America's first foreign mission society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was organized by Congregationalists in Massachusetts in 1810. The United Church of Christ is commemorating the 200th anniversary of this predecessor to their global ministries, now called Wider Church Ministries.
Background The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was founded in 1810, the first organized missionary society in the United States. By the time of its centenary in 1910, the Board was responsible for 102 mission stations and a missionary staff of 600 in India, Ceylon, West Central Africa (Angola), South Africa and Rhodesia, Turkey, China, Japan, Micronesia, Hawaii, the Philippines, North American native American tribes, and the "Papal lands" of Mexico, Spain and Austria.
The Board's archive has an importance transcending church or missionary concerns. In particular, the voluminous letters of the missionaries from the field are fundamental sources for the history of the various places where the Board operated, as the Board's missionaries were often the first Westerners to document the languages and cultures of their hosts. Also included are records of organizations associated with the Board and miscellaneous manuscripts, largely personal papers and photographs of individuals connected with the Board. The archive is heavily used by scholars in history, anthropology, and linguistics, and by genealogists seeking details of their family history.
Located at the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the archive can be consulted by anyone conducting serious research; you do not need to have a Harvard ID. Full details about on-site access to the archive can be found at http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/houghton.
Contents lists of various parts of the archive—and, increasingly, digitized material--can be found on the Harvard University Library's website, OASIS http://oasis.harvard.edu. Choose the tab "Browse finding aids." In the "Jump to" box, enter: American Board. An overview of the archive is found in the second item listed, describing ABC 1-91. More detailed lists can be found there as well, for the African, North American Indian, and Pacific Islands missions.
In 1961 the American Board merged to form the United Church Board for World Missions (UCBWM). After 150 years, the American Board had sent out nearly 5000 missionaries to 34 different fields.
In 2000, the UCBWM evolved into Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. It continues to be involved in mission around the world through Global Ministries, in partnership with the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).