Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame to Induct Newell, Became Martyr for Missionaries

Painting of Harriet Atwood Newell.

A Haverhill woman, who became a martyr for missionaries worldwide and whose memoirs remain in print more than 200 years later, will be honored in June as the latest inductee into the Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame.

Harriet Atwood Newell, who lost her baby and died herself during a three-month voyage in 1812 during a mission to India, is the first of two inductions this year. She will be honored Saturday, June, 9, at 2 p.m., at the First Congregational Church, behind Bradford Common.

Newell was born Oct. 10, 1793, the third of nine children of Haverhill merchants Moses and Mary (Tenny) Atwood. The Atwood home was on Crescent Place, now Winter Street, on the site of the new Domino’s Pizza parking lot.

Jack Lynch of the Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame Committee will discuss Newell’s selection in detail on WHAV’s New Open Mic Show, Monday, June 4, beginning at 6 p.m., following local news.

Newell attended Bradford Academy, where she was influenced by the religious fervor of the period. She became friends with another future Christian missionary and Haverhill Hall of Fame member, Ann Haseltine. In February 1812, Ann married Rev. Adoniram Judson, and Harriet married Rev. Samuel Newell. Both clergymen were founders of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The two women embraced their husbands’ plans to devote their lives to the missions in India and, on February 19, departed Salem Harbor on the first American foreign missionary venture.

Their ship arrived in Calcutta, June 18, 1812, the same day that the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. When the British East India Company learned of the presence of American missionaries, they issued expulsion orders. The Newells embarked for the Isle de France, now Mauritius, an island off Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

What would normally have been a voyage of six weeks instead took three months because of contrary winds, leakage and storms.  Newell was afflicted with dysentery several times during the voyage. She gave birth prematurely to a daughter at sea, but the baby fell sick during a severe storm and died five days later. Soon, she began showing symptoms of tuberculosis, a disease with which she was all too familiar, as her father had passed away from it several years earlier.

Their ship reached its destination Oct. 31, but her condition worsened and she died Nov. 30, 1812.

Newell was a prolific letter writer and diarist. Following her death, her husband gathered her writings and sent them back to America. He also requested Leonard Woods, professor of theology at Andover, give the sermon at her memorial service. The memoir and sermon, published in 1814, quickly became a best-seller. For 25 years, a new edition was printed almost every year. The volume served as an inspiration to pious women throughout the United States, with numerous mothers bestowing upon their daughters the name Harriet Newell.

Her memoirs remain in print, including a paperback in 2011, and a Kindle edition in 2016. On the 200th anniversary of Harriet’s death, a memorial service was held at her gravesite by the University of Mauritius, the Biblical Society of Mauritius, and the American Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission.