Carey was born into a family of weavers, the youngest of five children. His father was a faithful member of the Church of England and, when Carey was six, his father was appointed the parish clerk and village schoolmaster. The deep involvement and indoctrination Carey faced during his early years caused him to develop a deep mistrust and distaste for the dissenting groups. He once wrote, “‘There was a place of worship and a small body of dissenters in the village but I never attended it and thought myself to have enmity enough in my heart to destroy it completely.”
But Carey’s opinion was soon to change. The older he got, the more his sin and guilt burdened upon him. He did everything in his power to ease the guilt and obtain peace with God. He writes, “I was at present unacquainted with the wickedness of my heart and the necessity of Saviour.” When he was 14, Carey was sent to apprentice at the shop of a shoemaker. For four long years, he worked with the man, going deeper and deeper into sin every day. But a fellow apprentice, John Warr, was a Dissenter and a positive influence on Carey. When Carey was caught trying to cheat his boss out of money, the guilt, dishonor, and humiliation was too much for the 18-yr old to bear and he realized that his own attempts to reform could never work. So he attended a prayer meeting of the dissenters with his friend. The message that night pierced his heart:
He insisted much on the necessity of following Christ entirely and enforced his exhortation with that passage Heb xiii “Let us therefore go out unto him without the camp bearing his reproach.” I think I had a desire to follow Christ but an idea occurred to my mind upon hearing those words which broke me off from the church of England. The idea was certainly very crude but useful in bringing me from attending a lifeless carnal ministry to one more evangelical. I concluded that the church of England as established by law was the camp in which all were protected from the scandal of the cross and that I ought to bear the reproach of Christ among the dissenters and accordingly I always afterwards attended divine worship among them.
William had briefly served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church, Hamilton, Ohio. But in 1850, he began to feel burdened for the growing missionary work and he and his wife, Martha, applied to the American Baptist Missionary Union, where they were assigned to work among the Chinese in Siam.
After a four month voyage, they arrived in Hong Kong, where they would begin a work that would last nearly half a century and span all over China, Thailand, and Siam. When Ashmore first arrived, he applied himself with extreme diligence in learning the Chinese language. After he had a mastery of the language, he would go from house to house, talking with those that lived there, handing out tracts, and teaching them of Christ.
After seven years, the Ashmores moved to Hong Kong. In 1858, following the death of his wife, Ashmore relocated to Swatow (Shantou), on the mainland, where he established a new field that replaced Hong Kong as the center of American Baptist Chinese missions. He focused on training Chinese workers and had one of the most extensive indigenous staffs among American Baptists. In 1863, during a furlough in the United States, he married Eliza Dunlevy of Lebanon, Ohio. In the 1870s he served as home secretary for the ABMU. During this period Eliza was seriously ill and eventually died. In 1890 he married Charlotte Brown (widow of Nathan Brown, missionary to Japan) and the couple began their final missionary assignment.
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