Mills, Samuel J. (1783-1818)

 “Samuel John Mills, Jr., fourth son and seventh child of Rev. Samuel (John) and Esther (Robbins) Mills, was born at Torringford, Connecticut, April 21, 1783. He entered Williams in the spring of 1806, and on the first Sabbath of June following he connected himself with his father’s church.  In college he was a member of the Philotechnian Society.

“As a scholar he had a respectable standing, but with him scholarship was a means to an end.  One who apparently knew him well writes: “We must not contemplate him as a student, a writer, or a preacher, but as a philanthropist, wise in council, active, zealous, self-sacrificing, and devoted to good works.” Very opportunely for him and for the college, the spring of 1806, when he entered, was the time in which, succeeding a long period of religious depression and spiritual darkness, there were signs of spiritual refreshing. It was on a hot and sultry afternoon in the summer of 1806, in this period of revival, that five of the pious young men, who had been accustomed to meet in a secluded grove, every Saturday afternoon, for prayer and conference, held the meeting which has made that spot holy ground. Tradition relates that, a thunderstorm coming on, these youth retired from the grove to the shelter of a haystack near at and, and there continued in conversation and prayer. To that meeting, may be traced the institution of foreign missions in the American churches.

“It may perhaps be considered as one of the fruits of the revival of 1806 that in the spring or autumn of 1808 Mills, [James] Richards, and two or three others organized a society [the Brethren] whose operation and existence were entirely unknown to the rest of the college. The first object of this fraternity was so to influence the public mind as to lead to the formation of a missionary society.

“In 1810 Mills joined the Seminary at Andover. The strongest members of the ‘Brethren’ had already come to Andover and brought with them the constitution and records of that society. By the advice of the professors of the seminary, the young men submitted their case to the General Association of Massachusetts which met at Bradford, June 27, 1810. The petition, asking among other things “whether they may expect patronage and support from a Missionary Society in this country,” was referred to a committee of three, who reported in favor of the institution of a Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

“If Mills was at first hindered from going to other lands, a casual event under the providence of God brought foreign missionary work to him at home. This was the meeting in New Haven with Henry Obookiah, a Hawaiian youth. This led eventually to the establishment at Cornwall, Connecticut, of a school for the education of heathen youth. It was at one time the purpose of Mills to take Obookiah and go to the Islands and there spend his life.

“From the completion of his theological studies at Andover in 1812 to the death of Mills was a period of but six short years. In the earlier part of 1812 Mills and John F. Schermerhorn, were commissioned as missionaries by the Connecticut and Massachusetts Missionary Societies. Besides preaching, distributing Bibles and establishing Bible societies, Mills and Schermerhorn, made painstaking and extensive inquiries in regard to the Indian tribes residing west of the Alleghany Mountains.

“[Mills] had planned schemes of colonization [for African Americans] and by his efforts had brought about the establishment of the African School at Parsippany, New Jersey. When, in 1817, there was formed “The American Society for colonizing the free people of color in the United States,” Mills saw his opportunity.  He not only suggested and, by request, prepared a pamphlet setting forth to the public the purposes of the Colonization Society, but he volunteered to visit Africa as the agent of the Society and select a site for the proposed colony. He set said for England November 16, 1817. Leaving England February 2, 1818, they came to anchor in the river Gambia on March 13?

“Before leaving home the health of Mills had been slender, he being troubled with a distressing cough and bearing evidences of consumption. About two weeks after sailing from Sierra Leone he took a severe cold which developed alarming symptoms. On the afternoon of June 16, 1818, the end came. That night as the sun was going down, his body was committed to the sea.”

SOURCE: Hewitt, John H. Williams College and foreign missions. Boston: Pilgrim Pr., 1914.

 (No image of Samuel Mills has been located)