Edwin Welles Dwight was born on November 17, 1789 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the second son and child of Henry Williams Dwight and Abigail (daughter of Ashbel and Abigail (Kellogg) Welles, of West Hartford, Connecticut.)
His grandmother was a half-sister of Colonel Ephraim Williams, the founder of Williams College, and he spent the first three years of College there. He then attended Yale, and graduated from Yale in 1809.
He remained in New Haven, Connecticut after graduation; it was then that he met ʻŌpūkahaʻia, a Hawaiian who was orphaned by war on Hawaiʻi and “thought to (him)self that if (he) should get away, and go to some other country, probably (he) may find some comfort;” he escaped the Islands on a trading ship.
On board, he started to learn English from Russell Hubbard of New Haven. After travelling to the American North West, then to China, they landed in New York in 1809. They continued to New Haven, Connecticut. ʻŌpūkahaʻia was eager to study and learn – seeking to be a student at Yale.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia “was sitting on the steps of a Yale building, weeping. A solicitous student stopped to inquire what was wrong, and Obookiah (the spelling of his name, based on its sound) said, ‘No one will give me learning.’”
The student was Dwight, distant cousin of the college president. “(W)hen the question was put him, ‘Do you wish to learn?’ his countenance began to brighten and … he served it with eagerness.” (Haley) Dwight helped him.
Dwight began to study theology over the following years and on October 17, 1815 was licensed to preach by the South Association of Litchfield County ministers, and then made Schenectady his headquarters for further study.
In 1816 he did some missionary service in Western New York, and later was preaching in Woodbury, Connecticut, where the North Church was organized in December.
In October, 1816, it was decided to establish the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Litchfield County, Connecticut, for the instruction of youth like ʻŌpūkahaʻia; initially lacking a principal. Dwight filled that role from May 1817 to May 1818.
Later in 1818 Dwight was called to the pastorate of the Congregational Church in Richmond, Massachusetts, in the immediate vicinity of his birthplace and he was ordained and installed there on January 13, 1819.
He married Mary, daughter of Henry and Lois (Chidsey) Sherrill, of Richmond, on April 24, 1821. They had four daughters and three sons. The eldest son died in infancy, and the eldest daughter in early womanhood.
In April, 1837, on account of poor health, he had to resign his pastoral charge, and they moved to Stockbridge (where his wife died of a malarial fever on October 11, 1838, at the age of 37.)
In these last years he preached with some regularity at Housatonic village, in the northern part of Great Barrington, where a Congregational church was organized shortly after his death.
Dwight died in Stockbridge, on February 25, 1841, in his 52nd year. Mr. Dwight was a man of tender and refined feelings, and a solemn and earnest preacher. (Yale)
Dwight is remembered for putting together a book, ‘Memoirs of Henry Obookiah’ (the spelling of the name based on its pronunciation.)
Unfortunately, ʻŌpūkahaʻia died in 1818; the book was put together after ʻŌpūkahaʻia died. It was an edited collection of ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s letters and journals/diaries.
It inspired the New England missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiʻi.) In giving instructions to the first missionaries, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM,) noted:
“You will never forget ʻŌpūkahaʻia. You will never forget his fervent love, his affectionate counsels, his many prayers and tears for you, and for his and your nation.”
“You saw him die; saw how the Christian could triumph over death and the grave; saw the radient glory in which he left this world for heaven. You will remember it always, and you will tell it to your kindred and countrymen who are dying without hope.”
On October 23, 1819, a group of northeast missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i.)
When the Pioneer Company of missionaries arrived, the kapu system had been abolished; the Hawaiian people had already dismantled their heiau and had rejected their religious beliefs – and effectively weakened belief in the power of the gods and the inevitability of divine punishment for those who opposed them.
Christianity and the western law brought order and were the only answers to keeping order with a growing foreign population and dying race.
Kamehameha III incorporated traditional customary practices within the western laws – by maintaining the “land division of his father with his uncles” – which secured the heirship of lands and succession of the throne, as best he could outside of “politics, trade and commerce.” (Yardley)
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863) (the “Missionary Period”,) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.