Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863 – the “Missionary Period”), about 184-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in the Hawaiian Islands.
Collaboration between Native Hawaiians and American Protestant missionaries resulted in, among other things, the
• Introduction of Christianity;
• Development of a written Hawaiian language and establishment of schools that resulted in widespread literacy;
• Promulgation of the concept of constitutional government;
• Combination of Hawaiian with Western medicine; and
• Evolution of a new and distinctive musical tradition (with harmony and choral singing)
Notable lasting legacies of the mission are the numerous historic churches and restored mission residences, across the Islands. Among the other legacies are reminders of the Hawaiian Islands Mission and the good work of the missionaries who were part of it; here are a handful of only some of the reminders of the mission:
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives
The Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives (Mission Houses) includes three restored houses, two of which are the oldest houses in Hawai‘i, the 1821 Mission House (wood frame) and the 1831 Chamberlain House (coral block,) and a 1841 bedroom annex interpreted as the Print Shop, and a research archives which provides a unique glimpse into 19th-century Hawai`i both onsite and online.
Mission Houses sits on an acre of land in the middle of downtown Honolulu. In addition, the site has the Mission Memorial Cemetery, and a building which houses collections and archives, a reading room, a visitors’ store and staff offices. A National Historic Landmark, Mission Houses preserves and interprets the two oldest houses in Hawaiʻi through school programs, historic house tours, and special events.
On September 5, 1831, classes at the Mission Seminary at Lahainaluna (later known as Lahainaluna (Upper Lāhainā)) began in thatched huts with 25 Hawaiian young men (including David Malo, who went on to hold important positions in the kingdom, including the first Superintendent of Schools.)
Under the leadership of Reverend Lorrin Andrews, the school was established by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions “to instruct young men of piety and promising talents”. It is the oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.
Lahainaluna was transferred from being operated by the American missionaries to the control of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1849. By 1864, only Lahainaluna graduates were considered qualified to hold government positions such as lawyers, teachers, district magistrates and other important posts.
O‘ahu College – Punahou School
The missionaries established schools associated with their missions across the Islands. This marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy. The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of Chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing.
However, the education of their children was a concern of missionaries. There were two major dilemmas, (1) there were a limited number of missionary children and (2) existing schools (which the missionaries taught) served adult Hawaiians (who were taught from a limited curriculum in the Hawaiian language.)
During the first 21-years of the missionary period (1820-1863,) no fewer than 33 children were either taken back to the continent by their parents. That changed … Resolution 14 of the 1841 General Meeting of the Sandwich Islands Mission changed that; it established a school for the children of the missionaries (May 12, 1841.) Meeting minutes note, “This subject occupied much time in discussion, and excited much interest.” On July 11, 1842, fifteen children met for the first time in Punahou’s original E-shaped building.
Lāhainā Banyan Tree
James William Smith was in the Tenth Company of ABCFM missionaries to the Islands, arriving on September 24, 1842. His son, William Owen Smith, born at Kōloa, Kauai, was educated at Rev David Dole’s school at Kōloa, later attending Punahou School in Honolulu.
On April 24, 1873, while serving as Sheriff on Maui, William Owen Smith planted Lāhainā’s Indian Banyan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lāhainā.
Today, shading almost an acre of the surrounding park and reaching upward to a height of 60 feet, this banyan tree is reportedly the largest in the US. Its aerial roots grow into thick trunks when they reach the ground, supporting the tree’s large canopy. There are 16 major trunks in addition to the original trunk in the center.
Mission Memorial Building
“Impressive ceremonies marked the laying of the cornerstone yesterday afternoon of the Mission Memorial building in King street, Ewa of the YWCA Homestead, being erected at a cost of $90,000 as a monument to pioneer missionaries and to be the center pf the missionary work in Hawaii in the future.” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 20, 1915)
Designed by architect H.L. Kerr and built between 1915 and 1916, these structures were commissioned by the Hawaii Evangelical Association in preparation for the centennial commemoration of the arrival of the American Protestant missionaries to Hawaii in 1820. (C&C)
“‘Various forms of memorials have been suggested, but instead of some monument of beauty, perhaps, but which could be put to no practical use, why not something which would be of lasting value and usefulness and what would combine all so well as a building which would be the center of activity for the Hawaiian board, where work along the lines of those whose memories are now being revered, should be directed!’” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 20, 1915)
During World War II, the city administration moved to have the building condemned. The large, red-brick, neoclassical structures are the only example of Jeffersonian architecture in Hawaii. In 2003, after decades of use as city office space, the auditorium was renovated back to its original state.