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Abeel, David 雅裨理 (1804-1846)
Alternative Names:Ya Bili 雅裨理
Religious Affiliation:American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions

Source: G. Anderson, Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, pp. 1-2.
Compiler: Ricci Institute

Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1804, David Abeel (Chinese name Ya Bili 雅裨理) merged his medical studies with Christian ministry. He graduated from New Brunswick Seminary and was ordained in 1826. Before his mission carried him to Asia, Abeel served in Athens, New York until health problems forced his brief leave of absence for recuperation in the West Indies. In 1829 Abeel was appointed Chaplain of the Seaman’s Friend Society. In October 1829 he sailed for Guangzhou 廣州 (Canton), taking ship with Elijah C. Bridgman, first China missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Like Bridgman, Abeel undertook intensive language study. While a chaplain in Guangzhou he studied the Fujian 福建 (Fukienese) dialect and in addition began to learn Malay and Thai. In 1830 his missionary appointment by the ABCFM was approved. Abeel also became well acquainted with the Dutch Reformed Church, visiting their missions in Java (1831) and later, Borneo (1839).

In 1833 his recurring illness forced him home to recuperate, but not before he passed through Europe speaking on behalf of the China mission. While in England he helped found the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, whose archives may be found at MUNDUS. Though Abeel returned to Guangzhou in 1839, the outbreak of the Opium War (Yapian zhanzheng 鴉片戰爭, 1840-1842) made all foreigners in the area suspect, so he travelled to Borneo and inspected the work of the Dutch Reformed Church. By 1841 he was back in Xiamen 廈門 (“Amoy”) where he established a mission at Gulangyu 鼓浪嶼 (“Kolongsu”). Abeel, who had contracted tuberculosis, was joined in 1844 by Elihu Doty and William John Pohlman from the Borneo mission. The Xiamen mission, at one of the five treaty ports allowed the missionaries, grew into a major site for mission activities, but Abeel’s health forced him to return to America, where he died at Albany, New York, in 1846

Subject headings: Dutch Reformed Church / American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) / Singapore / Bangkok / Borneo / Society for Promoting Female Education / Kolongso (Amoy) / Doty, Elihu / Pohlman, William John / Women’s education rights / Sarah Doremus.

Compiler: Fujian Shifan daxue 福建師範大學
Journal of a residence in China and the neighboring countries from 1830 to 1833 (1836)


Web resources:
Brief biography of Abeel [link]
Appletons Encyclopedia entry for Abeel [link]
Church Union (unlinked document on 19th century American missions) [link]
Eulogy of the Rev. J. V. N. Talmage, D.D., by Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, D.D., LL.D., Pastor of the Collegiate Reformed Church, New York City. [link]
Records of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (MUNDUS) [link]
A Few Comments to Commemorate the Historic Role of Xu Jiyu 徐繼畲 and the 140th Anniversary of the Establishment of China's Modern-Style Education, by Fred W. Drake (Bilingual paper with some data on Abeel) [link]