Her life was devoted to a task she had found essential: the academic and religious education of children of all races. It’s probably safe to suppose that she continued to face each new circumstance with the same readiness to draw answers from Scriptures and the same humility, honesty, and trust in God’s care that she demonstrated in her diary.
Betsey Stockton and Her Love for God’s Image-Bearers
Whatever Betsey had imagined her foreign mission to be, it was not this. The group of Hawaiian men who came rowing toward her ship in their canoes was frightening: “Their appearance was that of half man and half beast—naked—except a narrow strip of tapa round their loins,” she said. To a young girl brought up in a conservative American family, this sudden encounter with “the Other” was a sight no book could have prepared her to face.
“The ladies retired to the cabin,” she continued, “and burst into tears; and some of the gentlemen turned pale: my own soul sickened within me, and every nerve trembled. Are these, thought I, the beings with whom I must spend the remainder of my life!”
The culture shock didn’t last long. Her mind, trained to understand reality through the lens of Scriptures, found an immediate, steadying response: “They are men and have souls—was the reply which conscience made.”
Growing Up Slave
She had waited long for this moment. Her desire to become a missionary sprung soon after her baptism in 1817, but the opportunity arose five years later, when some friends of her family, the newly-married Charles and Harriet Stewart, were accepted as missionaries to the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii). She asked if she could go along.
Her request was unusual. She was single, and the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions had never sent a single woman on a mission trip. She was also a former slave.
Born around 1798 to a slave in the household of Robert Stockton, in Princeton, New Jersey, Betsey was still young when she was sent to Philadelphia to work for Robert’s daughter, Elisabeth. Elizabeth was married to Ashbel Green, a Presbyterian minister. The couple had three sons, Robert, Jacob, and James.
Elisabeth died when Betsey was nine years old. Betsey continued to stay in the Green family and was tutored by Ashbel and James. Once she had learned to read well, she took advantage of the Greens’ well-stocked library.
As a principal author of the 1818 anti-slavery resolution of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, Green was opposed to slavery as “as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of the gospel of Christ.” His emancipation of Betsey, however, came only later in her life. She remained a slave at least until the family moved to Princeton, when she probably became an indentured servant.
This delay might have had something to do with her behavior. According to Green, she was “wild and thoughtless, if not vicious,” although she always “manifested a great degree of natural sensibility, and of attachment to [the Greens], and a great aptitude for mental improvement.” 
This behavior might also have been a reason why, in 1813, Green sold three years of her service to a relative and fellow-pastor who lived in Woodbury, New Jersey. Later, Green explained his motives as an attempt to “save her from the snares and temptations of the city.”