Rev. Dr. John Scudder Sr. (September 3, 1793 – January 13, 1855), M.D., D.D., founded the first Western Medical Mission in Asia at Ceylon and later became the first American medical missionary in India. He began what amounted to more than 1,100 combined years of missionary service there by 42 members of four generations of the Scudder family of missionaries in India.
Scudder was born in Freehold, New Jersey, USA on September 3, 1793, the son of Joseph (a lawyer) and Maria Scudder. He graduated from Princeton University in 1811, and the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1813. He practised successfully in New York City.
One day, while visiting a patient, he saw on a table the pamphlet Conversion of the World, or the Claims of the 600,000,000 and the Ability and Duty of the Churches Respecting Them. As he read it he became convinced that he was called to be a missionary in response to the command to go into all the world to preach the gospel and heal the sick. He then became thoroughly committed to serving God through medical missions of the American Board, later of the Dutch Reformed Board.
He went to Ceylon in 1819 and founded the first Western Medical Mission in Asia at Panditeripo in Jaffna District as part of the American Ceylon Mission. He served there for nineteen years in the dual capacity of clergyman and physician. His most important service was the establishment of a large hospital, of which he was physician in chief. He was especially successful in the treatment of cholera and yellow fever. He also founded several native schools and churches. He later became the first American medical missionary in India, beginning more than 1,100 combined years of missionary service there by 42 members of 4 generations of the Scudders in India.
In 1836 John Scudder and Rev. Winslow started a mission at Madras with the purpose of establishing a printing press to issue the Scriptures and tracts in the Tamil language. John Scudder established his residence at Chintadrepettah (Chintadripet). He was in the United States in 1842-1846 and returned to India in 1847 where he spent two years in Madura giving medical aid to the Arcot Mission at the special request of the Board though not appointed as a member of it. In 1849 Scudder returned to his mission in Madras, where he laboured till his death. He took a visit for the benefit of his health to Wynberg, Cape of Good Hope, Africa where he died on January 13, 1855. He and his wife Harriet had six surviving sons and two daughters who all became medical missionaries and worked in South India.
Dr. John Scudder was one of the most indefatigable distributors of religious tracts that ever came to India. One of his first experiences in coming to Madura was the happy one of meeting a Christian woman who had been converted by reading a tract he had given her fifteen years before when he was still a member of the Jaffna Mission in Ceylon. The tract was "The Loss of the Soul." His Journal for the stay in Madura indicates that "The Blind Way" was the tract he distributed all the time. During his stay in India and Sri Lanka he observed Hinduism, the prevalent superstitions, and inhumane rites and rituals of Hinduism of that time. He tried spreading awareness and abolish superstitions and cruel rites and ceremonies such as Sati practice. He also wrote a book 'Dr. Scudder's tales for little readers about the heathen' (published in 1849) about his observations on Hinduism, and appealed youngsters of America to join the missionary work to contribute to spread of Christianity and for welfare of Hindus in India.
He published " Letters from the East" (Boston, 1833) ; "Appeal to Youth in Behalf of the Heathen" (1846) ; "Letters to Pious Young Men" (1846);" Provision for Passing over Jordan" (New York, 1852), and many tracts and papers that were published in the "Missionary Herald". He also gave away Almanacs. The tracts were merely an accompaniment to his preaching.