On 5 May 1816, Stephen Mattoon was born at a farm near Champion, New York (USA). Mattoon’s father, Gershom Mattoon. A farmer, elder, and lay pastor in the Presbyterian Church, his family was believed to have come from French Huguenot descent. Mattoon’s mother, Ezra Syre, was a devoted and robust follower of Christ. Stephen Mattoon was the fifth son in a family of ten siblings, seven of whom lived to a mature age. Throughout his life, Mattoon maintained an affectionate relationship with his siblings and parents, revealed in his extensive letters and correspondence with his family.
At the age of sixteen, Stephen Mattoon made his profession of faith, and at the age of seventeen, he became a teacher. At this time, Mattoon felt called to become a pastor but had to provide for his way financially, as his family was unable to pay for his tuition. Mattoon would alternate between his tertiary education and teaching to pay for his studies. Finally, after raising funds, Mattoon began his higher education at the age of twenty-two.
Mattoon went onto graduate from both Union College in Schenectady, NY (1842), and Princeton Theological Seminary (1846). Between his college and seminary education, Mattoon served as a teacher and a stated supply pastor for the Presbyterian Church of Sandy Hills (now Hudson Falls).
A requirement during his seminary studies was to make preaching tours. These engagements allowed him to meet a teacher named Mary Lourie at Argyle, New York. During his seminary studies, Stephen Mattoon wrote to his family how he would be entering into the service as a missionary to Siam. In one letter he wrote:
“I know, dear sister, that it is hard for you as well as for my dear parents to give me up to this foreign mission work. It is hard for me to tear myself away from those I love, but I have tried to examine the subject carefully and prayerfully and the path of duty seems plain to me. I must not shrink from it because it is hard for flesh and blood. What are all these partings and selfdenials compared with what Christ endured for our salvation? What are they compared with the worth of one soul from among the heathen we go to benefit?”
Mary Laurie felt called to marry and join Mattoon in mission service. However, she had to finish her term as a teacher. The two were united in marriage on 3 June 1846 at her father’s (George Laurie) home near Coils, NY. The two made a hasty trip to visit the Mattoon family dispersed in Michigan and New York.
The newlyweds returned to the east and sailed from New York city of the Barque on 27 July 1876. There, the Mattoons met Samuel R. House, a medical doctor, and a bachelor who would serve alongside them in New York. The ship’s journey was unusually long but arrived safely on 28 December 1846. A month later, they departed Singapore, and on 22 March 1847, the Mattoons arrived in Bangkok. They had been preceded by Dr. Samuel R. House, who set off from Singapore to Bangkok in a dispatch boat. The ABCFM and American Baptist Board missionaries warmly welcomed the Mattoons and Dr. House and were provided temporary housing arrangements with the Rev. Hemenway and the Caswell families. Mrs. Mattoon took on numerous jobs of being a tailoress, dressmaker, housekeeper, and gardener, along with learning the Thai language and giving daily English lessons.
Stephen Mattoon took the enormous tasks in his first year and a half to learn the language, make Christian literature distributions, make calls upon Siamese officials, and endeavor to share the Gospel.
The death of Mr. Caswell in September 1848, and the sickness of Mr. Hemenway, caused Mattoon to take on an even more substantial role of leading preaching services in Thai and holding tri-weekly services in the bazaar.
The loss of Rev. Caswell was sorrowful and incalculable. In February 1849, Mrs. Caswell and her children felt obliged to depart for the USA. In April, the Presbyterian board reinforce the Siam mission with the arrival of the Rev. Stephen Bush and his wife. On 29 August 1849, the group of five organized the First Presbyterian Church of Siam with Stephen Mattoon as pastor.
By 1850, the Bradley family had returned from the USA now with the AMA. They had brought with them Rev. Dr. L.B. Lane and Professor J. Silsby. With these reinforcements, the Presbyterians who were currently occupying AMA properties needed to move. The necessity to buy land for a mission compound was problematic as the King of Siam was growing more hostile with foreigners residing in Bangkok, due to issues with the British government. Some Siamese teachers and servants of the missionaries were beaten and imprisoned. Many of the Siamese forces fled from working with the missions. Meanwhile, the King of Siam became gravely ill and died.
When Prince Mongkut ascended the throne, he met with Dr. Bradley and asked that ladies of the various missions to come and teach English to his wives and concubines. Mrs. Jones (American Baptist Mission), Mrs. Bradley (AMA), and Mrs. Mattoon (Presbyterian Mission) undertook this work, spending two days a week in the court.
This work lasted until 1854, when an unflattering account of the King made in a Singapore newspaper, drew the King’s ire, suspecting missionaries were involved in its publication.
On 5 October 1851, the Presbyterian Mission was able to baptize a Chinese man from Hainan. In 1852, after the Presbyterian Siam mission secured a long term lease of a compound and Dr. House opened a school for Siamo-Chinese boys. The Mission had the assistance of See Tuen and Quakieng, who had previously served under the ABCFM and had opened a school for Chinese boys in Ratburi. Mrs. Mattoon had several young girls under her care and instruction, including the daughter of Quakieng. She also was able to gain the trust of families in a Pegu village and had girls become boarding pupils. A Siamese girl named Ruat, and given the Christian name of Esther, was entrusted to the Mattoon family. She became the first Siamese Christian woman to convert through the Presbyterian Mission.
On 28 March 1857, departed for the USA after Mary Laurie Mattoon had experienced a long illness. Her daughter, Mary, adopted Siamese daughter Esther, and a Chinese servant named Bun Chee accompanied Mary Laurie to the U.S. In August, they arrived. A month later, Emma Mattoon was born.
In 1858, Daniel McGilvary and Jonathan Wilson and his wife arrived in Siam. Their arrival allowed for Mattoon to seek a furlough to the U.S. He was appointed to represent the newly established Presbytery of Siam and returned home to be with his family, arriving on 18 April 1859. While in the U.S., Mattoon visited churches, presbytery and General Assembly meetings. Mattoon also had an audience with President Buchanan.
The Mattoon family, Esther, Bun Chee, and four new Presbyterian missionary recruits (Rev. and Mrs. S.C. McFarland and Rev. and Mrs. A.M McDonald) set sail on 5 June 1860 arriving in Bangkok on 15 September 1860. Since their departure, a Siamese teacher by the name of Nai Chune had received baptism. He soon took the lead in teaching after the death of Quakieng. Upon their arrival, the Presbyterian missionaries found a mourning Jonathan Wilson, lamenting the death of his wife and little daughter.
With the Mission reinforced, the McGilvary and McFarland families opened up a new station in Petchaburi (eighty-five miles southwest of Bangkok). Matton again took up the task of revising scriptures. By 1862, he had edited the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles of John and Romans. During this time, Mary Laurie Mattoon continued to struggle in her health with asthma. She received medical advice to depart Siam, but the Mattoons decided that Stephen’s Bible revision work was so important, they could not do so. In July 1864, a ship in Bangkok was departing for the USA. Reluctantly, it was agreed that Mrs. Mattoon, along with her daughters, would return to the USA. Jonathan Wilson and another young American businessman accompanied Mary Laurie, and their ship arrived in the U.S. on 5 June 1864.
In 1865, Stephen Mattoon had completed his translation and revision work of the Siamese New Testament. When Jonathan Wilson and his new wife returned to Siam, Mattoon believed he must end his missionary career. He rejoined his family in the U.S. and became a pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Ballston Spa, New York. Union College also awarded him the degree of D.D. to honor his extensive service to the church.
In 1870, the Freedmen’s Board of the Presbyterian Church requested Stephen Mattoon to become President of the Biddle Institute (later becoming Johnson C. Smith University), a college for freed blacks near Charlotte, NC. He ably served the college, earning the respect of blacks and whites in a time of much division within the country. He passed away to an eternal reward on 15 August 1885. He was preceded in death by his much-loved wife, Mary Mattoon, who passed away in February 1885.
Payap University Archives
Mattoon Family Papers, RG 008/1991
Eakin Papers, ‘Stephen Mattoon’
Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA
Record Group 275
Wheaton College, Landon Collection, Box 299:
Folder 40: Rev. and Mrs. Stephen Mattoon, Published Letters and Journals, 1848-1860.
Folder 41: Norman Mattoon Thomas, Grandson of the Rev. and Mrs. Stephen Mattoon, 1963-1985.
Folder 42: Rev. Stephen Mattoon; Mary Lowrie Mattoon, 1847-1979.
Folder 44: The Life of Stephen Mattoon, by Mary L. Mattoon, 1928 [Unpublished].
Folder 45: Mattoon Letters, 1854-1859.
Folder 46: Mattoon Letters, 1844-1852.
Folder 47: Mattoon Letters, Volume 1, 1844-1853.
Folder 48: Mattoon Letters, Volume 2, 1854-1859.
Folder 49: Mattoon Letters, 1860-1867.
Folder 50: Rev. Stephen Mattoon, D. D., 1816-1889.