1811  — 1864

William Jones Boone

First American Episcopal missionary bishop in China.

A native of South Carolina, Boone was admitted to the bar in 1833 but then graduated from seminary and medical school as well. In 1837 he was ordained and commissioned as a Protestant Episcopal Church USA (PEC) missionary to the Dutch East Indies and China. Initially, he served among the Chinese in Batavia, where he established a school for boys. In 1840 he moved his boys’ school to Macao, and in 1842 pioneered mission work in Amoy (Xiamen), a newly opened treaty port in Fukien (Fujian) Province.

His wife died in 1842, and in 1843 he returned the United States, where he vigorously championed the cause of the China mission of the church when some leaders were wavering in their support. In 1844 Boone was consecrated missionary bishop to China, was given five new missionaries as reinforcements, remarried, and returned to China. After pausing in Hong Kong to consider strategy, he settled in Shanghai, which would become the most important of the port cities, and served there from 1845 until his death.

In Shanghai, Boone was involved in the early development of almost all PEC mission endeavors in China, including the expansion of the church to other cities. He ordained the first Chinese Episcopal priests and pursued his own literary and translation interests, including a translation of the Book of Common Prayer. He was an important participant in the committee of delegates who gathered in the late 1840s to make a new Chinese translation of the Bible. Controversies arose over the proper Chinese term to use for “God,” and Boone, with a few others, commenced their own translation in 1851. One son, Williams Jones Boone, Jr. (1846-1891), was later missionary bishop of Shanghai; another son, H. W. Boone, M. D., did PEC medical work in Shanghai.


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.


Muriel Boone, The Seed of the Church in China (1983); PEC, The Bishops of the American Church Mission in China (1906). Boone’s official correspondence and reports are in the PEC historical archives at the Episcopal Seminary, Austin, Tex.

About the Author

Daniel H. Bays

Professor of History and Director of the Asian Studies Program, Calvin College.