Born in New York in 1807, William Dean graduated from Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution (Hamilton Theological Seminary) and married Matilda C. Man. He arrived in Bangkok in 1835 to pioneer a mission among the Chinese which the American Baptist Missionary Union (of the Northern branch of the denomination) hoped would eventually lead to service in China proper. His young wife died before he reached Thailand.
Dean learned the Swatow dialect and was joined in 1836 by Alanson Reed, who died the following year. In 1837, Dean established and became pastor of Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church, the first Chinese Protestant church in the world. He married Theodosia Ann Barker in 1838; Josiah Goddard joined in his work in 1840. Dean taught theology classes to Chinese believers from 1838-42.
When the door to China cracked open for missionaries, Dean moved to Hong Kong in 1842, and took with him two preaching students: Tang Tui and Koe Bak. Dean founded a mission station, and along with missionaries Roberts and Shuck, established Hong Kong Swatow Baptist Church and Cheung Chau Baptist Church. Theodosia died in 1843.
Dean was a chief translator on a team of missionaries including Goddard and Lord who revised the Marshman’s translation of the Bible, sponsored by the society of the Northern Baptists. The New Testament was published in 1853, followed later by the Old Testament.
Dean concentrated on the people in Hong Kong who spoke the Swatow dialect, and when Swatow was opened to foreigners through the treaties of Tientsin (Tianjin), the mission was moved there in 1860, and a daughter church was planted. Swatow served as their new base to reach out to both Swatow- and Hakka-speaking people in the surrounding region. William Ashmore arrived in Swatow in 1863.
While on furlough, Dean met Maria Stofter, who had been the director of women’s ministries and a school in Thailand. They married and moved to Bangkok in 1865, where Dean served another 10 years. He was highly respected by both Christians and the general populace. By 1882, the work had expanded to six Chinese churches, seven outstations, and a school, with 500 Chinese baptized. Maria gave birth to a daughter while in Bangkok and returned to the US in 1881, where she died; Dean returned in 1884.
In his 49 years of service, Dean promoted China missions worldwide and trained many indigenous pastors and Christian workers, including the first ever in Thailand. He wrote several biblical commentaries in Chinese and helped to build a solid theological foundation for the Chinese church. Near the end of his life, Dean had become “doyen of the missionary community in ‘China’—everywhere east of Burma” and the Chinese Recorder referred to him as “the senior missionary in China”. He died in California in 1895.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: Barbarians at the Gates, 137, 187, 275, 394.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: If I Had A Thousand Lives, 362.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: Survivor’s Pact, 221.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: Assault on the Nile, 30.
- Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christian Missions in China, 225-26, 245, 251, 263, 370-71.
- Scott W. Sunquist, A Dictionary of Asian Christianity.