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Biography of Rosewell Graves

Rosewell H. Graves (1833-1912), a medical doctor and Baltimorean, was appointed to China in 1855. Maryland Baptists served as the instruments by which the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) of the SBC was preserved through the trials of the Civil War. Of the 38 missionaries overseas, only Graves seemed to have received a steady income throughout the war, probably due to his Baltimore connections.

Rosewell was the son of Ann Graves. In 1868, she invited the Southern Baptist women to meet in support of missions while in Baltimore for the SBC annual meeting. Ann Graves was a dedicated Methodist from a wealthy Baltimore family. She married John James Graves, but would not leave Baltimore or Methodism for him, so he relented and joined her at the Maryland estate, Catalpa. Ann was a skilled writer with interests in literature, education, and especially, religion. She had several books published, including Women in American and The Christian Lawyer. She would often host missionaries from various denominations as they came through Baltimore. Her wealth allowed her to hire servants, freeing some time to pursue public service interests, despite giving birth to seven children. Rosewell was her first born.

At age fifteen, Rosewell fell under the spell of a new preacher in town, Richard Fuller, and was baptized into Seventh Baptist Church of Baltimore. He became a medical doctor like his father and his father’s father, but he employed his profession in the direction of his mother’s first love, missions. He left Seventh Baptist Church seven years later for China.

Part of Graves’ success in spreading the gospel was his refusal to separate his medical practice and his evangelistic witness. “He had performed much labor in the practice of medicine, having in the course of a year vaccinated 415 children, and prescribed otherwise to 2,620 patients. He regarded these attentions to the sick as valuable auxiliaries to the work of teaching the people the way of salvation,” as reported in the 1863 SBC foreign missions report said of him.

In October 1864, Graves wrote in his diary: “Employed a Bible woman to read and distribute such portions of the Word of God as have been translated into Chinese." The Bible woman Graves employed in 1864 became his wife, but she only lived a few months longer. His first wife, Jane Norris Graves, who was commissioned at the same service Rosewell was, died sixteen years earlier. She came from Eutaw Place Baptist where Annie Armstrong served.

At a time when foreign missions among Southern Baptists was at a dangerously low ebb, Ann Graves read of her son’s experiment with Bible women in China. In 1867, she gathered a handful of female Baltimore Baptists into a prayer and support group for the Canton Bible women. For years little or no progress seemed to be made, but Ann Graves continued to write letters, speak with friends, and educate herself about foreign missions of all sorts.

Graves remained in active service in China until his death fifty-seven years later, 1912. Historian William R. Estep wrote that when the SBC foreign mission fields were in almost hopeless disarray after the Civil War “there was still reason for hope, exemplified by R. H. Graves.”

Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen