Burma’s desire to gain more territory and England’s vast trade route came into direct conflict in 1824, when small skirmishes between Burmese troops and British sponsored rebels broke out along the border of Burma and the English colony of India. In March of the same year, the two powers officially went to war. The British took a fleet with 10,000 men and captured the coastal city of Rangoon, the place where the Judson had first started their missionary labors.
As the British slowly advanced across the country, the Burmese king began to panic. In his mind, the only way that the British could move with such ease was not because of superior weapons and training, but because there was a spy in his midst. So he gave the order for all foreign men within the country to be arrested, regardless of their nationality or language.
On the evening of June 8th, the Judsons were having dinner at their home when a gang of “spotted-faces”, the guards of the death prison, broke into their home, shoved Adoniram to the ground, and tightly bound his hands. Amidst the screams and pleas of Ann Judson, the guards began to roughly drag Adoniram to the prison, beating him along the way and tightening the cords even more, causing him to bleed. One of the Burmese Christians, seeing the treatment of Judson, rushed back to his home, got some money, and gave it to the guards so they would lighten the cords and stop the bleeding.
Judson, along with several other foreigners, were taken to the prison, where they were chained with five fetters a piece and forced inside a large cell, filled with filth and rats. At night, they were all chained together and their legs were hoisted into the air. Mosquitoes would devour their feet during the night. In a letter back to Adoniram’s family in America, Ann, who suffered just as much as Adoniram during the 17 months he was imprisioned, recorded their intense suffering:
I commence this letter with the intention of giving you the particulars of our captivity and sufferings at Ava. How long my patience will allow my reviewing scenes of disgust and horror, the conclusion of this letter will determine…
On the 8th of June, just as we were preparing for dinner, in rushed an officer, holding a black book, with a dozen Burmans, accompanied by one, whom, from his spotted face, we knew to be an executioner, and a ‘ son of the prison.’
‘Where is the teacher?’ was the first inquiry.
Mr. Judson presented himself.
‘You are called by the king,’ said the officer—a form of speech always used when about to arrest a criminal.
The spotted man instantly seized Mr. Judson, threw him on the floor, and produced the small cord, the instrument of torture. I caught hold of his arm.
‘Stay,’ said I; ‘I will give you money.’
‘Take her too,’ said the officer; ‘she also is a foreigner.’
Mr. Judson, with an imploring look, begged they would let me remain till further orders. The scene was now shocking beyond description.