Missionary Mr. Underwood

Old Korea

Mr. Horace Grant Underwood (July 19, 1859 – Oct. 12, 1916) was the first Presbyterian missionary for the Korean mission from the Presbyterian church U. S. A.. In Korea he is well known as just “Missionary Underwood”, and his Korean name is “Won Doo-Woo” (원 두우; 元 杜尤). Mr. Underwood was born July 19, 1859, in London, England. When he was 13 years old, he immigrated to the United States of America. In 1881 he graduated from the University of New York, and studied further at the theological seminary of New Brunswick, New Jersey, until 1884. In November, 1883 he was ordained as a pastor, and studied medicine for a year to be a missionary for India.

On July 28, 1884 he had been selected as the first Presbyterian missionary for Korea, and on January 25, 1885 arrived in Japan. Unfortunately, he couldn’t go to Korea because of the national disorder under the influence of the Kapshin coup, which had been created by the reform party in Korea, thus he had to stay in Japan. He stayed at the house of Dr. Hapburn, and learned from him the experiences of the mission for China and Japan, and other advices.

Mr. Underwood met the Korean Christian Mr. Lee Soo-Jung (이 수정, 李 樹庭), who had translated the gospel of Mark. He had been recommended by Mr. Henry Loomis (1839-1920) of the U. S. Bible Society. Underwood learned much from him such as how to prepare for the Korea mission. He was a scholar and an aristocrat of Korean society. Underwood also learned about the Korean culture of high classes, and he also heard Mr. Lee’s story of conversion and about the translation of the Bible. Underwood confirmed the need and possibility for a Korea mission through the publication of the gospel Mark into Korean which was published in February 1985.

Fig. 1: Mr. Horace Grant Underwood (1859 – 1916)

Mr. Underwood also met a group exiled from Korea to Japan, after they failed in the Kapshin coup. Noteworthy were Kim Ok-Gyun, Park Young-Hyo, Seu Kwang-Bum, and Seu Jae-Pil. He had a good relationship with Mr. Seu Kwang-Bum, and learned Korean. Mr. Underwood, had a dream for Korean mission, and Mr. Seu, had a dream of revolution to establish the modern Korean nation, in which he failed, and lived in exile. They were both born in 1859 and being the same age had much in common. Mr. Underwood asked Mr. Seu to help his brother in New York when he moved to America. Later, in 1894, under the cabinet of Kim Hong-Jip, Mr. Seu Kwang-Bum came back to Korea as the new appointed minister of Justice. The two fellows happily met each other and thus Underwood had the minister of justice as a friend, and could accelerate his thoughts of the mission.

On Easter Sunday April 5, 1885, Underwood and Henry Gerhard Appenzeller (Feb. 6, 1858-June 11, 1902), who also was the first methodist missionary for Korea from the U. S., arrived finally in Korea at the port of Inchun. When both stepped onto Korean soil, they held each other’s hands, because they didn’t want to compete with each other in their mission in Korea.

But the government of Chosun didn’t allow their Christian mission, so all Underwood could do was to teach Physics and Chemistry at the Je-Jung-Won, the first western style hospital. In his baggage, there was the Korean translated bible “the Gospel of Mark” by Mr. Lee Soo-Jung. Thus Underwood became the first missionary to bring the translated Bible.

In June Underwood hired Song Soon-Yong(송 순용, 宋 淳容), a Catholic, as a Korean language teacher, to continue to learn Korean. Mr. Song was such an exceptional teacher and scholar of the Korean language, he was able to teach Korean to 7 or 8 French Catholic missionaries. In addition, he participated in the editing of the French-Korean dictionary of 1882. Underwood made an “English-Korean dictionary” and “Korean-English grammar” with his help, and went to Japan with him to publish them. The ”Korean-English grammar“ had been published in the next year. Underwood also learned from him the Chinese letters, the high class terminologies, and went out to the countryside to learn the language of the people at large.

On February 7, 1887, Underwood formed a “standing committee for the Bible” for the purpose of translating the Bible. He had been selected as the chair, Appenzeller as secretary, and W.B. Scranton and Dr. William Heron as committee members. In that month he went to Japan to learn how to organize the Japan Bible Society, and the principal ways of translation from Dr. Hepburn. He translated and published the “Gospel of Mark” in Korean, of which 2,000 copies were published in the summer of 1887 by the general manager of the Scotland Bible Society, Mr. Tompson. These copies were used mostly in the Seoul area mission.

Fig. 2: Front of 1905 Underwood cover.

Mr. Underwood returned from Japan, hired Mr. Seu Sang-Ryun, who had been working as the bible distributor for the missionary Ross, in Sim-Yang, China, and entrusted him in the north Korea mission. In January 1886 Mr. Seu visited Underwood with a letter of recommendation from the missionary Ross, and let Underwood know that in the area of So-Rae there are many converts to Christianity. Among them there were Seu Kyung-Jo, Choi Myung-O, Jung Gong-Bin, who visited Underwood in January 1887, to be baptized with the confession of their faith. Still, in Korea, Christianity was a prohibited religion. In that situation they were resigned to death to be baptized, On January 23, they had been baptized. After that a group of converters of Mr. Seu Sang-Ryun also came to Underwood to be baptized.

On the night of September 27, when missionary Ross visited Seoul, 14 converted Christians (13 were converted by Mr. Seu, and one was baptized by Underwood on July 18, 1886) from the first Presbyterian Church of Jung-Dong (currently Sae-Moon-An church) were baptized and organized the Korea Presbyterian Church. The organization was the first church in two and half years since starting the Korea mission and was the fruit of the evangelism of Mr. Seo Sang-Ryun. In early 1900 with Ross’ translation, and the distribution of the Gospel of Mark, Yang-Pyung-Dong Reformed Church had been established.

Underwood heard from missionary Ross about the Nevius Mission Plan which was to be carrying out in Man-Chu, and started to study Nevius’ book. In December 1888, he gathered together the Korean church leaders and the bible distributors, and opened the first theological (bible teaching) class

In 1889 he started a radical self-supportive policy when the Church of Jung-Dong had started to be built, and separated the seats of male and female in the shape of ㄱ letter in Korean. And also instead of hiring evangelists, he adopted a way of volunteer-engagement in mission work by the Christians themselves, thus preventing so called Christians from receiving money or Christian students from receiving the rice.

On the other side, Dr. Horace Newton Allen, who had been appointed as the American minister to Korea, Dr. John William Heron, who had been apointed as the head of Je-Jung-Won, were against the radical mission policy of Underwood, but supported the prudential and traditional way of the mission. In 1889, the headquarters of the Mission of the Presbyterian Church of the United States, sent their general secretary Mr. Michell to Korea to settle the conflict of the inner circle of the Korea mission. Also, in May 1890, a couple of Neviusites, who served 40 years in China, visited Seoul for the same purpose, to settle the Korean mission policy. That couple, who were very close to retirement, delivered their experiences of mission work to the young fellow missionaries for two weeks.

In 1891, under the initiation of Underwood, the Nevius mission plan was adopted as the official policy of the Korean mission of the Northern American Presbyterian Church. It introduced, so called, self-support, self-evangelism, and self-government policy. Later it also had been adopted by the other Presbyterian missions and the southern Methodists, and it was the foundation of a rapid growth of Korean churches.

Related to the Nevius mission plan, in autumn 1890, Samuel Moffett and George Gale visited Ross in Sim-Yang. China. From him they learned and adapted Ross’ method of the aboriginal pattern of the church building and worship, and inclusive way for native culture. They used this method in Pyung-Yang and Won-San. The “Nevius mission plan” which settled in Korea was actually “Nevius-Ross’ plan”, and at its center was the Bible itself. The method of self-support and Bible teaching meetings would produce the rapid growth of the Korean church in the history of Christianity.

Underwood travelled several times to Pyung-Yang and Eu-Ju, for preaching the gospel in the North Korean area in which there was a very active of mission. In autumn of 1887 he travelled up to Eu-Ju, in the spring of 1888 to Pyung-Yang with Appenzeller and in November again to Pyung-Yang. When he married Dr. Lillias Horton in March of 1889, they honeymooned in Eu-Ju, where he baptized 33 people at the river Ab-Rok. He walked 3,000 Ri (7320 miles) in 3 years, learned the language of rural farmers, distributed the Bible, and preached the gospel for the future mission branches.

In March, 1890, Appenzeller and the Bible society revised the Ross’ Gospel of Luke, and Romans, and published 3,000 copies of each. On June 11, 1890, the society entrusted Underwood and Scranton to translate all of the New Testament in two years. Thus the inland pure translation was started, and after 10 years, the translation of the New Testament was completed.

Following the chair of the Committee of the Korean Bible society, Underwood held the chair of Korea Christian education committee, and established a Christian school, the Salvation School of Seoul, Yun-Hee technical college (current Yun-Se university). He was a leader in various areas such as the movement of Korean church union, religion, culture, language, politics, and society.

Fig. 3: Reverse of same cover.

When he left the United States, Underwood had only read the book “Corea: the Hermit Nation” (1882) by W. E. Griffis, who was uninformed about Korea or the Korean language. In six years’ time, in April, 1891, when he left Korea for his first vacation of his sabbatical year, he was the best expert in Korean language, who translated the Gospels in Korean, wrote an English-Korean dictionary, and a book of Korean-English grammar.

Horace Underwood was friends with Dr. Arthur T. Pierson and became his influence during the school years, 1912-1916 when he held the principal position of the Pierson memorial Bible school (current Pyung-Taek university).

According to the serial stories on the “Christian thought” 2014, Underwood was a missionary who related well to Korean people, so he had been treated by the Japanese government in Korea as a figure of anti-Japan. He broadcasted on radio that “a day of liberation will come when you are waiting patiently”. He was met with strong disagreement with the Japanese imperialists and pro-Japan missionaries.

On October 12, 1916, he went back to the United States because of his worsening health condition, and died at the city hospital of Atlantic City in New Jersey. His corpse was brought back to Korea and buried at the foreigners cemetery of Yang-Hwa-Jin.

Still, after his death, his family remained in Korea, through three generations. They contributed for educational development as they established Han-Nam university and thru the medical mission. His son, Horace Horton Underwood(원한경(元漢慶), Sept. 6, 1890-Feb. 20, 1951) was also a missionary and educator. He was the chancellor of the Yun-Se university(former Yun-Hee technical college).

Forth generation, Horace Horton Underwood Jr.(원 한광) reported the news of Kwang-Joo public resistance 1980 to abroad, and got expelled by the military dictatorship power of Chun-Do-Hwan.

The envelopes in figures 2 and 3 show the Plum 10 Cheun postage stamp tied with the cancellation of “韓國 南大門 光武 九年 (1905) 六月 十二日 甲遞 – Korea Nam-Dae-Mun Kwang-Mu 9th year June 12, Ga-Chae” was from Horace Grant Underwood, the first Presbyterian missionary for Korea by the Presbyterian church U.S. to “Dr. G. L. Shearer 150 Nassau Street New York, NY USA”. There is also the via cancellation “MO 17 JUN 05” (USA), and arrival cancellation “NEW YORK, NY. JUL 15. 12.30PM 1905”.

Missionary Horace Grant Underwood was the father of the Korean Church and Korean Presbyterians! It is an honor that I could have one of his “footsteps” in my stamp collection.

(All my other collections can be seen at: https://blog.naver.com/coree1884

Dr. Joel Lee
Born in Korea, Vietnam war participation as ROK marine, Dr. of Ministry, Retired Presbyterian Pastor. 40 years collected for Korea stamps 1884-1905.

2 thoughts on “Missionary Mr. Underwood

  1. One correction: my great grandfather attended the New Brunswick Seminary in New Jersey not Canada. Please correct this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.