Printer, linguist, and the first western physician to enter Thailand as a missionary, Dan Beach Bradley was born in Marcellus, New York on July 18, 1804. He was the fifth son of Judge Dan Bradley (1767-1838) and Eunice Beach Bradley (d. 1804). At age 20, Bradley experienced an episode of deafness from which he was apparently healed by his own prayers. Two years later, in 1826, he dedicated himself to the Lord's service after a revival of the Second Great Awakening in Marcellus aroused in him a strong religious conviction.
Unable to afford to attend seminary, Bradley chose the medical profession. Bouts of ill health prolonged his studies. From 1827 to 1832, he studied medicine intermittently, both privately and at Harvard University. In June 1832, he began study at the College of Physicians in New York City, receiving the Doctor of Medicine in April 1833. During his residency in New York, he met the revivalist Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), who may well have influenced his decision to become a missionary. Bradley applied to the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions for an appointment in Asia and was accepted in November 1832. On June 5, 1834, after a year-long courtship by correspondence, Bradley married Emilie Royce (1811-45) of Clinton, New York, preceptress of the female seminary in Manlius, New York. The two set sail on the Cashmere from Boston for Thailand on July 2, 1834, arriving in Bangkok just over a year later.
Bradley's career in Thailand was multifaceted. He combined mission work with the practice of modern medicine, introducing inoculation, vaccination, drugs to relieve pain, and modern obstetrics among the Thais. It is said that he won more converts through his battles against smallpox that through his preaching. His reputation as a healer spread, and he became the physician and tutor to Mongkut, the King of Siam (reigned 1851-68), an intellectually curious Buddhist eager for western educational and scientific improvements in his country. Bradley's literary activities included translations of Scripture into Siamese, the publication of a Siamese Dictionary, and the founding in 1844 of the first newspaper published in Thailand, the Bangkok Recorder. Bradley is credited with inventing and casting the Siamese types for printing and for introducing the printing press, bookbinding, and lithography into Thailand.
Emilie Royce Bradley died of tuberculosis in 1845 after ten years of teaching among the women of the Siamese court and raising her family. In 1847, Bradley withdrew from the Board of the Commissioners for Foreign Missions after controversy erupted among the missionaries over Bradley's theological views of "holiness" or "sinless perfection." During his three-year sojourn in the United States between 1847 and 1850, Bradley solicited financial support for the work of the American Missionary Association, which had arranged to take over the work of the A.B.C.F.M. in Thailand. While in Oberlin, Ohio, Bradley met his second wife, Sarah Blachly (1817-93), an 1845 graduate of the college and a friend of Oberlin President Asa Mahan (1800-89). The two were married November 1, 1848 and after a year, they returned to Thailand.
After 1857, the American Missionary Association ceased official connections with the mission in Bangkok and donated its printing plant to Bradley. This allowed Bradley to serve as an independent missionary, supporting himself by his printing. In 1859, he founded the almanac entitled the Bangkok Calendar, which he published until his death in 1873. Mrs. Bradley continued missionary work among the Thais, printing tracts, and teaching English to the women of the royal household. Sarah Bradley died in 1893, never once having left Thailand.
Dan Beach Bradley and Emilie Royce Bradley had five children; one died at birth in 1835. The others were Emilie Jane (d. 1848, Oberlin), Sophia Royce (1839-1923), Harriet (b. 1841;d. 1842), and Cornelius Beach (1843-1936; Oberlin, A.B. 1868, sem. 1870). Bradley's children from his marriage to Sarah Blachly (A.B. 1845, Oberlin) were Sara Adorna (b. 1850; Music, 1875), Dwight Blachly (1852-89; A.B. 1875), Mary Adele (1854-1926; A.B. 1880), Dan Freeman (1857-1939; B.A. 1882), and Irene Bell (1860-194?), all of whom, except Irene, graduated from Oberlin College as their mother had.