On April 19, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. The battles marked the outbreak of open armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its thirteen colonies of British North America.
The first shot (“the shot heard round the world”) was fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington. The American militia were outnumbered and fell back; and the British regulars proceeded on to Concord.
Following this, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and it was signed by 56-members of the Congress (1776.) The next eight years (1775-1783) war was waging on the eastern side of the continent.
The war for independence closed the colonial trade routes within the British empire, the merchantmen and whalers of New England swarmed around South America’s Cape Horn, in search of new markets and sources of supply. A market was established in China.
China took nothing that the US produced; hence Boston traders, in order to obtain the wherewithal to purchase teas and silks at Canton, spent 18-months or more of each China voyage collecting a cargo of sea-otter skins, highly esteemed by the Chinese.
Years before the westward land movement gathered momentum, the energies of seafaring New Englanders found their natural outlet, along their traditional pathway, in the Pacific Ocean.
What helped started in the dawn hours of January 18, 1778, on his third expedition, when British explorer Captain James Cook on the HMS Resolution and Captain Charles Clerke of the HMS Discovery first sighted what Cook named the Sandwich Islands (that were later named the Hawaiian Islands.)
On the afternoon of January 20, 1778, Cook anchored his ships near the mouth of the Waimea River on Kauai’s southwestern shore. After a couple of weeks, there, they headed to the west coast of North America.
The formal end of the Revolutionary War did not occur until the Treaty of Paris and the Treaties of Versailles were signed on September 3, 1783 and recognized the sovereignty of the United States over the territory bounded roughly by what is now Canada to the north, Florida to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west.
The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783, and the US Congress of the Confederation ratified the Paris treaty on January 14, 1784.
Practically every vessel that visited the North Pacific in the closing years of the 18th century stopped at Hawai‘i for provisions and recreation; then, the opening years of the 19th saw the sandalwood business became a recognized branch of trade.
Sandalwood, geography and fresh provisions made the Islands a vital link in a closely articulated trade route between Boston, the Northwest Coast and Canton, China.
At the same time, the Hawaiian demand for American goods was rapidly increasing, owing to the improved standards of living. The central location of the Hawaiian Islands brought many traders, and then whalers, to the Islands.
“And so for forty years Hawaiians wanted everything on every ship that came. And they could get it; it was pretty easy to get. Two pigs and … a place to live, you could trade for almost anything.” (Puakea Nogelmeier)
In the Islands, as in New France (Canada to Louisiana (1534,)) New Spain (Southwest and Central North America to Mexico and Central America (1521)) and New England (Northeast US,) the trader preceded the missionary.
A new era opened in the Islands in 1820 with the arrival of the first missionaries. It was the missionaries who brought Hawai‘i in touch with a better side of New England civilization and attention to the people than that represented by the trading vessels and their crews. But it was not always calm.
“It is said to have been the motto of the buccaneers that ‘there was no God this side of Cape Horn.’ Here, where there were no laws, no press, and no public opinion to restrain men, the vices of civilized lands were added to those of the heathen, and crime was open and shameless.”
“Accordingly, in no part of the world has there been a more bitter hostility to reform. As soon as laws began to be enacted to restrict drunkenness and prostitution, a series of disgraceful outrages were perpetrated to compel their repeal.” (Alexander)
The chiefs “proceeded to take more active measures for suppressing the vices which were destroying their race, and for promoting education. In the seaports of Honolulu and Lahaina this policy immediately brought them into collision with a lawless and depraved class of foreigners.” (Alexander)
“The missionary effort is more successful in Hawaii than probably anywhere in the world, in the impact that it has on the character and the form of a nation. And so, that history is incredible; but history gets so blurry …”
“The missionary success cover decades and decades becomes sort of this huge force where people feel like the missionaries got off the boat barking orders … where they just kind of came in and took over. They got off the boat and said ‘stop dancing,’ ‘put on clothes,’ don’t sleep around.’”
“And it’s so not the case ….”
“The missionaries arrived here, and they’re a really remarkable bunch of people. They are scholars, they have got a dignity that goes with religious enterprise that the Hawaiians recognized immediately. …”
“The Hawaiians had been playing with the rest of the world for forty-years by the time the missionaries came here. The missionaries are not the first to the buffet and most people had messed up the food already.”
“(T)hey end up staying and the impact is immediate. They are the first outside group that doesn’t want to take advantage of you, one way or the other, get ahold of their goods, their food, or your daughter. … But, they couldn’t get literacy. It was intangible, they wanted to learn to read and write”. (Puakea Nogelmeier)
The Hawaiian frustration with the early foreigners and support for the missionaries is illustrated in comments from a couple chiefs of that time, Kaumuali‘i (King of Kauai) and Kalanimōku (chief councilor and prime minister to Kamehameha I, Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III.)
Missionary Samuel Ruggles notes in in his Journal entry on May 8, 1820, “The inhabitants treated me with all the attention and hospitality which their limited circumstances would afford; and even carried their generosity to excess …”
On May 10, 1820, Ruggles notes, “This afternoon the king (Kaumuali‘i) sent to me and requested that I would come and read to him in his bible. I read the first chapter of Genesis and explained to him what I read as well as I could.”
“He listened with strict attention, frequently asking pertinent questions, and said I can’t understand it all; I want to know it; you must learn my language fast, and then tell me all. No white man before ever read to me and talk like you.”
An 1826 letter written by Kalanimōku to Hiram Bingham (written at a time when missionaries were being criticized) states, “Greetings Mr Bingham. Here is my message to all of you, our missionary teachers.”
“I am telling you that I have not seen your wrong doing. If I had seen you to be wrong, I would tell you all. No, you must all be good. Give us literacy and we will teach it. And, give us the word of God and we will heed it … for we have learned the word of God.”
“Then foreigners come, doing damage to our land. Foreigners of America and Britain. But don’t be angry, for we are to blame for you being faulted. And it is not you foreigners, (it’s) the other foreigners.”
“Here’s my message according to the words of Jehovah, I have given my heart to God and my body and my spirit. I have devoted myself to the church and Jesus Christ.”
“Have a look at this letter of mine, Mr Bingham and company. And if you see it and wish to send my message on to America to (your President,) that is up to you. Greetings to the chief of America. Regards to you all, Kalanimōku.”
Kaumuali‘i and his wife, Kapule, reiterated appreciation of the missionaries in letters transcribed on July 28, 1820 to the ABCFM and mother of a recently-arrived missionary wife.
“I wish to write a few lines to you, to thank you for the good Book you was so kind as to send by my son. I think it is a good book – one that God gave for ns to read. I hope my people will soon read this, and all other good books …”
“When your good people learn me, I worship your God. I feel glad you good people come to help us. We know nothing here. American people very good – kind. I love them.”
“When they come here I take care of them: I give him eat; I give him clothes; I do every thing for him. I thank you for giving my son learning.” (Kaumuali‘i to Samuel Worcester, ABCFM)
“I am glad your daughter come here, I shall be her mother now, and she be my daughter. I be good to her; give her tappa; give her mat; give her plenty eat.”
“By and by your daughter speak Owhyhee; then she learn me how to read, and write, and sew; and talk of that Great Akooah, which the good people in America love. I begin spell little: read come very hard, like stone.”
“You very good, send your daughter great way to teach the heathen. I am very glad I can write you a short letter, and tell you that I be good to your daughter. I send you my aloha, and tell you I am Your Friend.” (Kapule to the mother of Mrs Ruggles)