First Church Missionaries
by Rev. Dr. Kazimierz Bem

The following women and men, associated with First Church in Marlborough UCC, have served as missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for an almost uninterrupted period from 1816 until 1988. First Church in Marlborough will be grateful for any additional information about these, their sons and daughters who “proclaimed the Gospel unto the ends of the Earth.”


Rev. Edward Warren (1786-1818)

Rev. Warren was born to a long-time member of First Church, Thaddeus Warren and his wife Lucy Stevens. The family was closely related by marriage to the Goodales. Despite suffering from tuberculosis – then a terminal disease – he attended Middlebury College, Vermont. In 1811, he underwent a religious conversion and decided to become a missionary with the newly formed American Board of Commissaries for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). He completed medical training at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and theological education at Andover Newton Theological School, Massachusetts. On June 21, 1815, he was ordained in Newburyport with five other young men to “bring the light of the Gospel to the heathen in Asia.” His health was so fragile, that the event caused a serious hemorrhage, which almost put an end to his plans. By fall it improved, and on October 21, 1815, he set sail with others for Colombo (today’s Sri Lanka), where they arrived on March 22, 1816. The missionaries then moved to the north of the island, where they established a Christian school for boys and girls – as Union College in Tellippalai, it still exists today. Rev. Edward Warren worked there tirelessly but suffered another hemorrhage in 1817. It was decided that he should move to the more temperate climate of South Africa. There he died in Cape Town on August 11, 1818. His last words were “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Today I shall be with Christ!” His symbolic grave can be seen at the Spring Hill Cemetery, Marlborough.

 Lucy Goodale (1795-1876) and Asa Thurston (1787-1868)   

Arguably the most well-known First Church missionary, Lucy Goodale was born to an extended and devout Christian family, her father Abner Goodale being a long time deacon of First Church. Her mother, Mary Howe came from a very prominent Marlborough family. They were related by marriage to Edward Warren. Lucy was introduced to her future husband, Asa Thurston, an aspiring missionary, by her cousin William Goodell. According to another source, Goodell proposed to her on behalf of his friend (and was accepted!), and she met Asa only later. They were married on October 19, 1819, Asa was ordained as a Congregational minister in Newburyport, Massachusetts and set sail for the Sandwich Islands (as Hawaii was then known) on board the “Thaddeus” on October 23, 1819, where they arrived in 1820. The Thurston family established the Mokuʻaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii which still exists today. Unlike many missionary couples, the Thurstons spent most of their lives in Hawaii where Lucy (Goodale) Thurston died on October 13, 1876 in Honolulu. The Thurston family descendants, many of whom were clergy, continue to be prominent citizens of Hawaii to this day. There is a large family grave of the Goodale family at the Spring Hill Cemetery.

Rev. William Goodell (1792-1867) 

Rev. Goodell came from the prominent Goodale/Goodell family in Marlborough. His parents moved to Templeton, Massachusetts where he was baptized in the Congregational Church but he often spent time and worshipped with his family at First Church in Marlborough. William was present at the ordination of the terminally ill Edward Warren (1786-1818) which made a deep impression on him. He decided to become a missionary too. Goodell associated with other mission-oriented students at Andover Theological Seminary, and was the person who introduced Rev. Asa Thurson to his cousin Lucy Goodale. In 1822, within the space of a few weeks, William Goodell was married, ordained and sent as an ABCFM missionary to the Ottoman Empire in today’s Syria and Lebanon. His career was tumultuous and in 1828 an angry mob forced him to flee Beirut for Malta. In 1831 he relocated to Istanbul (Turkey) where he spent the next 34 years. Goodell translated the Bible to contemporary Armenian language, as well as established the first Protestant (Congregational) church in Turkey’s capital. It met first at his house until 1857 the Dutch ambassador gave them the use of the old and unused Dutch Reformed Church chapel at the embassy grounds. Known as the Union Church of Istanbul, the congregation still exists today. William Goodell returned to the United States in 1865 and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His missionary work continued at Euphrates College, Harpout (today:Elazığ,Turkey) through the service of his daughterMary Goodell-Barnum (1835-1915)known as “The Lady of Harpout”. She served there together with her husband, Rev. Herman Barnum (1826-1910), as an ABCFM missionary for fifty-five years.  Their daughterEmma Barnum-Riggs (1865-1917)was also from 1889 an ABCFM missionary in Harpout in her own right. Thus, the ABCFM service of this family spanned three generations and 132 years. Emma’s husband Rev. Henry H. Riggs (1875-1943) was one of the witnesses to the Armenian Genocide. He later taught at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon until 1940. Both, mother and daughter were buried in Harpout, in the Christian cemetery by the mission compound.


Grace Lilla Howe (1854-1920) & James Hudson Roberts (1851-1945)

Grace Lila was the daughter of Charles Marshall Howe and Sarah Warren members of First Church. It is in church that she met James Hudson Roberts, a nephew of our pastor John Willard (1826-1913). James Richards was a Yale Divinity School graduate (B.D.1876) and was preparing for missionary work with the ABCFM in China. A week after Roberts was ordinated in Hartford (September 12, 1877), his uncle married them in our church (September 19, 1877) and the couple set sail for in China. They settled in the capital Beijing, where both were missionaries till 1900. When the Boxer rebellion broke out, the couple fled for safety to Mongolia and Russia – an account of which Rev. Roberts later published in a book “A Flight for life and An Inside View of Mongolia” (1903). They returned to China in 1901, before finally leaving in 1906. Rev. Roberts served four Congregational Churches in Connecticut, before retiring in 1917. They were both buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut. 

Charlotte Willard (1860-1930)  

She was the daughter of First Church’s pastor, Rev. John Willard (1826-1913) and Catherine Steele. While her two brothers became Congregational ministers, she initially chose to become a teacher. Charlotte graduated from Smith College in 1883 and taught at Carleton College. In 1897 she went to visit two of her former students, who were ABCFM missionaries in Merzifon, Turkey. During her stay one of them, Martha King, died of smallpox. On her way back home, Charlotte Willard learned that Ottoman Turkey would not issue new passports to any new ABCFM missionaries. She made a quick decision to quit her job and returned to Turkey, where she resumed the work of Ms. King. Charlotte Willard stayed there for the next thirty-three years, as a superintendent of the ABCFM School for Girls (mainly Armenian Christians). The most dramatic episode of her missionary service came in during the Armenian Genocide. In 1915 sixty-two Armenian women from the school (teachers, nurses, and pupils) were marched off in the infamous death-marches. Unable to save them from deportation and after much difficulty, Charlotte Willard and her colleague Frances Gage, received permits to accompany them. At Sivas (Turkey), thanks to a sympathetic Turkish governor, both missionaries secured the release and return to Merzifon of 48 women. Their efforts saved these women’s lives – the other women were killed. In 1916 the Turkish government closed the Merzfion school (it relocated to Greece where it exists today as Anatolia College) and deported the ABCFM missionaries. Charlotte Willard came to back to the U.S. in 1919. In 1922 in recognition of her service Smith College gave her the degree of Doctor of Humanities. That same year she returned to Merzifon, where she reopened the school for girls in 1924, this time the pupils being mainly Turkish Muslims. She died during a family visit in the U.S. mourned by Armenians and Turks. She was buried next to her parents at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.


Florence (Warren) McGill (1883-1942)

Daughter of longtime deacon of First Church William Otis Warren (1849-1930), and his wife Martha Anne Spooner, Florence was raised in an active First Church family. Her younger sister, Hazel Warren (1890-1988) was also a long time First Church historian. Florence wanted to work as a missionary. The ABCFM did not have any open spots when Florence applied in 1918. Undeterred, she tried through the South Africa General Mission and was accepted for a placement in Ninda, Angola. There she met and married a Church of Scotland minister and missionary Rev. Andrew McGill. After a few years in Ninda, the McGills started a new mission in Muye, also in Angola. Florence McGill died of a tropical disease in 1942 in Cape Town, South Africa. Her two daughters, were also missionaries: Kathryn (b.1923) married another missionary Ronald Filby and they worked for a decade in Angola, until his untimely death in 1963, when the widow moved to South Africa. Kathryn’s older sister, Jessie McGill (b.1921) worked as a mission nurse in a hospital in Seipa Pinto. The McGill missionary work in Angola came to an end in 1975 after the country’s independence and eruption of a civil war. Jessie McGill then moved to South Africa where she was still active in mission work as late as 1988.