The family name was originally Lyon, to which his grandfather, David Lyon, arbitrarily added an ‘s.’ The Lyon or Lyons family traces its descent back to the time of the Norman Conquest and William the Conqueror. The first of the family to immigrate to America was William Lyon, who went from London to Boston in 1635.
General Nathaniel Lyon, who lost his life in the Civil War, was of the same stock, as also was Mary Lyon, the founder of Mt. Holyoke Seminary. A tradition in the Lyons family says that some of its members took part in the celebrated “Boston Tea Party,” returning home with some of the tea in their shoes. (Williams College)
Lorenzo and Betsy Lyons arrived in the Hawaiian Islands as missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM,) arriving on the ‘Averick’ on May 17, 1832. They were part of the large Fifth Company, including the Alexanders, Armstrongs, Emersons, Forbes, Hitchcocks, Lymans and others.
On July 16 1832, Missionary Lorenzo Lyons replaced Reverend Dwight Baldwin as minister at Waimea, South Kohala, Hawai‘i. Lyons’ “Church Field” was centered in Waimea, at what is now the historic church ‘Imiola.
In a May 8, 1835 letter to the ABCFM, Lyons notes:
“Mr. Baldwin in consequence of ill health is removed from Waimea, and never expects to return. Hence 15,000 souls are thrown upon me, a burden greater than I can bear. Waimea is the most central station. A man located there can do something – not much – for Kohala and Hāmākua.”
“It is my conviction and the conviction of many others that Waimea, including its outposts, is the most difficult and uninviting of all stations now occupied. No one who is acquainted with it wishes to be located there. Perhaps I am mistaken. But I shall sink unless I am speedily aided. “
“To be alone in this wide, desolate and lone region, 40 or 50 miles from any missionary brother, and no physician nearer than Oahu, is unpleasant. But to have the care of so many thousands weighing upon me is unsupportable. Pray for me”.
He stayed, stuck to it, succeeded and spent the rest of his life in Waimea.
Father Lyons was eminently popular with Hawaiians and with all men. His nature was guileless, cordial, enthusiastic, cheering. He was remarkable for hospitality to Hawaiians always seeing that his visitors passing through Waimea had something to eat. (Hawaiian Gazette, October 19, 1886)
His base was at ʻImiola Church in Waimea. The first ʻImiola Church was a grass hut built and dedicated sometime before 1832 by King Kamehameha III. Lyons wrote in his journal that at least one hundred little grass schoolhouses were scattered around the immediate Waimea area at that time.
His first wife, Betsy, died in 1837. From that time on Lyons continued the tireless and devoted worker wholly thoughtless of self, joyous, enthusiastic, ardent and kindly to others. His constant tours extended from near Laupāhoehoe to Waimanu in Hāmākua and to Kawaihae and Puako in Kohala South. He always went on foot, unsparing of his slight and wiry frame. (Hawaiian Gazette, October 19, 1886)
On July 14, 1838, he married Lucia G. Smith of Truxton, New York.
By February of 1843, the first ʻImiola Church had been torn down and was replaced by a stone structure with thatched roof and windows. Hundreds of Hawaiians helped in the collection of stones, often carrying them miles to the construction site. However, it ran into disrepair.
On August 29, 1855, the cornerstone of a new church was laid. “Under the cornerstone (SW corner) was deposited a tin box wrapped in mamaki kapa – Hawaiian Bible, hymn books, newspapers, laws, etc.” (Lyons) By 1857, the church was completed and dedicated. The ceiling rafters, floor and exterior clapboard are made of koa.
As was the practice, the early missionaries learned the Hawaiian language and taught their lessons in Hawaiian, rather than English. In part, the mission did not want to create a separate caste and portion of the community as English-speaking Hawaiians. In later years, the instruction, ultimately, was in English.
Lyons was an avid supporter of the Hawaiian language. He wrote a letter to the editor in The Friend newspaper (September 2, 1878) that, in part noted:
“An interminable language…it is one of the oldest living languages of the earth, as some conjecture, and may well be classed among the best…the thought to displace it, or to doom it to oblivion by substituting the English language, ought not for a moment to be indulged. … Long live the grand old, sonorous, poetical Hawaiian language.”
He was lovingly known to Hawaiians as Ka Makua Laiana, Haku Mele o ka Aina Mauna – Father Lyons, Lyric Poet of the Mountain County.
Lyons was fluent in the Hawaiian language and composed many poems and hymns; his best known and beloved work is the hymn “Hawaiʻi Aloha” sung to the tune of “I Left It All With Jesus” (circa 1852.) The song was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
“Widely regarded as Hawaiʻi’s second anthem, this hymn is sung in both churches and public gatherings. It is performed at important government and social functions to bring people together in unity, and at the closing of Hawaiʻi Legislative sessions. The first appearance of “Hawaiʻi Aloha” in a Protestant hymnal was in 1953, nearly 100 years after it was written. Today, people automatically stand when this song is played extolling the virtues of ‘beloved Hawaiʻi.’” (Hawaiian Music Museum).
Hawaiʻi Aloha – Israel Kamakawiwoʻole
“In 1872, he published Buke Himeni Hawaii containing over 600 hymns two thirds his own composition. Some years later he prepared the Sabbath School Hymn and Tune Book Lei Aliʻi … The Hawaiians owe entirely to his exertions their introduction to modern enlivening styles of popular sacred music.” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 19, 1886)
After leaving the mission, he stayed in Waimea.
He was known in the town as the man who carried out many functions. In October, 1854 Father Lyons became the first official Postmaster of Waimea, a post he held until he was very old. The Honolulu Directory of 1884 listed him as pastor of ʻImiola Church, postmaster, school agent and government physician.
His love for his native country was all that might be expected in such a deeply affectionate and idealistic nature. … But it was to another flag that Laiana affectionately and unreservedly dedicated his allegiance and his life. (Doyle)
It was the desire of Laiana’s heart that when laid in his last resting place he be wrapped in his dearest flag, the flag of Hawaiʻi Nei. Kalākaua himself sent the flag and the frail little body was encased in its soft silken folds. (Doyle)
Lorenzo Lyons died October 6, 1886. He was buried some distance from the church on the grounds of his old homestead. In April, 1939, his remains were moved to the grounds of ʻImiola Church, Waimea, South Kohala, Hawaiʻi.
The image shows Lorenzo Lyons, Makua Laiana. In addition, I have included other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.