24 March 2009

George H. Ferris

Missionary to India

George H. Ferris was born in Hillsdale, Michigan, on 26 December 1858, studied at Princeton University, and graduated from Auburn Theological Seminary in 1878. Shortly after the completion of his divinity degree in May of that year, he married Lucy Hall, daughter of Abigail Farnam Hagaman and Benjamin Franklin Hall, a former mayor of Auburn. On 5 November 1878 the couple sailed for India as missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

During their sixteen years of service to the mission at Panhala, about 300 miles southeast of Bombay, Rev. and Mrs. Ferris learned Marathi, an Indo-Aryan language of the Marathi people of western India. They translated leaflets, tracts and portions of the Bible into that language.

On only one occasion did the Ferrises return to the United States for a visit. "The distance from home and the dangers to which she had been exposed in a land so full of injurious climatic influences, noxious reptiles and beasts of prey, made her return in the summer of 1889, with her husband and four children [Chauncy, Ralph, Herbert and Phoebe Ruth], born in India, all in safety and good health, an event of sufficient importance in the family to be celebrated in some special manner," according to a printed remembrance of the event.

Thus, the extended family gathered for Thanksgiving at the home of Charles F. Houghton in Corning on 28 November 1889. Rev. Ferris said the blessing before the meal. The patriarch of the family, Benjamin Franklin Hall, addressed his descendants at dinner, seated, for he was too feeble to stand. He said he "believed in grandchildren," and he recalled the election to the presidency of the current president's grandfather, noting that "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" was among the best-remembered political war-cries of his day. Acknowledging his own sense of growing infirmity, he expressed his doubt that the entire family would again be gathered together, and he reaffirmed his pride in his children and their families. Lucy Hagaman Hall likewise addressed the family at dinner: "Few if any parents have the reason to be as proud and happy as your father and I on this occasion. Here are all our living children and grandchildren, all of noble lives and high aims and of each one we hope it may truly be said that the world is a better place for their having lived. Into each life some dark days must come and in ours, we have been safely carried through, thanks to God, by these noble sons, and with the help of all, as each in turn has grown to maturity and we are come to a haven of rest, even in this life.... I thank God for all these noble lives. May their children be all to them that they have been to us."

Rev. and Mrs. Ferris returned to India, leaving their three sons in the care of Rev. and Mrs. E.M. Wheny, who had labored in the mission field in India for two decades. While on mission business in Bombay in 1894, Ferris was stricken with a kidney ailment. While returning to his mission station, Ferris was hospitalized at Poona, where he died on 7 March 1894.