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 (ABCFM) was formed with a Board of members from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
ABCFM had its origin in the desire of several young men in the Andover Theological Seminary to preach the gospel in the heathen world. (The term ‘heathen’ (without the knowledge of Jesus Christ and God) was a term in use at the time (200-years ago.))
“The Board has established missions, in the order of time in which they are now named at Bombay, and Ceylon; among the Cherokees, Choctaws, and the Cherokees of the Arkansaw ….”
It is important to note that in the early nineteenth century all land west of the Ohio Valley was considered foreign territory. Westward continental expansion bled into the Pacific and beyond. (NPS)
By 1816, contributions to the ABCFM had declined. There were several reasons including post-War of 1812 recession and the fact that India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) were too remote to hold public interest. (Wagner)
Folks saw a couple options: bring Indian and foreign youth into white communities and teach them there, or go out to them and teach them in their own communities. They chose the former.
“If the proper means were employed, no doubt can be entertained, that many of these Youths would become the instruments of good, to themselves and to the nations to which they belong. From the declarations o: providence of God, it is reasonable to hope, that some, if favoured with a religious education, would become the subjects of divine grace.”
“The great object in educating these Youths, is, that they may be employed as instruments of salvation to their benighted countrymen. Should they become qualified to preach the Gospel, they will possess many advantages over Missionaries, from this, or any other part of the Christian World.”
Formation of Foreign Mission School
“(W)e have a school at Cornwall, Connecticut, instituted for the purpose of educating youths of Heathen nations, with a view of their being useful in their respective countries. This school commenced in May, 1817. The number of pupils is at present about thirty; fifteen of whom are Indian youths, of principal families, belonging to five or six different Indian tribes …”
“… several of these last receive an allowance from the government; and I beg to commend them all to the favor of the President, as very promising youths, in a course of education, which will qualify them for extending influence, and for important usefulness, in their respective nations. They, as well as the pupils in the schools in the nations, are exercised in various labors, and inured to industry; and the school comprises most of the branches of academical education, and is under excellent instruction and government.” (Morse, 1822)
The object of the school was the education, in the US country, of heathen youth, so that they might be qualified to become useful missionaries, physicians, surgeons, schoolmasters or interpreters, and to communicate to the heathen nations such knowledge in agriculture and the arts, as might prove the means of promoting Christianity and civilization. (ABCFM)
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.
The school’s first student was Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia (Obookiah,) a native Hawaiian from the Island of Hawaiʻi who in 1808 (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.
Curricula operated at various levels, as some of the pupils were more advanced in their studies while others where just learning basic literacy – the more advanced students helped teach the others.
Once enrolled, students spent seven hours a day in study. Students studied penmanship, grammar, arithmetic, Latin, Greek, rhetoric, navigation, surveying, astronomy, theology, chemistry, and ecclesiastical history, among other specialized subjects.
Students rose around 5 or 6 am and ate breakfast together at 7 am in the dining room of the steward’s house. Daily classes ran from 9 am to noon, and again from 2 to 5 pm, with all sessions taking place on the first floor of the main school building just across the street from the steward’s house.
Academics were balanced with mandatory outdoor labor. Students were tasked with the maintenance of the school’s agricultural plots and assigned to labor in the fields “two (and a half) days” a week and “two at a time.” Additionally, the school enforced strict rules for students’ social lives and study times.
The coming of Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia and other young Hawaiians to the US, who awakened a deep Christian sympathy in the churches, moved the ABCFM to establish a mission at the Islands. When asked “Who will return with these boys to their native land to teach the truths of salvation?”
Bingham and his classmate, Asa Thurston, were the first to respond, and offer their services to the Board. (Congregational Quarterly) They were ordained at Goshen, Connecticut on September 29, 1819; several years earlier from Goshen came the first official request for a mission to Hawai‘i; this ordination of foreign missionaries was the first held in the State of Connecticut.
“During its brief existence, Cornwall’s Foreign Mission School taught over 100 students. More importantly, however, it connected a small town in Connecticut to larger, international events, such as the flourishing Christian missionary movement. Additionally, it reveals the boundaries of tolerance in the early 1800s.” (Connecticut History) By the time the school closed in 1826, only fourteen students remained.
This Weekend – June 16-18, 2017 (Father’s Day weekend)
Bicentennial of Formation of Foreign Mission School – Cornwall, CT
June 16-18, 2017 (Father’s Day weekend), folks in Cornwall, Connecticut will host a bicentennial commemoration of the formation of the Foreign Mission School. (All events are free and open to the public.)