Ashmore was born in Putnam, Ohio, the son of Samuel and Nancy Ashmore. He graduated from Granville Literary and Theological Institute (which became Denison University; Granville, Ohio), and the Western Baptist Theological Institute in Covington, Kentucky. He served briefly as pastor of First Baptist Church, Hamilton, Ohio. In 1850 he and his wife, Martha (Sanderson), were appointed by the American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU) for work among the Chinese in Siam. They arrived in Bangkok the following year to join William Dean and Josiah Goddard at the American Baptist mission.
Ashmore mastered the Tie-chiu dialect and concentrated on street preaching. After seven years, the Ashmores moved to Hong Kong. In 1858, following the death of his wife, Ashmore relocated to Swatow (Shantou), on the mainland, where he established a new field that replaced Hong Kong as the center of American Baptist Chinese missions. He focused on training Chinese workers and had one of the most extensive indigenous staffs among American Baptists. In 1863, during a furlough in the United States, he married Eliza Dunlevy of Lebanon, Ohio. In the 1870s he served as home secretary for the ABMU. During this period Eliza was seriously ill and eventually died. In 1890 he married Charlotte Brown (widow of Nathan Brown, missionary to Japan) and the couple began their final missionary assignment.
In Swatow, Ashmore built a strong theological school, championing “a trained native leadership.” In retirement, when he again served as home secretary (1885-1889), he wrote extensively on a variety of subjects, including the authority of the Bible and the history of Baptist missions in the Far East. Primarily an evangelist and church planter, Ashmore organized at Swatow a training school for women and the theological seminary which later bore his name.
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.
- William Ashmore, A Plea for China (1895), Outline History of the South China Baptist Mission, 1838-1850 (1902), The Different Christianities of China (1903), and I don’t Believe in Foreign Missions (1897).
- George H. Waters, “Missionary Statesmen: The Ashmores—-Father and Son,” The Chronicle, (1951), pp. 40-45
- Walter S. Stewart, Early Baptist Missionaries and Pioneers (1925). vol, 2, pp. 105-126.