LAMONT (Lemont), MARY E. (Sanford), Baptist missionary; b. c. 1842 in Billtown, N.S., daughter of Joel Lemont and Rebecca — ; m. there 20 Aug. 1873 Rufus Sanford, and they had three children; d. 17 or 18 July 1903 in Madras, India.
Born and raised in a predominantly Baptist community, Mary E. Lamont “professed faith in the Saviour” and was baptized on 2 June 1867. About the same time she was sent to the Grand Pre Seminary in Wolfville, N.S. There she was greatly influenced by Hannah Maria Norris*, who in 1870 began the successful organization of women’s missionary societies in the Baptist churches of the Maritimes. It was probably at Wolfville that Lamont met Rufus Sanford, a former student at Acadia College and then a teacher at Horton Academy, who had already decided on a career in the field of foreign missions. On the afternoon of 20 Aug. 1873 Sanford was ordained as a foreign missionary, and that evening he and Lamont were married.
In October the Sanfords, George Churchill and his wife, Matilda M. Churchill, William F. Armstrong, Flora Eaton, and Maria Armstrong left for Rangoon (Yangon), Burma. Known as the “serving seven,” the group arrived on 12 Jan. 1874 and took up work among the Karen people, where they struggled with the difficult language and the even more difficult climate. Although funded by the Baptists of the Maritimes, the “serving seven” worked under the board of the American Baptist Missionary Union. By the mid 1870s, however, Maritime Baptists no longer considered this arrangement acceptable, and they strove for a mission station of their own. In 1875 the missionaries were ordered to leave their work and proceed to Cocanada (Kakinada), India, to open a Maritime Baptist mission. There they were to labour beside the missionaries of the Ontario and Quebec convention among the Telugu-speaking peoples.
Some of Sanford’s fellow missionaries had reservations about the decision, but she was clearly delighted, and wrote to the press in Nova Scotia that “we are well assured that the Lord has sent us to this people.” She had detested the long rainy season in Burma, and found the climate of the west coast of the Bay of Bengal much more to her liking. The Sanfords’ arrival at Bimlipatam on 4 Nov. 1875 marked the start of the Maritime Baptist involvement in India, which has lasted to the present. The couple had to battle heat, language and cultural barriers, famine, lack of supplies, and the almost impenetrable caste system. Mary concentrated on women and children, establishing schools and a system of “Bible women” designed to reach and teach other Indian women. Rufus worked with the men, attempting to set up a small network of trained native preachers.
The effort involved in her programs, the births of three children and the death of one due to inadequate medical supplies, the discouragingly low number of conversions, and the climate seriously affected Sanford’s health, which had never been robust. She and the children were forced to spend from 1881 to 1886 in Nova Scotia on furlough. By 1891 the health of both Sanfords had been broken, and they had to return to Canada. After a furlough of four years Rufus went back to India, this time to the more promising Vizianagaram station, a few miles from Bimlipatam.
Mary Sanford returned to India for the last time in 1899. Shortly after the reunion held to mark the 30th anniversary of the “serving seven,” she died in Madras, a victim of the ill health which had plagued her during her missionary career. Aided by their daughter Lottie A., Rufus continued work until his death at Vizianagaram in 1932. Mary Sanford was in many respects typical of the missionary wives of the late 19th and early 20th century. She worked quietly and faithfully among the women of India, bore and buried her children, and shouldered burdens which at times were tremendous, but she received little recognition or credit, then or later.
Acadia Univ. Arch. (Wolfville, N.S.), “Chronicles of Acadia Seminary from its birth” ([1880?]). Atlantic Baptist Hist. Coll., Acadia Univ., Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Foreign Mission Board, records; Billtown, N.S., Baptist church, record-book, 1857–1909; L. A. Sanford coll. Christian Messenger, 23 Aug., 1, 8 Oct., 24 Dec. 1873; 15 Dec. 1875; 1 March, 5, 12 April, 7 June 1876; 1 March 1877. The Acadia record, 1838–1953, comp. Watson Kirkconnell (4th ed., Wolfville, 1953). Baptist year book of the Maritime provinces of Canada . . . (Halifax; Saint John, N.B.), 1873–1903. Mrs George Churchill [M. M. Faulkner], Letters from my home in India: being the correspondence of Mrs. George Churchill (1871–1916), ed. G. [D.] McLeod Rogers (Toronto, 1916). G. E. Levy, The Baptists of the Maritime provinces, 1753–1946 (Saint John, 1946). President John Sanford of Boston, Massachusetts, and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and his descendants, with many allied families, 1605–1965 . . . , comp. J. M. Sanford (Rutland, Vt, 1966). H. A. Renfree, Heritage & horizon: the Baptist story in Canada (Mississauga, Ont., 1988). Tidings (Kentville, N.S.), 11 (October 1903).