On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of ABCFM missionaries set sail on the Thaddeus to establish a mission in the Hawaiian Islands; they anchored at Kailua-Kona on April 4, 1820.
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 ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.
One of the earliest efforts of the missionaries, who arrived in 1820, was the identification and selection of important communities (generally near ports and aliʻi residences) as “Stations” for the regional church and school centers across the Hawaiian Islands.
As an example, in June 1823, William Ellis joined American Missionaries Asa Thurston, Artemas Bishop and Joseph Goodrich on a tour of the island of Hawaiʻi to investigate suitable sites for mission stations.
On O‘ahu, locations at Honolulu (Kawaiahaʻo), Kāne’ohe, Waialua, Waiʻanae and ‘Ewa served as the bases for outreach work on the island.
By 1850, eighteen mission stations had been established; six on Hawaiʻi, four on Maui, four on Oʻahu, three on Kauai and one on Molokai.
Meeting houses were constructed at the stations, as well as throughout the district. Initially constructed as the traditional Hawaiian thatched structures; they were later made of wood or stone.
One of the first things the first missionaries did was begin to learn the Hawaiian language and create an alphabet for a written format of the language. Their emphasis was on preaching and teaching.
The instruction of students in schools (initially, most of whom were adults), in reading, writing and other skills initially fell to the missionaries. The schools generally served as both native churches and meeting houses, and were established in most populated ahupua‘a around the islands; native teachers and lay-ministers were appointed to oversee their daily activities.
The missionaries were scattered across the Islands, each home was usually in a thickly inhabited village, so that the missionary and his wife could be close to their work among the people.
In the early years, they lived in the traditional thatched houses – “our little cottage built chiefly of poles, dried grass and mats, being so peculiarly exposed to fire … consisting only of one room with a little partition and one door.” (Sybil Bingham) The thatched cottages were raised upon a low stone platform. Later, they lived in wood, stone or adobe homes.
The missionary family’s day began at 4 am (… it continued into the night, with no breaks).
The mission children were up then, too; in the early morning, the parents taught their children. “We had one tin whale-oil lamp between us, with a single wick…. Soon after five we had breakfast.” (Bishop)
By 9 am, after accomplishing all domestic duties and schooling of the children, the wives would begin the instruction of the Hawaiian children – and taught them for six solid hours, occasionally running into the house to see that all was straight.
“Very soon I gathered up 12 or 15 little native girls to come once a day to the house so that as early as possible the business of instruction might be commenced. That was an interesting day to me to lay the foundation of the first school ever assembled”. (Sybil Bingham)
“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)
“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.”
“Peculiarly dependent upon the family life, at the age of eight to twelve years, they were suddenly torn from the only intimates they had ever known, and banished, lonely and homesick, to a mythical country on the other side of the world …”
“… where they could receive letters but once or twice a year; where they must remain isolated from friends and relatives for years and from which they might never return.” (Bishop)
Missionaries were torn between preaching the gospel and teaching their kids. “(M)ission parents were busy translating, preaching and teaching. Usually parents only had a couple of hours each day to spare with their children.” (Schultz)
Very prominent in the old mission life was the annual “General Meeting” where all of the missionaries from across the Islands gathered at Honolulu from four to six weeks.
“Often some forty or more of the missionaries besides their wives were present, as well as many of the older children. … Much business was transacted relating to the multifarious work and business of the Mission. New missionaries were to be located, and older ones transferred.” (Bishop)