Stories: by Person: C

Tarleton Perry and Martha Foster Crawford

1821 ~ 1902
1830 ~ 1909

Tarleton Perry (T. P.) Crawford and Martha Foster both felt individually called to be missionaries in China when they were still single. Both, however, were told by the Foreign Mission Board that they should marry before undertaking such a task. When T. P. told the secretary of the board that he did not have anyone in mind he could marry, the secretary showed him a letter that Martha Crawford’s pastor had written asking about the possibility of her appointment as a single woman. After reading the letter, T. P. set out for Alabama in February of 1851 to inquire of the pastor the name of the remarkable woman he had described.

On February 16, 1851, T. P. finally met Martha Foster, and he asked her about accompanying him to China. Foster went home to discuss the matter with her parents and siblings, and after ten days, Foster and Crawford decided not to marry since they did not love each other and believed marriage ought to be more than a business transaction. Crawford left Foster’s hometown to give her more time to evaluate her emotions. When he returned, they both decided that they had no personal objections to each other and that they were experiencing the beginnings of mutual attachment, which they must develop in the future. They felt that this gave them enough reason for a speedy marriage.

Although Foster suffered strong feelings of doubt about her decision and frequently wept in the days leading up to their wedding, Foster and Crawford were married on March 12, 1951, at Foster’s home. The couple then departed almost immediately for New Orleans, Tennessee, and Kentucky, where they acquired necessities for their life in China. On November 17, 1951, the couple set out for China from New York, aboard the Horatio. After 102 days at sea, they finally arrived in Hong Kong, where they stayed briefly before making the final leg of their journey to Canton. They arrived at their mission station in Shanghai on March 30, 1852, where they lived with another missionary family for two months.

One of the first struggles the Crawfords experienced was learning the Chinese language. Martha picked up the language much more quickly than T. P., which caused him to resent her. Although he studied hard for many months, he made very slow progress and became discouraged. His health suffered, and he became bitter because of his feelings of inferiority to his wife. Fortunately, by 1853, Crawford came to a point where his spoken Chinese was good enough to preach, although he still struggled with the written language.

T. P. found little success preaching in the streets of Shanghai, so he turned to the countryside, where he spoke to farmers. Crawford found ways to raise money to supplement his and Martha’s salaries by giving English lessons to local businessmen and renting out property, having become a real estate agent also. Meanwhile, Martha hired several Chinese teachers and conducted a small girls’ school in their house where she paid her students to attend. One of her teachers became the first permanent member, and later pastor, of the Shanghai Baptist Church. Martha also spent time sharing the gospel with Chinese women in their homes.

In 1863, the real estate business began to decline and T. P. contracted cholera. Martha developed liver trouble, and the Crawfords decided to leave Shanghai for someplace healthier. T. P. also felt that he had not been able to make much of a difference during his eleven years in Shanghai. The established church there had been run by his senior colleagues, and T. P. did most of his work on the fringes. These reasons led them to move to Shandong, a newly opened mission field where T. P. expected he could pastor his own flock and win souls for Christ.

When they arrived in Tengchow (Dengzhou), they found that Jesse (J. B.) and Eliza Hartwell, another missionary couple, had already established a church there. The Hartwells left town in 1864, however, and T. P. became pastor of Tengchow Baptist Church. There, he conducted eight new baptisms in two years. When Hartwell returned in December of 1865, T. P. went back to being an assistant, a role he did not enjoy. The Crawfords were living in the Hartwell home, and the two couples began to experience conflict. They decided the best thing would be for the Crawfords to find another house and church.

As the community had a strict ban on leasing any more houses to foreigners, Crawford had his Chinese assistant rent a house and sublet it to him. An uproar resulted, and Crawford was physically prevented from taking occupancy. He appealed to the American consul for help. Things came to a head one day when the consul helped Crawford raise an American flag over his property. In the ensuing chaos, Crawford even drew a gun, though he did not use it. Eventually, the crowds retreated and Crawford was finally able to move into his house. The home was large enough for Crawford to hold church services there, and he called his new establishment Monument Street Baptist Church.

Martha used the house to lead a weekly Bible study for women and to teach simple remedies for the sick. Her Bible study became so popular that she began conducting daily sessions. She also held a weekly prayer meeting and visited women door-to-door. During these visits, she would provide medical advice from books she had brought to China. Martha and a companion, often Lottie Moon, would sometimes go on short journeys to rural areas to present the gospel to the women there.

Crawford resumed his street preaching, but finding no more success than in Shanghai, he again turned to the rural areas. In the nearby market towns, T. P. experienced a friendlier reception. In 1867, T. P. gained his first real convert in Shandong, a schoolteacher named Sun Chang Lung. Sun presented nineteen friends and family members for baptism over the next several years, two of whom became the first deacons of Crawford’s church. Crawford claimed twenty-two baptisms from this first year of his country evangelism, leading the Foreign Mission Board to agree that his work looked promising.

Martha, meanwhile, wrote a book on Foreign Cookery in Chinese. When she finished it, she asked T. P. if she could start a small boarding school for boys in their home. T. P. replied that he thought missionaries should only do straight preaching, not education, but he allowed the school on the condition that he would not have to be personally involved in any way. Martha’s school began with six boys in 1867 and grew to fourteen over the next two years.

As the school prospered, T. P. became one of its biggest supporters. He claimed a connection between his wife’s work and his access to her pupils’ country villages. He also saw that educational services seemed to quell hostility and be viewed favorably. T. P.’s church was also growing in numbers, and the Crawfords felt that their work’s future prospects were encouraging.

During the late 1860s, Crawford began looking for opportunities to profit from his work in Tengchow, as he had in Shanghai. He tried to recruit local farmers for contract labor in America and started investigating a rumored coal deposit in the hills between Chefoo (Yantai) and Tengchow (Dengzhou). He tested minerals and rented a hill, hiring men to dig in it. His diggings upset the Chinese, who claimed he was disturbing ancestral graves and asked the district magistrate to stop Crawford. The magistrate had Crawford’s assistant (who was supervising the excavations) arrested. Crawford was advised by the U.S. Legation to drop the matter and give up the project. Although Crawford resisted initially, eventually he decided to heed this counsel.

Following this incident, Crawford began to disagree with some of the Chinese leaders in his congregation. He had two of them dismissed from the church on trumped up charges. Crawford’s inability to get along with other people presented a major problem for him, as his church desperately needed Chinese in the church leadership, and he excluded two of his most active and energetic leaders.

Crawford and Hartwell continued to have difficulties as well. The Hartwells refused to come to any events where the Crawfords were present, to the embarrassment of the foreign community. They competed to gain converts out of a desire simply to best the other. After Eliza Hartwell died in childbirth in 1870, J. B. Hartwell took his four children home to America early the next year. He refused, however, to allow Crawford to be placed in charge of his church and instead ordained his assistant.

In this disagreement, the sympathies of the Foreign Mission Board lay with Crawford rather than Hartwell, as Crawford was forthright with his opposition to Hartwell while Hartwell slyly undermined Crawford and any other missionary who sided with him. Crawford was also a strong proponent of making his church in China self-supporting (which the Foreign Mission Board supported in theory if not in practice) while Hartwell poured money into his church.
Crawford’s church was struggling with internal disputes, so he began trying to save what was left of his church and to get it back in order. His congregation was experiencing a general decline in religious sentiment and in warmhearted feelings towards one another.

Resignations abounded, with many members saying that they felt that Crawford was hypocritical. He refused to lend money to eight country men who were struggling due to the failure of their wheat crop, claiming that the men were not in real need but only trying to increase their affluence. Seeing the contrast between Crawford’s comfortable lifestyle and that of the eight men angered many of his church members and caused a great rift between Crawford and the Sun family, who for years had been among his strongest supporters. As Crawford lost many of his members, he could not find new ones to replace them. His opponents would not let him evangelize in their villages, and Crawford lost many of his evangelist helpers by refusing to support them financially.

Martha Crawford’s school for boys gave rise to another problem. A decade old, the school was a definite success: enrollment had reached twenty, the curriculum had expanded, and some of her original pupils were now teaching the younger boys. T. P. began to believe that the school was taking too much of Martha’s attention, however. By 1876, his enthusiasm for education had diminished, and he felt that Martha should do more strictly evangelical work with him. Crawford was also upset that one of Martha’s older students, whom she was grooming to take over her school as head teacher, was critical of Crawford’s pastoral style. He decided to take Martha on an extended trip to Japan, where they adopted two English orphans. Crawford hoped these children would distract Martha’s attention away from her pupils.

In 1877, Crawford dismissed Sun Chang Lung from his church, believing Sun had become too proud. Crawford also pushed to cut the educational program by implementing a progressive pay scale for the students’ tuition and by cutting teachers’ salaries. Meanwhile, Crawford rejoiced that Hartwell’s old church had to be closed down due to a lack of funding. He moved to take over the assets and property of Hartwell’s church and merge it with his own. Back home, Hartwell renewed his attacks on Crawford’s character, but the Foreign Mission Board grew tired of reading his charges against Crawford and reprimanded him.
By 1878, Martha and T. P. were beginning to experience a rift between one another. Crawford insisted to Martha that it was due to her absorption in her educational work and demanded that she close her school. Martha was distraught over having to choose between her husband and her school. T. P. was also in great distress and was suddenly seized with an attack of numbness in May, increasing to the point of real paralysis in his legs. In June, Crawford fled from Tengchow (Dengzhou), leaving Martha behind with no idea of where he had gone.

That fall, Martha discovered T. P. was in San Francisco. Not having been home in twenty years, Crawford was feeling lonely and out of touch with American life. He also lamented his lack of mental companionship in China. In December, Crawford headed for the East coast, where he traveled between major cities, lecturing on “The Races of Men” and related missionary matters. Crawford’s furlough home was rewarding and refreshing. In the spring of 1879, he received a Doctorate of Divinity from Richmond College, and he was thanked by the Foreign Mission Board for his conduct in his difficulties with Hartwell.

Crawford returned to China with renewed vigor, released from his numbness and energized by a new perspective on his career. He was determined to build a new and better church. In Tengchow, Crawford found that his wife’s school was thriving, despite the new fee system, and that his mission’s identity had come to be centered around its educational program. In addition to his wife’s school, two other schools were open, with Lottie Moon teaching in one of them. A total of fifty-seven pupils attended the three schools. Three of the graduates from Martha’s school had become Christian teachers themselves, and the student she had been grooming (Kwo Yu Yoong) had become the head teacher in her school.

Crawford was greatly concerned about this new development. He soon began to pressure Martha to shut down her school entirely, insisting that schools were simply a kind of bribe to draw mercenary converts. Martha began trying to make compromises with her husband, reducing her school time and giving up her medical practice. She used the extra time to study the Bible with her husband for an hour each day and to increase her rural evangelistic work. She preached to women and children of 315 different villages in 1880.
Crawford was not satisfied, however. Martha was again torn between her husband and her pupils and their families (who made up virtually all that was left of T. P.’s church). She rapidly broke down physically and emotionally and returned to America in October of 1881. Soon after her departure from Tengchow, T. P. closed her school, but he was met with such a protest that he allowed Kwo Yu Yoong to resume classes on the condition that fees be raised and certain changes be made to the curriculum. Crawford insisted on adding English language instruction to attract more respectable patrons who would pay more and to force out Kwo Yu Yoong (whose specialty was classical Chinese). The school quickly lost more than half its students, as the poorer boys could not pay the fees and entrants from wealthier families failed to materialize. Crawford again closed down the whole educational program, only agreeing to allow the teachers to continue it if they moved it off his property.

Martha Crawford remained in the U.S. for two years, quite happy to be surrounded by her American friends and relatives once more. When she returned to Tengchow, she decided that to be a good wife, she should support her husband in all of his ideas. She dismissed her students and teachers, and her school closed for the last time in January 1884. This school conflict lost Crawford the respect of his church’s remaining members and removed its most attractive activity. It also lost him the trust of Lottie Moon, who had loyally supported him against Hartwell. Martha remained in contact with her former students but never resumed her educational work. She devoted herself to female evangelism entirely.

Crawford saw all of this as a victory. His wife had returned, Lottie Moon had shut down her school, and the Baptist educational work had been terminated. Crawford saw schools as a threat, both because he thought they represented an unscriptural and corrupt philosophy of mission work, and because they symbolized his personal failure as a missionary by comparison to other colleagues, including his wife. His efforts may have been counterproductive, however, as a new missionary (Weston Halcomb) reorganized Hartwell’s old church around a largely self-supporting elementary school, and his wife spent more time away from him than ever in her country evangelism work. His church members also declined in number.

Crawford responded with a renewed intensity in his country preaching, purchasing a large tent for that purpose. When thieves stole his tent one night and Crawford later discovered its contents in the homes of Chinese acquaintances, he became discouraged and gave up country work. Crawford remained so difficult to get along with that the younger missionaries who arrived in Tengchow all moved rapidly to interior locations.

During this period, Crawford discovered a book written by another Baptist missionary with views similar to his own. Using this book as evidence to support his theory, Crawford became convinced that the Foreign Mission Board was out to subsidize large operators like Hartwell and that strict soul winners like Crawford were a threat to their system. He believed the Board extracted money from their congregations to spread among costly schools, hospitals, patients, dispensaries, and the like, rejecting self-support ideas. He thought financial rewards corrupted the whole missionary enterprise, and he pushed for self-supporting churches and missionaries to preserve the purity of the church in China. Although many Southern Baptist missionaries agreed with some of these ideas in theory, Crawford’s volatile personality did not make it easy for them to align themselves with him publicly.

In 1885, Crawford returned to the U.S. to confront the mission board. He traveled among Baptist churches and denominational meetings to explain to the congregations what was happening to their money. When he reached the mission board, the Board had already received a letter from Lottie Moon denouncing the ideas he was espousing and assuring them that the other missionaries saw the schools as producing some of the best members of the church. The Board rejected Crawford’s ideas for self-support regulations and claimed that his views implied a distrust of God’s grace, that it was not sufficient to lift missionaries and natives above the corrupting influence of money. The Board censored Crawford and asked him to return to his mission station. Crawford refused. He spent another year lecturing in the Southern states. Finding himself ostracized at large denominational gatherings, Crawford thought the Board was out to destroy him. The Board issued a new set of rules for missionaries in 1886 prohibiting missionaries from abandoning their stations without permission and prohibiting missionaries from amassing wealth from secular enterprises. Dismayed, Crawford finally returned to his station in Tengchow in December of 1886.

Crawford believed that he was being opposed by a corrupt and powerful syndicate. His and Martha’s work in Tengchow remained discouraging and unsuccessful. Paralytic seizures began tormenting Crawford again and in May of 1989, he left on another trip to America. He returned to Tengchow in July 1890, where he found eight new missionary recruits. T. P. and Martha began shepherding the younger missionaries, and the Crawfords became quite popular among them. One of them, George Bostick, agreed with all of Crawford’s views on self-support, local discipline, and other matters. Crawford was encouraged, especially when Bostick received a letter from a church congregation in North Carolina who wanted to support Bostick as its own independent missionary. Crawford latched onto the idea of such congregational autonomy and began writing widely to home churches in search of more independent support. He sent 1,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking the Foreign Mission Board to southern churches in January 1892.

The Foreign Mission Board responded by dropping Crawford from their rolls, although they retained Martha. Crawford and his other missionary followers formed an independent “Gospel Mission,” agreeing to work as evangelists and endorsing the principle of self-support. T. P. convinced Martha to resign from the Foreign Mission Board also. When the Board announced in 1893 that Hartwell was returning to China to resume his work in Shandong, Crawford began making plans to leave the area, departing in September of 1893. Ten of Crawford’s American supporters left with him, including Martha. They settled at the foot of T’ai-shan, Shandong’s sacred mountain, where they began working to evangelize the people there. For six more years, Crawford continued his work; surrounded by others who agreed with his philosophies, he found peace.

The Boxer outbreak of 1900 forced them to return to America, where T. P. and Martha spent a year and a half traveling about the South so Crawford could lecture on his mission philosophy. After several unfriendly receptions, Crawford became depressed, so he and Martha moved to Dawson, Georgia, to live with relatives. In April of 1902, T. P. Crawford died of pneumonia. Although Martha was in ill health, she returned to China that fall, where she carried on her evangelistic work for seven more years. She urged Crawford’s followers who had left Tengchow with them to return to the Foreign Mission Board, which most of them did. After fifty-eight years of missions in China, Martha passed away in August of 1909. She was buried in Tengchow, as she had requested. Both those who had supported the Gospel Mission and those who had supported the Foreign Mission Board mourned her death. Despite her husband’s difficult personality, Martha was well-respected by all, making possible the reconciliation of the Gospel Mission followers and the Foreign Mission Board.

About the Author

By Martha Stockment

Martha Stockment received her B.A. from The University of Virginia in 2009, with double majors in English and psychology. She joined the Global China Center in April of 2013, where she does writing and editing work, along with assisting in marketing and communications. Martha lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, Andrew.

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