Born on May 24, 1824, the first child of parents James and Janet, Paton grew up in Scotland. He went to school until age 12, and then apprenticed in his father's workshop making stockings. Education being very important to Paton, when he wasn't working, he was studying. To get out of the family business, Paton paid for six weeks of education at Dumfries Academy, learned how to survey for map-making, labored on a farm, and taught school. Moving to Glasgow, Paton studied theology and medicine then became a missionary in the city. He helped the Glasgow poor and neglected by getting them a school and assisting in organizing their community.
Deciding to be a missionary abroad, Paton volunteered to be part of a mission to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Seas and was ordained by the Reformed Presbyterian Church. He married his first wife, Mary Ann Robson, and together they traveled to Aneityum and then on to the island of Tanna. They built a small house before the birth of their son, but both mother and baby died shortly after childbirth. Grieved by the loss of his family, Paton decided to continue helping the natives. Even after four years of living in their village, Paton couldn't convince the Tannese that he intended to help. They routinely made attempts on his life, and the death of missionaries on a nearby island gave the Tannese courage to attack Paton yet again. He barely escaped with only his Bible and a few sheets of translations from the local language.
Not completely discouraged, Paton headed for Australia, looking for support. He wanted money to plant missionaries on each of the New Hebridean Islands and to secure a ship solely used for missionary service. The response was overwhelming. Paton returned to Scotland to recruit missionaries and to raise more funds. On this trip he met and married his second wife, Maggie Whitecross and with her sailed back to the New Hebrides. They set up a mission on Aniwa Island, built a house for themselves, and two homes for orphans. Constant and determined, the Patons preached the Gospel and learned the native tongue. They constructed a church, taught teachers, aided the sick, and printed a translation of the Scriptures for the natives. After long and often dangerous years of ministry, the Patons saw the fruits of their labors when the local people on the whole island became Christians.
Paton often traveled to Australia, Great Britain, and the United States to champion his cause, raise money, and influence the governments to stop trade in guns and alcohol. Extremely successful with his message, Paton's reputation grew. While in Scotland he jotted down notes about his life which his brother, Dr. James Paton, turned into a book. This autobiography brought more attention to the New Hebrides.
Both Paton and his wife authored works. He translated the New Testament and the Acts of the Apostles into the Aniwan language and continued to work on Genesis. Maggie penned Letters and Sketches from the New Hebrides and carried great influence herself as a leader in the Australian Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union. Together they pioneered missionary work and success in the New Hebrides and beyond.
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