On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity in this first company.
These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
“Mr. Daniel Chamberlain genealogy goes back to ‘Wm the Conqueror.’ Three generations later the ancestor was Lord Chamberlain to King Stephen, and the surname Chamberlain has since that day been that of the whole Chamberlain family in England and America.”
“After thirteen generations, Wm Chamberlain and two brothers emigrated to America, and his great-great-grandson was the Daniel Chamberlain who came to Hawai‘i.” (HMCS Annual Report, 1917)
Chamberlain, a captain in the War of 1812, was a New England farmer, of independent means, but of a deeply religious turn of mind. He was a farmer and not an ordained minister.
During the summer previous to leaving with the First Company of American Missionaries in 1819, Chamberlain and his two older sons attended the Mission School at Cornwell, Connecticut. (Kelley)
“Mr Chamberlain and his wife, in the prime of life, feeling the claims of the heathen on them, were willing to leave their friends, their pleasant home and farm in central Massachusetts, and embark for the islands, with their five children, three sons and two daughters, rather than to withhold their personal labors from the heathen.” (Bingham)
The Chamberlain family included Daniels wife, Jerusha Burnap Chamberlain and five children: Dexter Harrington (1807-1887;) Nathan Burnap (1809-1878;) Mary Morse (1811-1887;) Daniel, Jr (1814-1884) and Nancy Elizabeth (1818-1864.) (Alfred White (1821-1891) was born in the Islands.)
“I consider it an unspeakable privilege that I am allowed thus to administer comforts to those who are laboring in the cause of Christ. I have reason to be daily thankful that Mrs C is so calm and contented. She appears to be as contented as she ever did at home on our old farm.” (Chamberlain; Taylor)
It was Kalanimōku, the great warrior and trusted advisor of Kamehameha the Great, who first met the missionaries aboard the Thaddeus in April, 1820, and sailed with them from Kawaihae to Kailua to confer with the king – he was instrumental in the decision of the king to permit the missionaries to land.
“It is reported that the Queen of the Islands, herself briefly clad, swam out to the vessel, was much attracted by the Chamberlain baby (Nancy,) and asked, as a pledge of good faith on the part of the ship’s company, that the mother of the child would allow her to take the baby on shore, promising to return it in good order the following day.”
“Naturally the mother demurred and retired for prayer in order that she might know God’s will in the matter. After a brief interval she returned, strengthened in the decision that it was God’s will.”
“The old Queen swam to the shore with the baby and did not return for several days, but finally came with the child and extended the hospitality of the Islands.” (HMCS Annual Report, 1917)
“Kalanimōku embraced Christianity soon, for he became a pupil of little Daniel Chamberlain Jr, the seven-year-old son of missionary Daniel Chamberlain.” (Taylor)
“Now the great warrior was among us, learning the English alphabet with the docility of a child. He often turned to it, and as often his favorite teacher, Daniel Chamberlain … ‘And a little child shall lead them.’” (Thurston)
Mr Chamberlain was supposed to teach agriculture and mechanical arts to the Hawaiians, but no real progress could be made until horses and cattle were domesticated and this required the consent of the chiefs which had not yet been obtained. (HMCS)
Chamberlain discovered that while there was fertile soil and thousands of acres of lands to till, modern agricultural methods did not take hold upon the people, and his efforts to introduce New England methods were largely in vain. (Taylor)
“The principal food of the natives is poi; it is made from taro which grows here in great abundance. The principal part of our family are very fond of it. It is a good substitute for bread.”
“Wood is hard to be got here, as there is none to be had short of going three miles and no way to bring it only on their shoulders. With a little labour a road might be made to the wood … Bananas a rich fruit, is plenty here. Cotton grows here and might be raised here in any quantity. Figs and pineapples are also found here.” (Chamberlain, July 19, 1820)
Farming by mainland standards was not feasible and Chamberlain turned his efforts to building houses and caring for mission property. (Kelley)
Chamberlain rendered valuable service to the Mission by assisting with the initial construction of houses and caring for the Mission’s property. (HMCS)
“Mr. Chamberlain is well spoken of in the correspondence of the early missionaries as a man of rare good judgment and as rendering much help in the early settlement of the missionary company. But the bringing up of the children in close contact with the benighted people about them, soon became a matter of grave solicitude.” (Gulick)
Perhaps the most certain factor in deciding the Chamberlains to leave Hawai‘i was the fact that he was stricken with brain fever. He was very sick and his recovery slow and doubtful.
He was advised to go to a cooler climate. The mountains of Hawai‘i Island were first talked of for it was a long voyage home and Mrs. Chamberlain would he left unprotected with her family if he should die at sea. (Taylor)
“With joy to think that my highest wishes were gratified as to the station assigned me in the vineyard of our Lord – with trembling lest I should do dishonor to the holy cause in which I had professedly engaged.”
“In endeavouring to assist in bearing the burdens & trials of this great, this soul-trying work, I was conscious that in many things I have failed & come short of what you might reasonably have expected of me.”
“For these things I humbly ask your forgiveness, feeling that it becomes me to lie low in the dust before God & humbly ask his pardoning mercy.” (Chamberlain to ABCFM, March 8 1823)
Chamberlain asked for a release from the ABCFM. He returned to the US with his family, March 21, 1823, on the brig ‘Pearl’ and received his release from the ABCFM on November 12, 1823. (HMCS)