Born in 1798 in Princeton, New Jersey, as a slave owned by the family of Robert Stockton, Esq., Betsey Stockton was presented as a gift to the Stockton’s eldest daughter and her husband, the Reverend Ashbel Green (who was then the President of Princeton College (later known as Princeton University.))
Although masters did not typically favor educating their slaves beyond proficient training as domestic nurse, seamstress and cook, Green gave her books and encouraged her to use the family library. She later attended evening classes at Princeton Theological Seminary.
In September 1816, Betsey’s application for admission to the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton was formally approved. Around 1817, Ashbel Green freed her.
Stockton often spoke to Green about her wish to journey abroad, possibly to Africa, on a Christian mission. Green introduced her to Charles S Stewart, a young missionary, newly ordained in 1821, who was about to be sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to Hawaiʻi.
Through a special agreement between Green, the Stewarts and the ABCFM, Stockton joined the mission both as a domestic in the Stewart household and was commissioned by the ABCFM as a missionary.
She became the first single American woman sent overseas as a missionary.
Her contract with the Board and with the Stewarts said that she went “neither as an equal nor as a servant, but as a humble Christian friend” to the Stewarts, and provided that she was not to do more than an equal share of menial duties which might “prevent her being employed as a teacher of a school”.