sail on the ship "Heber".  They reached Foochow, China, in early September.
In China, the missionaries had a difficult task, learning the language and overcoming the hostility of the people.  Within a year, Collins was preaching in Chinese.  Early in 1848, he opened a school and began the first Sunday School.  Mrs. White died, then in Jan. 1849, Collins became critically ill with typhus fever.  More missionaries arrived.  In 1850, Collins was made superintendent of the mission.   It was soon evident that his health was failing and he was forced to leave his beloved China on April 23, 1851.

He arrived back in Michigan for the annual conference session in Monroe.   On Missionary Day, as Dr. James Watson was speaking of the work of Collins, the pale, gaunt young missionary dramatically walked in. Two of his brothers embraced him tearfully and wordlessly, realizing at a glance that he had come home to die.  Judson Collins passed away May 13, 1852, in his boyhood farm home.  He had literally given his life for the cause of Christ.

The writer of his memoir in the 1852 Michigan Conference Minutes, made this pledge: "While the truth and love of Christ dwell within us, in our heart of hearts we will remember THEE, Judson Dwight Collins.  Thy name shall not perish, and thy beloved China shall be redeemed!"

Also in the little family cemetery, the visitor can find the grave of Judson's brother Walter D. Collins.  He served as a missionary working with the Indians of the southwest, in the Arkansas and Indian Mission Conferences from 1842 to 1852, when he located evidently because of poor health.  He evidently worked with the Chokee, Seneca, Creek, and Choctaw Indian tribes.  The third Collins family preacher burled here is Wellington H. Collins, (1816-58). He began preaching on the Farmington Circuit in 1837.  He rose to prominence in Michigan Methodism.  He was Presiding Elder of the Ann Arbor District (1849-52), pastor of the Woodward Avenue Church in Detroit, and Presiding Elder of the Detroit District (1854-1859); and was twice a delegate to General Conference.  Jane Doerr, our archivist at Bay View, discovered a small oval oil portrait of Rev. W. H. Collins in 1975.  The fourth preacher brother, Rev. Isaac Foster Collins, served with the Indians in the Southwest from 1841 to 1846, in the Michigan Conference for several years and then returned to the Indians in the southwest and the Arkansas Conference in 1853.  He died at Oskaloosa, Kansas, Apr. 26, 1862, and so is not buried in this Collins family shrine.