Russell Hubbard was born in Hamden (then part of New Haven,) Connecticut on October 18, 1784, the eldest son of Deacon and General John and Martha Hubbard, of Hamden, Connecticut (and grandson of the Rev. John Hubbard of Meriden.)
He is said to have studied for the ministry after graduation from Yale, but a fondness for travel drove him abroad. (Dexter, Yale)
Hubbard had gone to sea following his graduation in 1806, hoping that a change of air and climate could resolve some unspecific health concerns.
In 1807, Hubbard, aboard the Triumph (Captained by Caleb Brintnall) anchored in Kealakekua Bay. There, ʻŌpūkahaʻia, a Hawaiian who had recently lost his parents in the island war that was waging, was contemplating his future.
“For some time I began to think about leaving that country, to go to some other part of the world. I did not care where I shall go to. I thought to myself that if I should get away, and go to some other country, probably I may find some comfort, more than to live there, without father and mother.”
“About this time there was a ship come from New York; – Captain Brintnall the master of the ship. As soon as it got into the harbour, in the very place where I lived, I thought of no more but to take the best chance I had, and if the captain have no objection, to take me as one of his own servants and to obey his word.”
“After supper the captain made some inquiry to see if we were willing to come to America; and soon I made a motion with my head that I was willing to go. This man was very agreeable, and his kindness was much delighted in my heart, as if I was his own son, and he was my own father. Thus I still continue thankful for his kindness towards me.”
“My parting with them (grandmother, aunt & uncle) was disagreeable to them and to me, but I was willing to leave all my relations, friends and acquaintance; expected to see them no more in this world.”
“We set out on our journey …” (ʻŌpūkahaʻia)
“Among these men I found a very desirable young man, by name Russell Hubbard, a son of Gen H of New Haven. This Mr Hubbard was a member of Yale College.”
“He was a friend of Christ. Christ was with him when I saw him, but I knew it not. ‘Happy is the man that put his trust in God!’ Mr Hubbard was very kind to me on our passage, and taught me the letters in English spelling-book.” (ʻŌpūkahaʻia)
After travelling to the American North West, then to China, they landed in New York in 1809. They continued to New Haven, Connecticut. ʻŌpūkahaʻia was eager to study and learn – seeking to be a student at Yale.
“In this place I become acquainted with many students belonging to the College. By these pious students I was told more about God than what I had heard before … Many times I wished to hear more about God, but find no body to interpret it to me.”
“I attended many meetings on the sabbath, but find difficulty to understand the minister. I could understand or speak, but very little of the English language.” (ʻŌpūkahaʻia)
ʻŌpūkahaʻia “was sitting on the steps of a Yale building, weeping. A solicitous student stopped to inquire what was wrong, and Obookiah (the spelling of his name, based on its sound) said, ‘No one will give me learning.’”
The student was Edwin Dwight, distant cousin of the college president. “(W)hen the question was put him, ‘Do you wish to learn?’ his countenance began to brighten and … he served it with eagerness.” (Haley)
ʻŌpūkahaʻia latched upon the Christian religion, converted to Christianity in 1815 and in 1817 became the first student at the Foreign Mission School established at Cornwall, by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
Unfortunately, ʻŌpūkahaʻia died in 1818. A story of his life was written (“Memoirs of Henry Obookiah”.) This book was put together by Edwin Dwight (after ʻŌpūkahaʻia died.) It was an edited collection of ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s letters and journals/diaries. This book inspired the New England missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiʻi.)
ʻŌpūkahaʻia is also associated with another book. It is believed ʻŌpūkahaʻia classmates (and future missionaries,) Samuel Ruggles and James Ely, after ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s death, went over his papers and began to prepare material on the Hawaiian language to be taken to Hawaiʻi and used in missionary work.
The work was written by Ruggles and assembled into a book – by Herman Daggett, principal of the Foreign Mission School – and credit for the work goes to ʻŌpūkahaʻia.
Just as Russell Hubbard used an English spelling book to start ʻŌpūkahaʻia with his studies aboard the Triumph, ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s “work served as the basis for the foreign language materials prepared by American and Hawaiian students at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, in the months prior to the departure of the first company of missionaries to Hawai’i in October 1819.” (Rumford)
In his journal, ʻŌpūkahaʻia first mentions grammar in his account of the summer of 1813: “A part of the time (I) was trying to translate a few verses of the Scriptures into my own language, and in making a kind of spelling-book, taking the English alphabet and giving different names and different sounds. I spent time in making a kind of spelling-book, dictionary, grammar.” (Schutz)
But his spelling was unique …
References to Webster’s ‘Spelling’ book appear in the accounts by folks at the New England mission school. As you know, English letters have different sounds for the same letter. For instance, the letter “a” has a different sound when used in words like: late, hall and father.
Noah Webster devised a method to help differentiate between the sounds and assigned numbers to various letter sounds – and used these in his Speller. (Webster did not substitute the numbers corresponding to a letter’s sound into words in his spelling or dictionary book; it was used as an explanation of the difference in the sounds of letters.)
The following is a chart for some of the letters related to the numbers assigned, depending on the sound they represent.
Long Vowels in English (Webster)
late, ask, hall, here, sight, note, move, truth
It seems ʻŌpūkahaʻia used Noah Webster’s Speller in his writings and substituted the numbers assigned to the various sounds and incorporated them into the words of his grammar book (essentially putting the corresponding number into the spelling of the word.)
Some believe this manuscript is the first grammar book on the Hawaiian language. However, when reading the document, many of the words are not recognizable. Here’s a sampling of a few of the words: 3-o-le; k3-n3-k3; l8-n3 and; 8-8-k8.
“Once we know how the vowel letters and numbers were used, ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s short grammar becomes more than just a curiosity; it is a serious work that is probably the first example of the Hawaiian language recorded in a systematic way. Its alphabet is a good deal more consistent than those used by any of the explorers who attempted to record Hawaiian words.” (Schutz)
Using ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s odd-looking words mentioned above, we can decipher what they represent by substituting the code and pronounce the words accordingly (for the “3,” substitute with “a”(that sounds like “hall”) and replace the “8” with “u,” (that sounds like “truth”) – so, 3-o-le transforms to ʻaʻole (no;) k3-n3-k3 transforms to kanaka (man;); l8-n3 transforms to luna (upper) and 8-8-k8 transforms to ʻuʻuku (small.)
“It might be said that the first formal writing system for the Hawaiian language, meaning alphabet, spelling rules and grammar, was created in Connecticut by a Hawaiian named Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia. He began work as early as 1814 and left much unfinished at his death in 1818.” (Rumford)
I encourage you to review the images in the folder; I had the opportunity to review and photograph the several pages of ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s grammar book. (Special thanks to the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives and the Hawaiian Historical Society.)
Back to Russell Hubbard, who first taught ʻŌpūkahaʻia the letters … “in November or December, 1810, in his 27th year, (he was) lost at sea, with his next younger brother, on board the brig Triton, on a voyage from New Haven to the West Indies.” (Dexter, Yale)