Who Is Francis Price?

Bethany S. Martin, Editor, Guam-Micronesia Mission of Seventh-day Adventists

ISLES: A Tropical Isles Report from the Guam-Micronesia Mission of Seventh-day Adventists, Spring 2003, Special Issue
(Complete Magazine in PDF Format)

290 Chalan Palasyo, Agaña Heights, Guam, 96910, USA
Telephone: +1 671-477-9745, Fax: +1 671-477-5674, WWW: http://gmmsda.org
Willy S. Nobuo, President (2000-2003)
Bethany S. Martin, Editor (2002-2003): BethanySMartin@hotmail.com

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Francis Marion Price was the first Protestant missionary to arrive on the island of Guam. He and his wife, Sarah, were lifetime Congregationalist missionaries serving under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the first American overseas missionary agency. After America received control of Guam as a result of winning the Spanish-American War, ABCFM saw this as a divine opportunity to bring the Gospel to the people of Guam.

Price began petitioning ABCFM in favor of a Guam mission and eventually won the case. Price offered himself as the one to begin establishing the mission and on November 27, 1900, he and his wife arrived on the island to begin the Gospel work. A graduate of Oberlin Theological Seminary, Price was a preacher by trade and a linguist by talent.[1] He acquired various languages with amazing ease and proficiency and this gift is what enabled him to share the Gospel and establish missions in places otherwise impenetrable. His study and fluency of Hebrew and Greek enabled him to do a considerable amount of translation work. Previous to Guam, Price had spent many years as a missionary in China translating the Bible and in Chuuk, Micronesia establishing a Protestant mission and translating the Bible and dictionary into the local language. It is not surprising that he would also quickly learn the Chamorro language with astounding accuracy.[2]

Upon landing on island, Price was greeted by José Custino, a former whaler and Chamorro convert to Protestantism. Custino and his brother Luis sailed on British and American whaling ships that frequented Guam in the 1800s and they eventually settled in Hawaii where they changed their surname from Castro to Custino to accommodate the Hawaiian pronunciation of their true surname. The Custinos eventually married Hawaiian girls and were converted to the Protestant faith and be- came active members in their local church.

After hearing of the American conquest of Guam in 1898, the Custino brothers decided to return to their native island and evangelize among the Chamorros. Arriving in 1899, the Custinos met José Mendiola Taitano, an elderly Agana resident born in 1839 and popularly nicknamed “Cueto.” Taitano had embraced Protestantism many years before as a result of discovering the Scriptures for the first time while working aboard whaling ships. He was not allowed to publicly practice his new found Protestant faith under the Spanish regime, but he couldn’t be forced to practice Catholicism either. It was with great eagerness that Taitano and his 10 children supported the Custino brothers and became the first members of the Protestant mission they were working to establish.

By active evangelism and the distribution of Bibles, the Custinos succeeded in converting the Flores brothers, nicknamed the “Cabesa” family, who farmed in the Mt. Santa Rosa area of Yigo. The Custinos, Taitanos, and Flores families formed the core of the first

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Chamorro Protestants to begin worshipping in the Custino home.

Establishing a Mission

In 1901, Price purchased 12 acres of land at Adelup for $250 to establish the first Protestant mission. It was large enough to accommodate two residences and a school for boys and a school for girls. Before long, Adelup became known as Missionary Point.[3]

Price soon found that his fluency of the Spanish language did not get him very far in communicating with the people. After the establishment of the Catholic mission during the Spanish regime in the 1600s, the padres and Jesuits began instructing the people in the Spanish language. Although the use of the Spanish language was not stressed in the 1600s, during the years 1787-1789 a new policy was executed which gave imperative orders to absolutely forbid the natural use of their national idiom. Although the Castilian language of Spain was indoctrinated in the schools and churches, the Chamorros still succeeded in speaking their native language in their homes and social circles and hence kept the language alive.[4]

Learning that the people never truly learned Spanish and that they preferred and retained the Chamorro language, Price saw that it would prove more valuable to his mission to learn Chamorro and converse with the people in their own tongue. José Mendiola Taitano became Price’s tutor and Price soon learned the language. Eventually, he conducted morning worship services in Chamorro and evening services in English.[5]

Upon learning that the Chamorro people did not have any Holy Scriptures in their language, Price began working on translating the Bible. In a letter written by Price to Reverend William Haven at the ABCFM Board on May 9, 1905 he stated that the only Christian literature that had been published in the Chamorro language at that time were part of a catechism published by the Catholic mission that contained “the Lord’s Prayer in short form and also the Ten Commandments in brief form; but in these commandments the second commandment reads: ‘Keep sacred the feast days.’” There was another pamphlet published by the Catholic mission in the Chamorro language that was devoted to explaining the sacraments and festivals of the church, but this was not the Holy Scriptures.

Translating the Bible

Price began translating the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the book of Acts, and the Psalms. As he would complete the translation of different sections, he circulated leaflets of them amongst the people. “This is all the scripture that has ever been published in the Chamorro language, so that these leaflets of ours are really the first portions of scripture ever circulated in Guam.”[6]

Price saw the urgent need of the people having access to a Bible in their own language. In another letter written to Rev. Judson Smith at the ABCFM written on May 9, 1905, Price stated, “I shall have the Gospels, the Acts, the Psalms, Genesis and part of Exodus ready to publish next winter, if I keep well.” Price had left Guam for medical treatment, but was continuing the work of translating the Bible. “You will see by my letter enclosed that my plan is to go (return) to Guam and perfect these translations before publishing them. It is very important that these translations be as nearly perfect as it is possible to make them.” Ending his letter, Price declared, “I feel that the one great crying need of Guam is for the Holy scriptures…”

In the enclosed letter to Rev. Haven, Price expresses the fluency in which he ob-

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tained the Chamorro language. “As to my own knowledge of their language, I think I spoke the language fairly well. I acquire languages perhaps a little more readily than some others. The best teacher I had in Guam (José Mendiola Taitano) was accustomed to say to me: ‘You know more about the Chamorro language than I do.’ Which was true, and not true. It was not true that I know more of the peculiar forms of expression in which all languages abound and with which all natives are very familiar; but it is true that I had a larger vocabulary than he did and a profounder knowledge of the grammar and structure of the language.”

Continuing on, Price gave a very detailed explanation of the process of translating the Bible into Chamorro. They apparently had access to Spanish Bibles,[7] possibly brought in secretly by whaling ships, because Price and his tutors would begin by translating from Spanish to Chamorro. This gave him a grasp of the forms of expressions used for meaning in Chamorro and enabled him to secure a correct translation of the Greek texts. “…Taking these I revised them comparing with the Greek and had copies made of them on the typewriter. I am now going over these copies comparing them carefully with the Greek text and putting them in the best shape possible…In order to secure this end, I propose to return to Guam and go over the translations again with the very best native help I can obtain and there put them in their final form.”

Price was obviously very committed to the accuracy of the translated scriptures and went to great lengths to secure their credibility. His background in Greek and Hebrew prepared the way to make these translations perfect. In the same letter, he explains, “I have kept up my Greek ever since I left college and in recent years have read in the Greek Testament almost every day when at home. When I went to the Islands in 1894 (Chuuk, also known as Truk), knowing that I would probably translate the Old Testament into the language, I secured Dr. Harper’s instruction books in Hebrew and went over the entire course after reaching my field, which required about two years time. This gave me a working knowledge of the Hebrew.” Unquestionably, Price was well versed in both the original Greek and Hebrew texts in preparation for the translation work he would be accomplishing as a missionary in China and in the islands of Micronesia.

Ending his letters, Price concluded with the surety of providing these translated scriptures to the Chamorro people. “I think if we should publish the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps one or two of the Epistles, and the Psalms in one volume; and Genesis and the first twenty chapters of Exodus in another volume, we should be fairly well equipped for our work there for sometime to come. The other portions of the scriptures might be translated more leisurely…Our people who have been deprived of the scriptures appreciate greatly these portions which have been given them (see note on endnote 6) and their delight is real at the assurance that someday the entire Word of God will be given them. Do we not owe this to them?”

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Printing the Bible

Price continued working on the translations of the scriptures and true to his word, he returned to Guam to put the finishing touches on the translations and secure language accuracy. In a letter written to ABCFM on November 10, 1906, Price gave an update on the work and excitement of the promise of a Bible in the local language. “I am greatly enjoying the work here. The people are all so delighted that they are to have the Gospels in their own tongue and enter into the work assigned to them so eagerly that one feels inspired to do the best things for them. They desire the work printed in English and Chamorro, parallel columns. The natives say that it will add very materially to the value of the book and secure a wider reading for it. The Governor expressed his interest and offered to aid me in every way possible to him. Undoubtedly, the publishing of this portion of scripture will give a new impulse to the work. I regard it as the best work I have ever done—most valuable to the kingdom of God on earth.”

In 1907, Price finished the translation of the four Gospels, Acts, and Psalms and began the process of having them published. He secured the permission of the American Bible Society to have the books printed in New York at a cost of $250 for 1,000 copies. A letter written on March 16, 1907 revealed the anxiousness of the printed translations: “It was the earnest desire of all in Guam that the translations should be published in English and Chamorro, parallel columns. I estimated that the additional cost would be about $150. I told our Chamorro people about this and asked them to help. To my surprise and delight, they and their friends raised more than $130 toward this amount. This is the largest amount ever raised by them for the work and is interesting because it reveals their consecration and their interest in the publishing of these portions of Scripture.”

The translated Scriptures were finally published in 1908 and distributed amongst the people in Guam much to their delight. To a population of nearly 11,000 who had been deprived of a Bible for most of their existence, spiritual freedom had arrived and God was nearer than ever.

Price and his wife returned to California where he later died on September 5, 1937 in Berkeley, California. Price was satisfied with the role he had been commissioned to complete and rejoiced over the mission. “I am thankful to the Divine Father, that it has been our privilege to do this great work for the neglected Guam people, and that our health has stood the strains of the heavy task. It has been to me the most delightful work I have ever been privileged to do.”


[1] The Year Book of the Congregational and Christian Churches, Combining the Congregational Year Book, Volume No. 60, and The Christian Annual, Volume No. 66: Statistics for 1937, page 56, General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches.

[2] Francis Marion Price, to William Haven, May 9, 1905. Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for the Foreign Missions (ABCFM), Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) at the University of Guam.

[3] Forbes, Eric, “Guam History: Perspectives,” MARC, University of Guam, 1997, pgs. 123-128.

[4] Thompson, Laura, “Guam And Its People,” Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1947, pg. 215.

[5] Pesch, William D., Praying Against The Tide—Challenges Facing The Early Protestant Missionaries To Guam 1900-1910, University of Guam, 2001, pg. 8.

[6] F.M. Price to William Haven, May 9, 1905. PABCFM, MARC. It appears from correspondence that these leaflets either remained within the Congregationalist group or were more widely circulated among the island people.

[7] Spanish Bibles were not publically allowed because the priests forbade the reading of the Holy Scriptures. However, it is possible that Bibles entered Guam by way of whalers, ships passing through Guam, or Protestant missionaries who were already in the Micronesian islands and using Spanish Bibles due to Spanish presence.

* Photographs used with the permission and courtesy of Don Farrell.

Table of Contents
President's Message
Letter from the Editor
The Resurrection of the Chamorro Bible
Who is Francis Price?
Taitano Family Translators
Why Did the Chamorro Bible Disappear?
Jesus Loves Me!
The Scriptures a Safeguard
The Transmission of the Bible to English
Chamorro Bible Project: Project Update

The Chamorro Bible In Print

Photograph accompanying Manguaguan na Palabran Si Yuus - God's Precious WordsManguaguan na Palabran Si Yuus – God's Precious Words
With the Photograph of the Day

The Great Earthquake and Catastrophic Tsunami of 2004
The Spectacular Clouds of the Transonic Flight Regime

ChamorroBible.org  ·  Francis Marion Price (1850-1937)  ·  The 1908 Chamorro Bible in Audio  ·  Chamorro Language Resources  ·  Acknowledgements  ·  ISLES, Spring 2003, Special Issue: The Resurrection of the (1908) Chamorro Bible  ·  Chamorro Bible Project  ·  Announcements  ·  Download