Born in Concord, Pennsylvania, Maclay graduated from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1846.
He arrived in China in 1848 and was secretary, superintendent, and treasurer for Methodist missions in China from 1852 to 1872. In 1861 he wrote Life among the Chinese. He also helped translate the Bible into Min.
In 1872 he was appointed superintendent of Methodist work in Japan. He was also asked to study the possibilities for beginning Methodist work in Korea, and in June 1884, he arrived in Seoul to make a survey. He was subsequently appointed the first superintendent of the work in Korea, working from Japan.
Much as he wanted to begin the work in Korea himself, this fell to Henry Appenzeller and William Scranton, who arrived in Japan with their wives in March 1885. Within a month—-on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1885—-Henry and Ella Appenzeller arrived in Juchon, the first Methodist missionaries in Korea. Maclay returned to the United States in 1887; he is buried in Los Angeles, California.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Robert S. Maclay “A Fortnight in Seoul, Korea, 1884” and “Commencement of the Korea Methodist Episcopal Mission,” Gospel in All Lands 22 (August 1896): 354-356, 498-502.
- Everett N. Hunt, Jr., Protestant Pioneers in Korea (1980)
- L. George Paik, The History of Protestant Missions in Korea, 1832-1910 (1971);
- Charles D. Stokes, “History of Methodist Missions in Korea, 1885-1930” (Ph.D. diss., Yale Univ., 1947).