What Can We Learn from Dr. John Scudder’s Most Difficult Trials

That May Inspire Us to Greater Courage in the Challenges of 2021?

By Margery Boyden, Scudder Association Foundation Historian with excerpts from past historian, D. V. Scudder

© Scudder Association Foundation


Dr. John Scudder


From his childhood, Dr. John Scudder’s propensity was to help the people around him with their physical needs and their spiritual needs. As he approached manhood, his greatest desire was to be a minister for Jesus Christ, believing that would allow him to do the work that he felt was of the greatest worth. This his father forbade so Dr. John decided to become a medical doctor because he thought that was the profession nearest to what a clergyman could do to minister to the needs of others. Dr. John built up a fine medical practice but the Second Great Awakening in America was having its effect. When he felt God’s call upon him to become a medical missionary, like Jeremiah, the prophet of the Old Testament, Dr. John felt God’s word “was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing and I could not stay.”[1]

Now as a married man, the key to unlock an opportunity to become a medical missionary to a foreign land belonged to his wife Harriet, rather than his father. She was now the one from whom he needed permission to answer God’s call.

When Dr. John Scudder approached his wife Harriet (Waterbury) Scudder with his news that he had felt God’s call to leave his lucrative medical practice in New York to apply to be the first medical missionary from the U. S. to a foreign land, Harriet began her own trial of faith.  After weeks of prayer, she resolutely told him, “Whither thou goest, I will go.” As stated in the account in A Thousand Years in Thy Sight, by Dorothy Vaughan Jealous Scudder, “Poor Harriet, it was her Road to Damascus too.”[2] It may have been a difficult road for sure, but their legacy for good is immeasurable.

Mrs. Dorothy V. J. Scudder, who was the wife of Dr. John Scudder, III, a grandson of Dr. John and Harriet Scudder, was well qualified to tell the story. She served many years in India herself with the Scudder missionaries of the third generation. Not only did she know the territory, but she was in position to hear the stories from Dr. John’s family’s point of view. Dorothy, also known as D. V., continues the account after Dr. John had Harriet’s permission:


Dr. John was then free to offer himself to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. His stilted language which seems so foreign to our ears, was to him perfectly sincere: ‘…I trust,’ he said, ‘I have made it a subject of serious and earnest prayer for some time, that God would direct me in the path of duty and that if it were my duty He would open an effectual door for this purpose…if God should, by His Holy Spirit, influence the Board to accept me, I will go forth in His strength and proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ.’ The opportunity he asked was to serve as both physician and minister in a land where there none of the former and few of the latter. It was a unique undertaking.[3]

The Board was willing but requested his credentials, “both as to character and inheritance.” Several clergymen stepped forward to attest to both but did mention his “religious ardor” and a “tendency towards precipitate action caused by his overpowering enthusiasm.” D.V. confides, “Perhaps this was a dominant quality. Certainly many of his descendants have it to a marked degree. However, both ancestor and descendants seem to follow instinct into the right paths.”[4]

In the memoir Jared B. Waterbury wrote of Dr. John Scudder’s life, Jared shares the account by John’s son Dr. Henry Martyn Scudder about what Henry considered to be the greatest trial in his father’s life. Henry’s words remarkably bring to life the character of Dr. John Scudder:

Before he was thus called he had been severely disciplined. The Lord had caused him to pass through spiritual conflicts of no ordinary kind…After he had found salvation in Jesus, and had united with the Church, he was led out into a howling wilderness to be tempted. Satan was let loose upon his naked, shivering soul. Faith and its foundations seemed gone forever. He was in an agony to believe, but could not. He doubted of all things—yea, even of his own existence. Hope died within him, and Despair spread her pall over him….Satan and his legions assailed him on every side….The terrors of hell rolled like quickly succeeding billows over him, and he scarce got breath between. For many months he ventured not to the communion table.[5]


Praying Hands by George Hodan[6]


Yet, in the war and darkness of that fearful tempest, above that wild ocean of anguish, there stood an unseen form, the Holy One, the Crucified, who caused that gasping soul, in all its blind struggles, to come nearer and nearer to himself. He had once seen the Cross; he had once been near it, and experienced its pardoning and sanctifying power, and it was still the magnet of his soul. He kept his eyes on that point of the spiritual horizon where he had seen it fade from view, and he never turned them elsewhere. When God had sufficiently shown him Satan’s power and his own weakness; when he had bruised, and broken, and humbled him, then again he flooded his sky with the light of the Sun of Righteousness. Satan slunk away. Peace spread out her wings over his weary heart, and the foretaste of hell’s agonies was changed into an antepast of heaven. While the storm raged, God fastened him to the Rock of Ages as he never had been fastened to it before….He came out of these conflicts like gold out of the fire. He began with calm joy to climb the Delectable Mountains, and he from that time dwelt mostly on their happy summits.[7]


Joy Rising on Delectable Mountains[8]


These trials eminently fitted him to encounter the difficulties of the missionary work. He was to meet none so great as those he had already overcome, and he was thrust forth a well-equipped and experienced warrior, to carry the battle with an intrepid spirit into the heart of Satan’s territories…God had thus prepared him, and then he called him to the mission field…He was entirely devoted to Christ. I verily believe his only aim on earth was the glory of Jesus. Every thing was subordinated to this—was literally swallowed up in it. His eye was single…He loved the Saviour profoundly, tenderly, wholly. His was no half consecration…It gives me true joy to look back and think how beautifully evident was the union of his soul with Jesus. The parable of the vine and the branch was in him sensibly demonstrated to us…He was a Bible Christian. Other books were comparatively nothing to him. He scarcely read any other…. God had become an author, and that was the book for him. Here, in the company of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, with Jesus at the head as Lord of all, he strengthened his intellect and refreshed his heart amidst the toils and trials of a missionary’s life…Thus he girded his loins. I need not add that he was a happy man.[9]


Another of his severest of trials was that Dr. John’s father, Joseph Scudder, had disowned him for accepting the call to serve abroad. D. V. writes:


When Joseph Scudder had refused to let John enter the ministry, the son’s sense of filial duty made him acceded to his father’s wishes. He became a doctor. Now he said only Harriet had the right to keep him from going to India, and she had consented. But Joseph categorically forbade John’s going as a missionary to a disease-ridden land, which lacked not only the amenities of civilization but the very necessities of life. He threated to disinherit his son if he carried out his mad project, and he carried out his threat. Maria did not disapprove although she grieved over the breach between her husband and son. But knowing them both equally well, she accepted it as inevitable.[10]

Unless one has forsaken one’s own agenda to follow God’s agenda, [11] and the separation from loved ones that that might mean, it is difficult to appreciate fully the trials that can attend that kind of willing sacrifice. However, even in times of sickness or persecution, Dr. and Mrs. Scudder felt compensating joy, gratitude and spiritual power as accounts of Dr. John’s life repeatedly retell. In the case of Dr. John and Harriet Scudder’s family, missionary service became a shared objective and experience through succeeding generations. Seven sons also served as missionaries in India while two daughters also assisted until their marriages.

While in India, Dr. John and Harriet did not complain about separation from family members. How they named their children shows that family members in the United States were very much on their minds. They found a unique way to keep memories alive of their loved ones while at the same time assisting their children to know their extended family names very well.


Dr. John and Harriet (Waterbury) Scudder


Dr. John and Harriet Scudder’s Children and who they were named for

as compared with Siblings of Harriet Waterbury and their spouses or Dr. John’s.

Those with asterisks were named for Harriet’s Waterbury’s family, stepfather or brothers-in-law.


Harriet & John’s Children         Harriet’s siblings & spouses  Dr. John’s Family

Stillborn child

Maria Catherine Scudder*, 1818–1819      Catherine Waterbury, Harriet’s sister       Maria, John’s mother

Maria Catherine Scudder*, 1820-1820  ditto     ditto

William Brainard Scudder*, 1821–1821  William M. Waterbury, Harriet’s brother/ & David Brainerd,


Henry Martyn Scudder, 1822–1895, named for an Anglican priest and missionary to India. 


William Waterbury Scudder*, 1823–1895 William M. Waterbury, Harriet’s brother?  and  William, John’s brother, d. 1823 

Joseph Scudder, 1826–1876       Joseph, John’s brother, d. 1826

Samuel Downer Scudder*, 1827–1849     Samuel Downer, Harriet’s stepfather

Ezekiel Carman Scudder*, 1828-1896       Ezekiel Carmen, Harriet’s dec. brother-in-law through sister Catherine

Jared Waterbury Scudder*, 1830–1910   Jared B. Waterbury, Harriet’s brother

Harriet Scudder*, 1831–1872         Harriet Waterbury (for herself)

Silas Downer Scudder*, 1833–1877            Silas Potter Downer, (Harriet’s brother-in-law through Sophie & her stepbrother

John Scudder (II),         Dr. John, (for himself)

Louisa Scudder, 1837–1918        Louisa, (Dr. John’s sister)


It is interesting to note that John and Harriet’s son Samuel was named for Harriet (Waterbury) Scudder’s new stepfather Samuel Downer of Essex, New Jersey, who had married her mother Ruth (Tuttle) Waterbury in New Jersey on 26 November 1822. This was three and a half years after Dr. John and Harriet left America.

Samuel Downer Scudder, born the year after his grandmother’s second marriage, was the Scudder son who tragically died of an accident while training for the ministry at the New Brunswick Seminary in New Jersey. Also, to those who may have been curious about how Dr. John and Harriet Scudder’s son Silas Downer Scudder got his name, he was named for the son of Samuel Downer by Downer’s first wife Sarah Robinson. This couple’s son Silas Potter Downer later became John and Harriet’s brother-in-law when he married Harriet (Waterbury) Scudder’s sister Sophia Waterbury on 3 February 1828.[12]

This practice of naming of the children being born in India for their relatives from America was one way to keep family ties alive for them and to help their children feel a connection to their relatives on the other side of the world. This would help with their transition as the children came of age to return to America for schooling for they often lived with relatives. Meanwhile the doctor’s father, Joseph Scudder, continued with his resolve to disown his son, refusing to listen as the doctor’s mother Maria read letters from India aloud to other family members.

Dr John and Harriet were transferred to Madras in 1835 with their new brother-in-law Miron Winslow and his new wife, Catherine (Waterbury) Winslow who was Harriet’s sister.Who Was Miron Winslow’s Second Wife? The account of their time together in Jaffna and Madras will be continued in a future Journal issue.

Many incidents in the lives of these persons show the power of their faith to enlist God’s aid when faced with giant tasks or giant trials. For example, convinced that Madras needed educational opportunities, in 1837, Dr. John traveled through the jungle to meet with officials in order to gain permission to establish a Christian school in Madras. As he was returning, the doctor contracted jungle fever and was not expected to live. When Harriet received word, although nearly nine months pregnant, she left immediately to travel through the jungle with her two-year old son John, hoping to arrive before death might have overtaken the doctor. Harriet’s journey was one of her greatest trials. As night fell, having been frightened by the “roaring of beasts” in the dark, the natives who had been hired to transport Harriet through the jungle fled, thus abandoning Harriet and John alone with their gear and the wild animals. Harriet knelt in prayer through the night, holding little John by the hand so as not to lose him in the darkness while the lions and elephants circled around them. For more of this story, see If Harriet Scudder’s Faith Could Tame Wild Tigers. When her bearers returned and she was reunited with Dr. John, his health crisis had abated enough that they could return to Madras where little Louisa was born soon thereafter.[13] On numerous occasions, their faith plus divine protection empowered them to escape death.

Although ill, the doctor continued to drive himself as he keenly felt the magnitude of the needs of those suffering around him. By 1841, his health was so poor that “finally, he was persuaded to leave for America to restore his health that he might be able on his return…”[14] to serve better.

Five of the children were already there. In March 1842, he and Mrs. Scudder set out with the other five. Nearly twenty-three years had elapsed since they sailed from Boston on the Indus: then neither of them expected ever to return. Going back home was to them a tremendous experience. One evidence of God’s Providence marked their homecoming. Joseph Scudder, who had sworn to have nothing more to do with his son if he went to India, who had refused to write to him and had ignored the claims of his grandchildren, now met the exile on his return, opened his arms, and embracing him, restored him to the home he had surrendered.[15]

John and Harriet settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey near Harriet’s mother, Mrs. Ruth Downer and her husband. Even in America, John could not fully rest. He felt a personal mission to educate a generation about the opportunities of Christian missionary service. What he accomplished during his time in America impacted the lives of many young people.

He felt the urgent necessity of making known to Americans the actual conditions in India, of inducing young men to offer themselves for service, and above all, of awakening an interest in the children….[H]e was assiduous in talking to children and helping them to form juvenile missionary societies. He could hold them in breathless attention for one or two hours. When he closed, all seemed reluctant to depart; many crowded around him, each one striving for his notice, and even visiting him in his lodgings afterwards. Nor was the impression he made upon them transitory, for in after years many of them went out to the mission field and all said that they were led to choose this work by the example and teaching of Dr, John Scudder. Hundreds of these children continued to correspond with him and some of his letters to them are still extant.

He preached to over a hundred thousand children and youths in almost every city of the Atlantic seaboard.[16] The following excerpts from his personal journal from 1844–1846 show his ambitious schedule to meet with as many people as possible, especially children, and remarkable because he was supposed to be resting to recover his health.



John and Harriet sailed again from Boston on November 18, 1846, twenty-seven years after their first voyage. This journey was marred by a terrible storm that the doctor described in his journal. It appears there was a shortage of food on the ship because the doctor later reported to the Board that future missionaries would need more provisions. With John and Harriet on this crossing were daughters Harriet and Louisa and their son William Waterbury Scudder and his wife Catharine Hastings[17]. Son Henry was already in Madras with his wife. They met the travelers in March 1847 with “the sad news of the death of his little son, Dr. Scudder’s first grandchild. Old Mother India was not content with the toll she had levied on Dr. John’s children She was claiming the second generation as well.”[18]

The remaining days of Dr. John and Harriet Scudder would be characterized by their unfailing devotion to God’s work among the people of India while soldiering on through sorrow when death visited several family members before it would someday be their turn.

As a new doctor had been sent to Madura, the Scudders were released early in 1849 to return to Madras. On the trip home they received word of the death of their beloved Kate—wife of their son, William—whom they loved as their own daughter. This made the homecoming to Madras a sad one, nor was it brightened two months later when their son Henry’s wife gave birth to a daughter who lived but two days, Was this to be a repetition of their own early years in this disease-ridden land? Harriet, Henry’s oldest daughter, was dangerously ill, and they feared to lose her also. In order to save her life, the doctor was persuaded to take her to the hills.[19]


En route to Kodaikanal through Palani Hills National Park[20]


Instead of going to the Nilgherries this time the family chose the Palni Hills which was closer to Madura. Dr. Scudder was again suffering from his sick headaches and his eyesight was beginning to fail. “He dreaded the thought of losing it, but thanked God that his voice was strong, for he could still preach. The peace and quiet of the majestic hills soothed his nerves and penetrated to every fiber of his being,” He was restored by the beautiful views that sent him to his knees in gratitude. “How much easier it was, he thought, to feel God’s presence when surrounded with His beauties of nature…” The account continues: “The invigorating air cured little Harriet and greatly improved the health of her grandfather, who returned to the plains full of energy and the desire for more work.”[21]

 Dr. Scudder’s physician and surgical work was so successful that natives who practiced what was considered black art medicine became so alarmed that they began to threaten in chilling ways to destroy the doctor and his team to get rid of the competition they felt.[22]  The doctor carried on ministering to the sick in body and spirit in spite of these threats but then the unthinkable occurred. The account continues:  

This year, 1849, which had started so unhappily for the Scudders [the death of son Samuel in New Jersey] was to bring even greater sadness before it ended. On the fourteenth of November, Mrs. Scudder was stricken with severe cramps followed by extreme exhaustion. At first her husband was not worried; he did what he could to relieve the pain, which finally became so intense that she could not bear to be touched; even the weight of a grasshopper was a burden and she prayed for quick release. As she was dying, her youngest daughter, distracted with grief, cried, weeping, ‘What shall I do? What shall I do?’

‘Read the twenty-ninth psalm and do accordingly’ was the mother’s reply.

She retained consciousness practically to the end, sending messages to each of her children and relatives. For William, she said, ‘Tell him I shall soon meet his beloved Kate.’

On the evening of November 18th, with her husband sitting by her head, her two daughters and Henry and his wife standing by her bedside, she opened her eyes and said with peculiar energy, ‘Glorious heaven! Glorious salvation!’ Those were her last words…[23]

Next to God, Dr. Scudder had lost his strongest support. This time it was harder to say, “Thy will be done” and his family observed that “something vital seemed to go from him.” But he was not bitter towards God for he increased his preaching of God’s word to three times a day instead of two,[24] hoping to bring more souls to Him. Dr. Scudder too seemed to take Harriet’s advice to little Louisa from the twenty-ninth psalm:

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength.

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the

            beauty of holiness.

  The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth:

   the Lord is upon many waters,

  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty…

  The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire…

  The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests:

   and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

  The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea the Lord sitteth King for ever.

  The Lord will give strength unto his people;

the Lord will bless his people with peace.[25]


[1] Jeremiah 20:9, Old Testament, Holy Bible.

[2] Dorothy Jealous Scudder, A Thousand Years in Thy Sight, the Story of the Scudder Missionaries of India, (New York: Vantage Press), 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] J. B. Waterbury, Memoir of the Rev. John Scudder, M.D., thirty-six years missionary in India, (New York: Harper, & Brothers. 1870, 297,

[6] “Praying Hands” by George Hodan, CCO Public Domain, https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=54434&picture=praying-hands.

[7] Waterbury, 297–298.

[8] “Joy Rising on Delectable Mountains,” © Margery Boyden.

[9] Waterbury, 298–302.

[10] Scudder, 7.

[11] Mark 10:29, New Testament, Holy Bible.

[12] Silas Downer marriage to Sophia Waterbury, FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FZ5M-TMR

[13] Scudder, 44–45.

[14] Scudder, 50.

[15] Scudder, 50–51.

[16] Scudder, 52.

[17] Marriage record, William Scudder to Catherine Hastings, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6961/images/43103_356266-00489?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=c9b9d18aaf60ec949473193c4c770045&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Brl649&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.84252253.577854879.1612767903-1490232209.1592514106&pId=2327371

[18] Scudder, 56.

[19] Scudder, 68.

[20] Mitra Shubhojoy, “En route to Kodaikanal through Palani Hills National Park, 18 November 2006, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:En_route_to_Kodaikanal_through_Palani_Hills_National_Park.jpg. Public domain.

[21] Scudder, 68–69.

[22] Scudder, 70–71.

[23] Scudder, 71.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Psalm 29, Old Testament, Holy Bible.


© Scudder Association Foundation, All rights reserved



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