The Reverend Thomas Theron Alexander (1850 – 1902) was born and raised on a small farm at Mount Horeb in the rolling hills of East Tennessee. Beginning in 1877, he served twenty-five years as one of the first Presbyterian missionaries in Japan. When he died, a samurai-turned-Christian said of him, “He died for Japan.”
The Reverend Thomas Theron Alexander
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The Rev. Alexander (ca. 1877)
The Rev. Thomas Theron Alexander
In May 1877, Tom married the former Emma Brown.
Five months later, the young couple said a tearful farewell to their families and embarked on a one-month journey by rail and steamship to Japan, only recently opened to the West after centuries of seclusion.
Emma Brown Alexander (ca. 1877)
On the morning of October 24, 1877, Emma’s family gathered in the front yard of her childhood home, where she and Tom prepared to bid farewell. The young couple was about to embark on the journey of their lives to a newly opened Japan. Emma’s family clung to her and with many tears and kisses reluctantly let her go.
“At the gate stood her father, leaning on his crutch and weeping. He bade us goodbye as cheerfully as he could, but said he never expected to see our faces again in this world.”
- From the diary of T.T. Alexander -
Brown family home in Maryville, Tennessee
Tom and Emma had seven children – six
girls and one boy. Their firstborn, Ella,
died of a burst appendix at fourteen. Her
parents never fully recovered from her
death. Their second child, Emma, studied
to be a missionary like her father. She died
at twenty-four in Tokyo, just fifteen months
after her father’s death. Both girls are buried in Japan.
Tom with Ella and Emma (ca. 1882)
Heart failure forced the devoted missionary to depart Japan in 1902. His doctor thought Hawaii’s mild climate might benefit him, but Tom died in Honolulu, with daughter Emma at his side. “I cried as I have never cried before in my life,” wrote his grief-stricken daughter. Tom’s ashes were sent to Maryville, Tennessee, where he was buried in Magnolia Cemetery. He was just fifty-two when he died. His alma mater, Maryville College, flew flags at half mast for their alumnus, the first graduate to serve in the foreign mission field.
The Reverend Alexander's headstone in Magnolia Cemetary
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Photos Page: Brown family home, Rev. Alexander headstone, Joanna Shelton