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@ElizaBTweetin: June 1, 1873: The Madura Mission

Posted on May 29, 2014

Today Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton attended a Seminary concert to benefit the Madura Mission, paying five dollars for her ticket. The Ceylon Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions founded the Madura Mission in 1834 for the Tamil people of South India (the Tamils of South India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka] share the same language and religion). Separate schools for boys and girls taught classes in both English and the vernacular language.  Medical aid and evangelical activities were equally important.

Madura Mission staff, 1866. William Capron is at the lower right.

Madura Mission's male staff, 1866. William Capron is at the lower right.

Two of the Madura missionaries were William Banfield Capron and his wife Sarah Hooker Capron.  William was born in 1824 in Uxbridge, MA, where the Capron and Chapin families may have been neighbors: his brother Samuel Mills Capron married Eunice Maria Chapin (1832-?) in 1854 and moved to Hartford, CT. Educated at Phillips Academy, Yale (1848), and Andover Theological Seminary, (1856), William was ordained as an Evangelist. He gained teaching experience as a private tutor in Baltimore, and the Principal of Hopkins Grammar School in Hartford, Conn. for six years.

William’s wife, Sarah Brown Hooker, was born in 1828 in Lanesboro, MA, to the Rev. Henry Brown Hooker, D.D., and Martha Chickering Hooker. The family moved to Falmouth, MA, and Sarah attended Wheaton Seminary in 1844-46 as a Junior and Senior. She married William Capron in 1856; two months after they married, the Caprons sailed to Ceylon, India as missionaries. Arriving in Madras in March 1857, they worked in Tirupuvanum and Mana Madura for the next sixteen years, during which time they had three children.

During a leave in America that lasted from 1872 to 1875, Mrs. Capron visited Mrs. Wheaton for a few days in May and again on June 1, 1873. The family returned to the mission in January 1875, but the Reverend Capron died of heart disease in October 1876. The February 1877 issue of The Missionary Herald included an account of the Rev. Capron's death, and a letter written by Mrs. Capron twenty days after the death of her husband:

I am here alone, eighteen miles from my nearest neighbors….I am staying on here until the end of the year. I could not leave the people so suddenly. It is impressive to receive visits from people from all parts of the district…. Their sincere kindness and sympathy I could not have divined….I seem to see it to be the will of God that I should stay on in India. My consecration of myself to the missionary work was made even before my husband’s; and my heart was never more eager for a share in India’s redemption than now. I am better for the shining record of his simple faith, steadfastness of purpose, and determination to endure to the end. I think he would wish me to stay. The medical work in Madura is my first choice, and for the present I can add the oversight of the girls’ day schools in the city. I can enter upon this work with a feeling that I shall find my way among the higher castes, as I have done here, at Mana Madura.

Sarah Capron remained in India for ten years, returning to America in 1886, where she remained active in religious work until her death in 1919. According to the Rushlight, she again visited Wheaton in 1891, speaking to the students about women missionary workers.  At a January 1890 meeting of the New England Wheaton Seminary Club Sarah read a paper called "A Chapter of 'Wheaton Chronicles' written in 1844" (how I wish we had that paper!).  She spent the winter of 1894 in Boston, at which time she became a member of the New England Wheaton Club.

The papers of both William and Sarah Capron are available at the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston.

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