Goodell was among the first American missionaries to Turkey, and among the longest-lasting. He was a catalyst of and a witness to a great revival among Armenians there and was survived by children who also served there.
I will start this review with an attention-grabber, the single most awesome and telling statement about the task at hand, written in Beirut in 1823-1824:
"We almost daily read the Scriptures in Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Turkish Armenian (or Armeno-Turkisb), Arabic, Italian, and English, and frequently hear them read in Syriac, Hebrew, and French. Seldom do we sit down to our meals without hearing conversation at the table in Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Turkish, Italian, and English, and prayer daily ascends from this house — I hope to heaven — in all these languages, excepting the Italian. In translating the Scriptures, we have open before us the Bible in Ancient and Modern Greek, Ancient and Modern Armenian, Turkish, Armeno-Turkish, English, two translations in Arabic and three in Italian, and occasionally Hebrew and Syriac" (p. 104).
Goodell arrived in Istanbul prior to American missionary Cyrus Hamlin, who was under Goodell via the American Board. I read both of Hamlin's memoirs (here and here) and recommend them over this work, but there are many gems in this biography. This biography was compiled by Goodell's son-in-law, E.D.G. Prime, after his death; Goodell was unable to complete memoirs he set out to write at the behest of his family but the incomplete is included here. The author is no biographer, and mostly reprints dozens of letters and journal entries by Goodell while also adding in occasional commentary where he had knowledge. As a result, this 571 page book becomes a slog as personal letters are reprinted in their entirety rather than edited for content. As always, this forgotten book has led me to other forgotten books by missionaries and travelers mentioned therein.
Goodell himself speaks and writes in Bible-ese. Most of his letters are to church friends, donors, and fellow missionaries, so they are all filled with biblical language and exhortation. This is quaint and remarkable, but a bit much to read repeatedly. There is very little detail about his family life, had the compiler of this book not included details about his kids you would not know how many he had or where they ended up. There is little personal about his marriage and how they kept it going in difficult conditions in Istanbul; his wife is ill most of the time, but little is written about it. One gathers from Hamlin's memoirs that he and Goodell did not get along due to differences in opinions about education and a proper theology of work, and the few references to Hamlin by Goodell speak of him cordially but not often. Hamlin does write an epitaph for the book which recalls Goodell quite faithful and fondly.
Like Hamlin's books, this work provides a great snapshot of America in the early 1800s, particularly the religious life and development of churches. There were far fewer denominations in those days, and much more reliance on one another. Sunday School was a new invention, and controversial for replacing Catechism classes where Congregationalist children would memorize creeds of the Church. Fascinating statement about his local church options:
"As the Baptist meetinghouse was much nearer than the Congregational, we were not unfrequently found there on the Sabbath; and had it not been for disowning the Abrahamic covenant confirmed in Christ, and especially had it not been for close communition, which was strictly adhered to as an article of faith, some of us might have joined that church, for many of its members were earnest Christian men and women, loving the Bible, and speaking often one to another on the great subjects which concern our common salvation" (p. 33).
Revivals under the Second Great Awakening happened while Goodell was in college. He notes a particularly remarkable one at Dartmouth College in 1815 and documents the impact the alumni had on the world. Interestingly, while Goodell was attending Phillips Academy, he attended the commissioning service of Adonirom Judson and company to India in 1812. He notes that it was a large event with wide impact in terms of personal revival. It is not clear when Goodell made his mind up for overseas service, but he seemed to have a sense of wanting to fill whatever the greatest need was because he felt most-equipped. Here is a great missionary quote recorded after he made his mind up to go overseas:
"I used to think of great trials, such as leaving friends and country, being burned at the stake, having one's head chopped off, etc. I now think less of these, and more of the ten thousand little ones that will occur every day probably till I die. God's grace will be sufficient for all" (p. 82).
After graduating from Andover Theological Seminary and before going overseas, Goodell traveled most of known America, from Maine to Mississippi, where he became acquainted with Shawnee Indians along the way as he preached in churches and met missionaries to the Natives. Goodell follows in the heels of Pliny Fisk, Levi Parsons, and Levi Spaulding who earlier left for the Ottoman Middle East, Fisk to Palestine around 1819 (these also have biographies you can find archived). Jerusalem became Goodell's target, primarily to be a witness to Armenian Orthodox Christians and others there in a goal to see revival and a return to Scripture as opposed to oppressive traditions and he and his wife set sail in January, 1823 (p. 91-92). Initially, they and their fellow travelers lived in Malta where they ran a printing press which printed Gospel tracts in Greek and Armeno-Turkish, which is Turkish written in Armenian characters. Interestingly, the English government forbid dissemination of tracts on the island itself so as not to stir up the Greeks.
"Some idea of the extent to which the press was used may be gained from the statement that from July 1, 1822, to Dec. 31, 1828, there were issued at Malta, of books and tracts, 7,852,200 pages, and more than 5,000,000 pages were put in circulation" (p. 129).
After several months, they set sail for Beirut, arriving in November. This part gets interesting because the Greeks have revolted for independence from Turkey, causing issues for trying to settle anywhere in the area. There is an anti-tax rebellion in Jerusalem that eventually has to be put down by an Ottoman Pasha. The Americans enjoyed the protection of the English consul in Beirut, given that there was not an American equivalent or a State Department at the time.
"The winter was spent in the study of the Turkish, the Arabic, and the Armenian languages; but the missionaries entered at once upon their work of preaching Christ in the house and by the way, wherever they found an opportunity or could make one. They distributed the Word of God in various languages, the books being furnished by the British and Foreign Bible Society" (p. 100). They were a local curiousity, with people of all ethnicities stopping by and often leaving with a tract or a Bible or having heard the Scripture read in Arabic or other local language by Americans who surely could barely speak it. This is both convicting and unbelievable:
"We almost daily read the Scriptures in Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Turkish Armenian (or Armeno-Turkish), Arabic, Italian, and English, and frequently hear them read in Syriac, Hebrew, and French" (p. 104).
This is also pretty amazing, written in 1835:
"I had read the whole New Testament through five or six times in Ancient Greek, several times in Turkish, Armeno-Turkish, and Modern Greek, several times in Italian, Latin, and Arabic, and between fifty and sixty times in English; air this not carelessly, but with thought and reflection, and not only with attention of the mind, but with a sincere and prayerful desire of the heart to understand it, and that the more I read it the better I liked it" (p. 218).
Eventually, a local Maronite priest began to stir up opposition to the missionaries and forbid others to visit their homes or taking Bibles or tracts from them. This begins the long pattern of the book with Catholics and Armenian Orthodox threatening excommunication with anyone forming their own fellowships or having anything to do with the Protestant missionaries. Persecution took many forms, mostly affected the local converts, and ebbs and flows throughout the book. In every locale, the missionaries are aided in life and translation work by local converts with interesting testimonies. These, in turn, suffer much persecution and some are killed. Everyone faces excommunication for even speaking to the missionaries. In some cases, the locals resist the patriarchs after seeing the education that the missionaries' schools provide for their children. In the worst cases, the excommunications lead to trade bans which impoverish the converts. The worst of the persecution broke out around 1839, impoverishing many in the Armenian quarter. Cyrus Hamlin's memoirs cover this in more detail.
All the while, the Goodells host Westerners in a Sunday house church fellowship in each locale. Pliny Fisk died at the Goodell's in 1825. In 1826 a Greek force lands in Beirut which leads to an Ottoman seige and much intrigue. Goodell's house is raided by Ottoman soldiers and Goodell demands, and later receives, official redress. Europe eventually supports the Greek cause, which causes more dangerous complications. Just as the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul apparently gives orders to expel the Americans from the continent, the Sultan happens to send his Janissaries to raze the Armenian quarter of Istanbul, killing many and burning their churches, which happens to save the American missionaries' positions in Beirut. Eventually, Goodell sends his family to a Maronite convent for protection, and he sneaks there occasionally in secret, fearing Turkish assassins bribed by the Armenians. By 1827, the French and English withdraw their consuls and the missionary work is suspended; the Goodells return to Malta.
By 1830, Goodell had completed his first edition of an Armeno-Turkish New Testament, which would be widely disseminated, later edited, and for which he would later write a commentary on some books. He laments that there is no available Turkish translation of the entire Bible, nor had the Turks translated the Koran into Turkish, which would have made his job of finding Turkish religious words more easy. He remarks that there are not even any Islamic prayer or devotional books found in Turkish. (I find this curious because Turks today study the Koran in an old Osman Turkish dialect which requires special training, I used to see advertisements for courses at mosques when I lived in Ankara.) Goodell does report of work of the British and Foreign Bible Society to translate the full Scripture into Turkish in the 1850s (p. 427). Goodell labors with a couple of Armenians to complete the task of translating the Old Testament into Armeno-Turk as well, which he would complete by 1841 in Istanbul. Reportedly, it is Goodell's translation that found wide dissemination throughout Central Asia and the Middle East wherever the Armenian diaspora was to be found. I am curious how his text affected the next official translation of Scriptures into Turkish. There is probably a dissertation to be written on scriptural translation in Turkey.
In 1831, at the age of 39, the Goodell takes his family to Constantinople (Istanbul) where they take up residence in Pera. Plague and fire are constant hazards in the lives of people then, causing many problems for months on end. Soon after getting settled, their home and all possessions, including much of his translation work, burn in a great "conflagration" (p. 139-149). Goodell often writes of having to quarantine his family and steam the mail and parcels they receive from infection. Some days the plague suddenly kills hundreds, other days fires take out hundreds of homes. 1831 also saw a ridiculous hail storm with stones as large as 14 inches in diameter destroying homes and killing animals. In 1837, a plague wiped out a significant part of the population, including some among the missionary families (p. 240).
There were reportedly one million people in Istanbul at the time, 15% of which were Greeks and Armenians, and 5% were Jews (p. 151). In the Ottoman days it was declared that the minorities govern themselves under officials appointed or at least approved by the Sultan. They were generally left to their own affairs with little Turkish interference.
Among the Americans in Istanbul at that time were Henry Eckford, shipbuilder to the Sultan, and Commodore Porter, a former Naval officer and official representative of the U.S. government (1831-1839. I have a copy of Porter's autobiography which I am certain is quite interesting). Porter and Goodell become good friends, Porter is supportive of the ministry and offers his residence to the Goodells at one point. The first American known to be born in Istanbul is Constantine Washington Goodell in 1831, after the fire. He would also die there of illness some years later. They have other children but few of their births are recorded, they just begin to show up in the letters and diaries, and only in the epitaph at the end do we hear what becomes of them.
The work in Istanbul was two-fold, establishing Lancastarian Schools for Greeks and Armenians and translating Scripture into Armeno-Turkish. The schools were controversial both for educating girls and using the Bible in classes. Goodell and the Americans were careful never to speak out against the Armenian church, but simply shared their beliefs when asked and provided Bibles and literature. Tracts given out years previously would find their way into many hands, some of which became converted. Goodell's prayer was for the Armenian Orthodox church to experience reform and revival from within, and he eventually saw many converts among priests. Persecution against the schools ebbed and flowed over the years, but some high-ranking Turks investigated establishing their own Lancastarian schools. It's important to recognize that the persecution the missionaries faced were by Catholic and Orthodox churches, sometimes on directive from St. Petersburg or Rome. Goodell recounts in a letter that 99 of 100 cases of persecution "come not from the Turks, but from these corrupt churches, — the Turks never of themselves showing a disposition to molest us, and being drawn in to side with our persecutors only when under this terrible outside pressure" (p. 464).
The missionaries eventually lived to see two edicts that dramatically increased the religious freedom of the entire population, including the right of one religion to convert to another. While it was not always protected faithfully, it was hailed as a great relief by the missionaries and the result of much prayer and work by a favorable English consul and others in the West.
There are a lot of observations about Turkish, Armenian, and Greek culture and Istanbul generally that would be fascinating to people who live there today but which I will not repeat here. Goodell, supposedly being able to hold his own in Arabic, Armenian, Greek, and Turkish, was widely acquainted with happenings. The book notes many other American travelers and missionaries who came and went during his forty years abroad. There are also some Ottoman military defeats that raised fear in the capital, particularly in 1833 when the Sultan ceded Syria to a viceroy.
"(T)he Turkish character is not altogether a compound of ignorance, grossness, barbarism, and ferocity, as it has been sometimes represented, for they have certainly some redeeming qualities. As a nation, they are temperate and very frugal. They make much less use of animal food than is common with ourselves; and it is only within a few years that they have begun in some places to transgress the laws of their prophet by indulging in wine. They are hospitable, but ceremonious; very easy and dignified in their manners, but, if report be true,, vicious and beastly in their habits; extremely kind to their domestics, and especially to their slaves; exercising unbounded benevolence towards the whole canine race, and not unfrequently a moderate degree towards some of their fellow-men; but furious in anger, and in executing vengeance on their enemies, terrible. They are much inclined to superstition, and, in general, attend strictly to the externals of their religion. Their natural gravity and taciturnity give them, in the view of strangers, the appearance of being haughty and disdainful ; and, indeed, they have a lofty national pride, which is in some instances so prominent as to be extremely offensive. But, after all, there is something in the Turkish character which I always admire; and I have frequently made the remark that, should they be brought under the influence of the Gospel, they would, to my taste, be the most interesting of all the Orientals" (p. 183).
This quote could have been written in 2015:
"The Mussulmans on other occasions as well as this have been frequently pointed out to me by Europeans as being a most sincere, devout, and praiseworthy people in respect to their devotions; and their punctilious observance of them, anywhere and everywhere, has been held up as an example for Protestant Christians to imitate. And yet these same Europeans would call us bigots, fanatics, hypocrites, and more names and worse than could be found in any dictionary, wore we to pray in that way in the streets, in the coffee shops, in the public places of resort, in the midst of our business, or wherever we might happen to be prays."He concludes the thought about his observations about the ineffectiveness of religious devotion among the Turks:
"Nobody ever feels' that his life and property are in any degree the more secure because he has fallen into the hands of those who have just risen up from their prayers. No one is ever supposed to be the less covetous, the less selfish, the less impure, the less a cheat, a gambler, a liar, a defrauder, a murderer, because he prays. Nothing is farther from his own thoughts, or the thoughts of the bystanders, than that his prayer should exert any transforming influence upon his character" (p. 257-258).
At the height of the 1839 persecution, Sultan Mahmoud dies and his son Abdul Medjid ascends to the throne. Soon after, a great fire burned much of the Armenian quarter in Pera, destroying much of the wealth of the minorities there. Goodell reports that this was seen by the Armenians as a divine sign to stop persecuting the Protestants, and relief was given. Further relief came when Sultan Abdul Medjid issued what was hailed as the "Magna Charta of Turkey," the Hatti Sherif of Gül Hane (p. 280-281). The Hatti Sherif guaranteed some rights to liberty, including religious liberty. Later developments culminated in an 1844 decree and the more comprehensive 1856 Hatti Humayoun which even gave all people in the empire the right to convert to other religions and some freedom from government interference in religious affairs.
"There are few events in the history of nations more remarkable than these attempts at reform, and these constitutional guarantees, emanating not from the demands of the people, but from the throne of one of the most despotic governments that has ever existed, and steadily carried forward in opposition to the wishes of the official force of the empire" (p. 281).
The book also contains glimpses of the stresses of missionary life. Goodell writes a letter confessing his frustration at not being able to meet everyone's demands of him and explaining his daily routine. He is constantly being asked to write letters and report his happenings to American supporters, which takes time. He conducts religious services and baptisms for other Westerners, regardless of denominational affiliation. He's responsible for his own family as well as other missionary families. He has schools to run on top of his important work of translation. He's called upon by many in the community to converse on many things. At one point, his family forgoes coffee and other amenities in order to be in solidarity with budget cuts at the American Board.
"I seem to myself to be like the poor man who tried to please everybody, and pleased nobody, and accomplished nothing for himself. I must try more to please my blessed Lord, and let the whole world go" (p. 288).
Eventually, they see a dramatic "revival" among the Armenian Orthodox, with many leaving the church (and being excommunicated) starting their own churches in various parts of Istanbul and greater Anatolia. By 1846, Goodell records witnessing the ordination of new Armenian pastors in Istanbul and the growth of the church there.
"There are now seven evangelical churches in Turkey, and, before you receive this, there will probably be eight. These churches of the living God have nowhere to assemble but 'at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,' in a private house, or in a room rented for the purpose, no house of prayer having been yet erected for any of them. The church of Constantinople was organized nearly two years ago, with forty members, and sixty have since been added to it, there having been additions at every communion" (p. 388-389).
In 1856, Goodell writes that the number of Protestant churches in Turkey had grown to at least 30, only three of which were in Istanbul; services were sometimes performed jointly in Armenian and Turkish (p. 446).
The Goodells send some of their children back to the U.S. to study and return themselves in 1851 for the first time since leaving the U.S. thirty years prior; William travels the country visiting family and preaching in churches while his wife rests. He reportedly visited 18 states and traveled 21,000 miles in their two years stateside (p. 413). He even published a book about his observations about the changes he saw in America. He laments what he sees as the decline in the aggressiveness of the church, the lack of growth or desire for growth. I am pretty sure he would not be surprised at the state of things in his native New England today.
Goodell remarks upon returning to Istanbul in 1853:
"No romantic views of missionary life beckon us back; for we have had too long and too much experience in all the sober realities of this kind of life to feel the influence of any such romance. No glowing speeches from venerated fathers in the church now inspire us with enthusiasm to return to the scene of our former labors; for 'the fathers, where are they?' Their voices are silent in death, or faltering with age. No, it is only a strong sense of duty that urges us to return" (p. 418).
The Crimean War breaks out in 1853, creating many changes in Istanbul, but this affected Goodell's work apparently much less than Cyrus Hamlin's as recorded in Hamlin's memoirs. The Hatti Hamayoun granting religious freedoms was partially a result of Turkey's alliance with England and France. In 1859, Goodell writes of Turks frequently dropping in on Protestant services and reports of many converts and Bible-readers (possibly in Arabic?):
"Within the last five or six years, several hundred copies of the Holy Scriptures every year have been sold to the Turks. The history of these we never knew; but we now begin to find among the Turks those who really seem- to be Bible Christians, spiritually minded, who, with no teacher but the Bible, have become wise unto salvation. How many minds are thus awakened, and how many hearts are thus ; affected, it is impossible at present to say. "We are told of thousands but if they be counted only by hundreds, or even scores, it is still a great work. Facts are coming to our knowledge every day that fill us with astonishment. It really seems as though the heavens were about to 'drop down upon us abundantly.' A nephew of one of the pashas here, who lives with his uncle, and who was educated by him to be one of the four great Mollas of the empire, is a candidate for Christian baptism. More than 20 Mussulmans had been baptized in Constantinople, and one of these, Selim Effendi, who had taken as his Christian name Edward Williams, was licensed to preach the Gospel."
By 1863, Goodell had finished revising his translation of the Bible and commentaries he had written, turning his last days' efforts toward preaching. One of his sons returns to the U.S. to fight for the Union, and he remarks of other U.S. delegates who return to fight for the South. A daughter and son-in-law were laboring as missionaries in Harput/Elazığ in Eastern Turkey. By 1865 it is decided that William Goodell and his wife should retire to the U.S. to live with their Stateside children and live out their remaining days. They engage in travel and some speaking engagements before Goodell suddenly takes ill and passes away in 1867, he is buried in West Philadelphia in the same cemetary as Commodore Porter. Mrs. Goodell dies in 1871. The book concludes with epitaphs and memorials from Goodell's former coworkers and friends, and the Hatti Hamayoun and Gül Hane proclamatıons are reprinted in English as appendices.
"He was a man of courage as well as a man of peace" (p. 537).
Like Hamlin's books, I would like Goodell's to be as widely-read as possible. 5 stars.