On October 29, 1816, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) established the Foreign Mission School as a seminary.
Classes began in 1817 “for the purpose of educating youths of Heathen nations, with a view to their being useful in their respective countries.”
Its object was to educate the youth of promising talent and of hopeful demeanor to return, in due time, to their respective lands in the character of husbandmen, school-masters, or preachers of the gospel.
The first four destinations chosen were (1) the Bombay region of India (1813,) (2) Ceylon (1816,) (3) the Cherokee Indian Nation in the State of Tennessee (1817) and (4) Hawai‘i (1820). (Brumaghim)
The Foreign Mission School connects the town of Cornwall, Connecticut to a larger, national religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening.
The Second Great Awakening spread from its origins in Connecticut to Williamstown, Massachusetts; enlightenment ideals from France were gradually being countered by an increase in religious fervor, first in the town, and then in Williams College.
In the summer of 1806, in a grove of trees, in what was then known as Sloan’s Meadow, Samuel John Mills, James Richards, Francis L Robbins, Harvey Loomis and Byram Green debated the theology of missionary service. Their meeting was interrupted by a thunderstorm and they took shelter under a haystack until the sky cleared.
That event has since been referred to as the “Haystack Prayer Meeting” and is viewed by many scholars as the pivotal event for the development of Protestant missions in the subsequent decades and century.
The first American student missionary society began in September 1808, when Mills and others called themselves “The Brethren,” whose object was “to effect, in the person of its members, a mission or missions to the heathen.” (Smith) Milla graduated Williams College in 1809 and later Andover Theological Seminary.
In June 1810, Mills and James Richards petitioned the General Association of the Congregational Church to establish the foreign missions. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed with a Board of members from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Cornwall’s Foreign Mission School exemplified evangelical efforts to recruit young men from indigenous cultures around the world, convert them to Christianity, educate them and train them to become preachers, health workers, translators and teachers back in their native lands.
Initially lacking a principal, Edwin Welles Dwight filled that role from May 1817 to May 1818; he was replaced the next year by the Reverend Herman Daggett. In its first year, the Foreign Mission School had 12 students, seven Hawaiians, one Hindu, one Bengalese, an Indian and two Anglo-Americans.
The school’s first student was Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia (Obookiah,) a native Hawaiian from the Island of Hawaiʻi who in 1807 (after his parents had been killed) boarded a sailing ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay and sailed to the continent. In its first year, the Foreign Mission School had 12 students, more than half of whom were Hawaiian.
The school increased its number of pupils the second year to twenty-four; four Cherokee, two Choctaw, one Abenaki, two Chinese, two Malays, a Bengalese, one Hindu, six Hawaiians and two Marquesans as well as three American. By 1820, Native Americans from six different tribes made up half of the school’s students.
Once enrolled, students spent seven hours a day in study. Subjects included chemistry, geography, calculus and theology, as well as Greek, French and Latin.
They were also taught special skills like coopering (the making of barrels and other storage casks), blacksmithing, navigation and surveying. When not in class, students attended mandatory church and prayer sessions and also worked on making improvements to the school’s lands. (Cornwall)
In due time, Reverend Hiram Bingham visited the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall but that wasn’t until May 1819, one year after ʻŌpūkahaʻia died.
Then, from Andover Theological Seminary, Bingham wrote in a letter dated July 18, 1819, to Reverend Samuel Worcester that “the unexpected and afflictive death of Obookiah, roused my attention to the subject, & perhaps by writing and delivering some thoughts occasioned by his death I became more deeply interested than before in that cause for which he desired to live …”
“… & from that time it seemed by no means impossible that I should be employed in the field which Henry had intended to occupy…the possibility that this little field in the vast Pacific would be mine, was the greatest, in my own view.” (Brumaghim)
Subsequently, in the summer of 1819, Bingham and his classmate at Andover Theological Seminary, Reverend Asa Thurston, volunteered to go with the first group of missionaries to Hawai‘i.
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.)
The Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in giving instructions to the pioneers of 1819 said:
“Your mission is a mission of mercy, and your work is to be wholly a labor of love. … Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale, but you are to open your hearts wide, and set your marks high.”
“You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.” (The Friend)
The points of special and essential importance to all missionaries, and all persons engaged in the missionary work are four:
• Devotedness to Christ;
• Subordination to rightful direction;
• Unity one with another; and
• Benevolence towards the objects of their mission
Between 1820 and 1848, the ABCFM sent “eighty-four men and one hundred women to Hawai‘i to preach and teach, to translate and publish, to advise and counsel – and win the hearts of the Hawaiian people.” (Dwight; Brumaghim)