Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home Whats New  Trans State Nation  One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search

Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > American Ambassadors in Eelam 

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

American Ambassadors in Eelam 

27 December 2000

Sesquicentennial. Yes, that's the word in question for this commentary. It means 150th anniversary or its celebration. It is derived from semis (half) + que (and) + centennial. The Ceylon Daily News of Dec.15th, carried an editorial entitled, "A Satisfying Relation", on which I wish to comment. First I provide the first two paragraphs of this editorial.

"At what seemed to be a simple ceremony, a plaque to mark one hundred and fifty years of ties between the US and Sri Lanka was jointly unveiled by US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Ashley Wills and Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar at the US embassy premises in Colombo on Wednesday. The ceremony was symbolic of the unruffled, cordial and steady relations which have characterised US-Lanka ties over the decades.

"As Minister Kadirgamar noted, although formal diplomatic relations between the US and Sri Lanka are just fifty years old, the ties between the countries run into the early nineteenth century, when American missionaries first set foot on Sri Lankan soil. Christian missionaries from the US, for instance, set up educational and religious institutions in this country's north in those early years..."

It is easy to infer that the editorialist of the Ceylon Daily News and minister Kadirgamar are engaged in embellishing historical facts to suit their fancy. I can only make two inferences from such scientifically incompatible descriptions. Either those who organized the Dec.13th plaque unveiling ceremony are mathematically- challenged individuals, or they have emotionally de-linked Jaffna from the 'current' Sri Lanka state, which was the conclusion of my last week's commentary [Eelam in 2000; a nation in making].

From what I understood, the 150th anniversary of the beginning of US-Ceylonese ties is traced to the landing of an American whaling ship at Galle harbor, for replenishing its supplies. Well and good, if that was the first transient contact the Southern natives of Ceylon made with the Americans. 

But if one searches for historical truth of long term contact between the Americans and the northern natives of island Ceylon, it commenced in 1816. Since then 184 years have passed. By any yardstick, the word 'sesquicentennial' cannot be aligned with the number 184. But one has to reconcile to the tradition in Sri Lanka (the latest example being this one!) of re-writing the history of the island to suit the fancy of the Sinhalese Buddhists. This ill-conceived Mahavamsa chronicle tradition has been nurtured since 6th century AD.

Two distinguished American ambassadors (unofficial kind), with their wives made their way to Jaffna in 1820 [a generation span of 30 years before the whale ship's landing in Galle!] and lived among the native Eelam Tamils for over 14 years. Here, the word 'distinguished' means just that. Their biographies are featured in the authoritative, multi-volume Dictionary of American Biography (DAB). One was the medical missionary Rev. John Scudder (1793-1855). The other was the lexicographer Miron Winslow (1789-1864). Both of these gentemen met their death in South Africa, on their last return trip to USA. I provide below annotations about the careers of these two American ambassadors to Jaffna, based on the information presented in the DAB.

Rev.John Scudder

born in Sept.3, 1793; died in Jan.13, 1855.

missionary to India, a descendant of Thomas Scudder, who settled in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1635. born in Freehold, New Jersey. Graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, in 1813, he began practice in that city, making his home with a family named Waterbury, whose daughter Harriet he married. His success in his profession was immediate and he seemed to be on the way to an extensive and lucrative practice when the chance reading of a tract entitled The Conversion of the World; or, The Claims of Six Hundred Millions, turned him irresistibly toward the mission field. Accordingly he accepted an appointment from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and sailed from Boston for India, June 8, 1819, as its first medical missionary to that country; his wife, who was in warm sympathy with his purpose, accompanied him. They were stationed at Jaffna, the northern province of Ceylon, where they soon acquired the Tamil language and Mrs. Scudder engaged in schoolwork, while her husband began his life employment of preaching and healing. A member of the Reformed Dutch Church, he was ordained by a council of missionaries, May 15, 1821. A hospital was opened, boarding and day schools were established, and Scudder began the training of native medical students. With him, however, medical work was always subordinate to the great end of evangelization.

"In 1836 he was transferred to Madras, where a mission station with a printing press was established....he continued [his work] till 1854, when because of declining health he made a voyage to South Africa. Being somewhat recovered, he resumed preaching, but died suddenly at Wynberg early in 1855. His son Joseph, who had accompanied him took his body back to Madras, where it was buried beside that of his wife who had died in November 1849...."  [source: Dictionary of American Biography, C.Scribner's Sons, New York, vol.8, 1963 reprint, pp.523-524]

Miron Winslow

born in Dec.11, 1789; died in Oct.22, 1864.

missionary, born in Williston, Vermont, the son of Nathaniel and Joanna (Kellogg) Winslow....Graduating in 1815, he proceeded to Andover Theological Seminary in January of the following year, and in 1818 received the degreee of B.D., and an honorary degree of A.M. from Yale....On Jan.11, 1819, in Norwich, Connecticut, he married Harriet Wadsworth Lathrop, daughter of Charles Lathrop. Six children were born of this union.

On June 8, 1819, Winslow and his wife sailed from Boston for India with Levi Spaulding, Henry Woodward and John Scudder and their wives, arriving at Calcutta on Oct.19, and at Jaffna, Ceylon, Feb.18, 1820. He was stationed at Oodooville [currently spelled as, Uduvil], Ceylon, from July 1819 to 1833, working among the Tamils of that region as preacher, educator and translator. In the latter year his wife died and he spent the next two years in America, writing during the time, A Memoir of Mrs. Harriet Wadsworth Winslow, combining a sketch of the Ceylon Mission (1835).

Returning to the East in 1835, accompanied by his second wife, whom he married April 23, 1835, Catherine (Waterbury), widow of Ezekiel Carman, he arrived at Madras on March 22, 1836, visited Madura[i] and continued on to Ceylon. Instructed to open in Madras a new station, especially for printing and publication, he removed thither in August 1836 and made this city his residence for the remainder of his life, visiting America again but once (1856-57). He was chosen by the Madras Bible Society to serve on its committee for revising the Tamil Bible, an undertaking upon which he was engaged for many years. At the same time he worked on the Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary of High and Low Tamil, which was published in 1862. This monumental work had been begun in 1833 by a Jaffna missionary of the Church Missionary Society and had been continued by Levi Spaulding (Tamil) and Samuel Hutchings (English-Tamil). The final comprehensive edition by Winslow containing 67,450 words with definitions, was heralded as 'a noble contribution to Oriental Literature'. Winslow's health was poor at time, and he had at last to withdraw from service, leaving India August 29, 1864, bound for home. His journey, however, ended at Cape Town, South Africa, where he died and was buried...." [source: Dictionary of American Biography, vol.10, C.Scribner's Sons, New York, 1936, p.401]

For the benefit of truth seekers, I would propose that, adjacent to the recently unveiled sesquicentennial plaque at the US embassy premises in Colombo, another plaque celebrating the names of Dr.(Rev) John Scudder-his wife Harriet, and Rev.Miron Winslow-his wife Harriet, be installed. They were truly the pioneer American ambassadors to the island Ceylon. Unlike the official American ambassadors, we have come to know during the past 50 years who lived in Colombo for a period of at most 3 years, Scudders and Winslows lived for nearly 14 years in the land of Jaffna. Eelam Tamils were the proud hosts of Scudders and Winslows in the early 19th century, when they landed in Jaffna during the presidency of James Monroe (1758-1848), the last American Revolutionary hero to become the President.


Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home