From 1820 to 1848, 12-Companies of missionaries, under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), arrived in the Islands. Every group of missionaries arrived by ship, sailing from New England, around Cape Horn and finally reaching the Hawaiian Islands usually after a five-month sea voyage. (Miller)
For the most part, the missionaries were married – typically ‘just married’ a few weeks or months of their departure. In the Pioneer Company, by the middle of the trip, four of the wives were pregnant.
After 164-days at sea, on April 4, 1820, the Thaddeus arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Hawai‘i’s “Plymouth Rock” is about where the Kailua pier is today.
Starting a few short months after their arrival, the new missionary wives became mothers.
The first child was Levi Loomis, son of the Printer, Elisha and Maria Loomis; he was the first white child born in the Islands. Here is the order of the early missionary births:
July 16, 1820 … Honolulu (Oʻahu) … Levi Loomis
October 19, 1820 … Waimea (Kauai) … Maria Whitney
November 9, 1820 … Honolulu (Oʻahu) … Sophia Bingham
December 22, 1820 … Waimea (Kauai) … Sarah Ruggles
March 2, 1821 … Waimea (Kauai) … Lucia Holman
September 28, 1821 … Honolulu (Oʻahu) … Persis Thurston
More missionaries, and more children, came, later.
By 1853, nearly three-fourths of the native Hawaiian population over the age of sixteen years was literate in their own language. The short time span within which native Hawaiians achieved literacy is remarkable in light of the overall low literacy rates of the United States at that time. (Lucas)
This was fine for the Hawaiians who were beginning to learn to read and write, but the missionary families were looking for expanded education for their children.
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 period from infancy to the age of ten or twelve years, children in the almost isolated family of a missionary could be well provided for and instructed in the rudiments of education without a regular school … But after that period, difficulties in most cases multiplied.” (Hiram Bingham)
Missionaries were torn between preaching the gospel and teaching their kids. From 1826 until 1842, young missionary parents began to make a decision seemingly at odds with the idealizing of the family so prevalent in the 19th century; they weighed the possibility of sending them back to New England. The trauma mostly affected families of the first two companies.
“(I)t was the general opinion of the missionaries there that their children over eight or ten years of age, notwithstanding the trial that might be involved, ought to be sent or carried to the United States, if there were friends who would assume a proper guardianship over them”. (Bingham)
“Owing to the then lack of advanced schools in Hawaii, the earlier mission children were all ‘sent home’ around Cape Horn, to ‘be educated.’ This was the darkest day in the life history of the mission child.”
In 1840, as the ship carrying the missionaries’ offspring pulled away from the dock, a distraught seven-year-old, Caroline Armstrong, looking at her father on the shore, the distance between them widening every moment … “Oh, father, dear father, do take me back!”
Her plea echoed in the hearts of the community. In June of that year the mission voted to establish a school for the missionary children at Punahou.
The Missionary Period lasted from 1820 to 1863; during the first 21-years of the Missionary Period, no fewer than 33 children were either sent or taken back to the continent by their parents.