Abbot, Elisha L.

1808 - 1854
Missionary to Burma

In 1835, Amos Sutton, a famous British missionary at Orissa, India, went to America to appeal to churches for mission work among the Telugus. Rev Elisha Litchfield Abbot and his wife were inspired to go to Burma after hearing Sutton's passionate plea. After departing the USA and arriving in Calcutta, Rev S.S. Day and his wife, companions to the Abbot family, were assigned to work among the Telugus. Meanwhile, Rev Abbott and his wife received their call to work among the Karen. In 1837, during one of the civil wars between the Karen and Burman, Abbot managed to travel through Maubee, Pantenau, and Bassein. Notably, on Christmas Eve 1837, Rev Abbot first preached the gospel within the boundaries of Bassein. In 1839, Karen fleeing persecution came to Sandoway (in British territory) to receive baptism by Abbot. The hardships were tremendous for the Abbot family. In a year, he buried his wife and two of his children in Arakan State. Karen Christians came to Arakan to escape persecution but soon suffered from cholera, decimating their ranks. 

In 1845, Rev Abbot returned to the USA for much needed rest. While in the USA, Abbot made pleas for the establishment of a Karen Theological Seminary in Burma. By 1846, enough support was found to create this Baptist seminary in Moulmein which was opened under the leadership of Dr Joseph Getchell Binney. In November 1847, Abbot returned to Sandoway, Burma, and found that the two native pastors had done excellent work. About 1,150 had been baptised, and 1,200 more were waiting for baptism. In December 1848 and again in early 1849, he made attempts to plant a station in Bassein. However, the Bassein region's governor feared retribution from the King in Burma and prohibited Abbot from living in the area. At the outbreak of the second Burma War in 1852, and with the British taking control, Abbot and the Karen Mission's centre was moved from Sandoway to Bassein with its large population of Pwo Karen. 

In 1853, after a six-week deliberation, a USA delegation from the American Baptist Missionary Union initiated changes which many ABMU missionaries in the Burma field refused to follow. Abbot was one of those who left the ABMU and became a founder and leader of the Bassein Sgaw Karen Mission. Abbot soon returned to the USA, where he died on December 3, 1854. After 13 years of work among the Karen, his parting words to his beloved Karen brethren were: "The kingdom of Christ is here in Bassein. You must care for it, and labor for it faithfully. If his kingdom prospers, it will prosper through your efforts. If it is destroyed, it will be at your hands." (A Century of Baptist Foreign Missions, 85)


Austin House

The writer who lives and serves in Southeast Asia has a Doctor of Intercultural Studies from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, USA.

This article is reproduced with permission from



Sources for Further Study

American Baptist Missionary Union Report: 1839-1853.

Brockett, L. P. The Story of the Karen Mission in Bassein. 22-24, 26, 30-32, 35, 44-50, 52-78, 81-87, 91, 94, 101, 107, 121, 126, 128, 131, 137, 143, 145, 150, 152, 153, 164, 168-172.

Carpenter, Chapin Howard. Self-support, Illustrated in the History of the Bassein Karen Mission from 1840 to 1880.

“Death of Mrs. Abbott” in The Baptist Missionary Magazine Vol. 25, 1845, 139-140.

Downie, David. The Lone Star: The History of the Telugu mission of the American Baptist Missionary Union. American Baptist Publications Society, 1893. 26.

Edmond, Amanda M. Corey. Memoir of Mrs. Sarah D. Comstock, Missionary to Arracan.;idno=AJG8460.0001…. 154, 156.

Grose, Howard B. and Haggard, Fred P. The Judson Centennial. 9, 26, 106.

Harris, Edward Norman. A Star in the East; An Account of American Baptist Missions to the Karens of Burma. 58, 68.

Howard, Randolph L. Baptists in Burma. 61-69, 161.

Judson Centennial Services - A Compilation of the Addresses, Papers, and Remarks Given at the Services; Together with Extracts from Letters Received by the Committee, etc. 41, 73.

Luther, Calista V. The Vintons and the Karens: Memorials of Rev. Justus H. Vinton and Calista H. Vinton. Dodo Press, 2009.

Mason, Francis. The Karen Apostle - or, Memoir of Ko Thah-byu, the First Karen Convert, with an Historical and Geographical Account of the Nation, its Traditions, Precepts, Rites, &c. 67, 68, 88.

Marshall, Harry Ignatius. The Karen People of Burma - A Study in Anthropology and Ethnology. 323.

Merriam, Edmund F. A History of American Baptist Missions. 44, 74, 75, 76.

Missionary Letters from Burma, 1828-1839. SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol 3, No. 2, Autumn 2005. 600, 608, 615, 621.

Moffat, Robert. The White Foreigners From Over the Water - The Story of the American Mission to the Burmese and the Karens. 165-171.

Montgomery, Helen Barrett. Following the Sunrise, A Century of Baptist Missions, 1813-1913. 41-44.

Patton, A.S. The Hero Missionary, Or A History of the Labors of Eugenio Kincaid. 180, 188.

Phinney, F.D. The Judson Centennial Celebrations in Burma. 1813-1913. 142-143.

Titterington, Sophie Bronson. A Century of Baptist Foreign Missions. An Outline Sketch. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1986. 71, 73, 74, 76, 80, 84, 85, 96, 105, 194.

The Missionary Jubilee - An Account of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American Baptist Missionary Union, at Philadelphia, May 24, 25, and 26, 1864. With Commemorative Papers and Discourses. 11, 51, 146, 158, 162, 164, 178-181, 188, 201-203, 236.

Vedder, Henry C. A Short History of Baptist Missions. 114.

Warburton, Stacy Reuben. Eastward! [microform] The story of Adoniram Judson. 1937. 190.

Wyeth, Walter N. Sarah B. Judson - A Memorial. 67.

Wyeth, Walter N. The Wades - Jonathan Wade, D.D., Deborah B. L. Wade. A Memorial. Philadelphia: Self-published, 1891. 122-123.

Wylie, Mrs. Macleod. The Gospel in Burmah; The Story of its Introduction and Marvelous Progress Among the Burmese and Karens. 77; 83-88, 102, 117, 121.