An often repeated (and unfounded/incorrect) statement is, “The missionaries came to do good, and they did very well.” (Suggesting the missionaries personally profited from their services in the Islands.)
A simple review of the facts show that the missionaries were forbidden to “engage in any business or transaction whatever for the sake of private gain” and they did not, and could not, own property individually.
The Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM,) in giving instructions to the Pioneer Company of 1819, said:
“Your mission is a mission of mercy, and your work is to be wholly a labor of love. … Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale, but you are to open your hearts wide, and set your marks high.”
“You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.” (Instructions of the Prudential Committee of the ABCFM, October 15, 1819)
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863 – the ‘Missionary Period,’) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.
To supply the mission members, a Common Stock system was initiated – it was a socialistic, rather than capitalistic, economic structure.
The Common Stock system was a community-based economic system designed to enable the missionaries to accomplish their goals without having to worry about finding sustenance and shelter.
The missionaries were constantly reminded of Matthew Chapter 6, verse 24: “No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money.)” (Woods)
The Laws and Regulations of the ABCFM stated, “No missionary or assistant missionary shall engage in any business or transaction whatever for the sake of private gain …”
“… nor shall anyone engage in transactions or employments yielding pecuniary profit, without first obtaining the consent of his brethren in the mission; and the profits, in all cases, shall be placed at the disposal of the mission.”
“The missionaries and assistant missionaries are regarded as having an equitable claim upon the churches, in whose behalf they go among the heathen, for an economical support, while performing their missionary labors …”
“… and it shall be the duty of the Board to see that a fair and equitable allowance is made to them, taking into view their actual circumstances in the several countries where they reside.” (Laws and Regulations of the Board, 1812)
So missionaries could devote their entire energies to developing a written language for the Hawaiian people, translating the Bible into Hawaiian and teaching native men, women and children to read it, the ABCFM supplied all the Hawaiian mission’s domestic needs through a Common Stock system administered by appointed secular agents for the mission.
“The kingdom to which you belong is not of this world. Your mission is to the native race,” ABCFM Secretary Rufus Anderson instructed the missionaries. Consequently, missionaries practiced rigid economy partly out of necessity, and partly out of a desire to appear trustworthy to the American churches upon whom they depended for total support. (Schulz)
The Mission was supported by donations to the ABCFM on the continent, “The free-will offerings of many churches, and many thousands of individuals are cast into one treasury, and committed, for application to the intended objects, to persons duly appointed to the high trust.”
“Upon these sacred funds and under this constituted direction, approved persons, freely offering themselves for the holy service, are sent forth to evangelize the heathen.”
“Your economical polity will be founded on the principle established by the Board, ‘That at every missionary station, the earnings of the members of the mission, and all monies and articles of different kinds, received by them, or any of them, directly from the funds of the Board, or in the way of donation, shall constitute a common stock …”
“… from which they shall severally draw their support in such proportions, and under such regulations as may from time to time be found advisable, and be approved by the Board or by the Prudential Committee.’” (Instruction to the Missionaries, October 15, 1819)
The Minutes of a meeting of the Pioneer Company on their way aboard the Thaddeus reinforced these instructions, “The property acquired by the members jointly or by individuals of the body either by grant, barter, or earnings shall also be subject to the disposal of the members jointly.”
“The property thus furnished or acquired, either divided or undivided, shall be devoted to the general purposes of the mission, according to the tenor of our Instructions from the A. B. Com. F. M. and according to our own regulations, not incompatible with those instructions.”
“No member of this mission shall be entitled to use or allowed to appropriate such property divided or undivided, in bying [sic], selling, giving, or consuming, etc. in any manner incompatible with our general Instructions, or contrary to the voice of a majority of the members.” (Minutes of the Prudential Meeting of the Mission Family, November 16, 1819)
The Mission’s secular agent, Levi Chamberlain, kept track of everything mission families received from the Depository, gifts from mainland friends or family members, and any presents from Native Hawaiians. Everything was counted against the equal distribution of goods.
Mission family members were allowed to keep personal gifts from family and friends as private property, but those gifts were subtracted from what they would otherwise be entitled to receive from the Depository. (Woods)
In 1836 the Mission wrote, “No man can point to private property to the value of a single dollar, which any member of the mission has acquired at the Sandwich Islands.”
Missionary Dwight Baldwin noted, “Every member, I think, to a man, has been engrossed in labors for the benefit of the people. And it is certainly true of nearly every one, that he has turned his attention to no provision whatever which his children might need in America.” (Schulz)
“In spite of the fact that they followed this community-based economic system, there is no doubt that the missionaries were capitalists. In 1838 William Richards took leave from the mission and then resigned to become the translator and advisor for King Kamehameha III.”
“At the King’s request Richards taught the chiefs about capitalism and constitutional government using a book he translated by Baptist pastor and Brown University President Francis Wayland, titled The Elements of Political Economy.”
“This class led directly to the establishment of the so-called Hawaiian Bill of Rights a few months later in 1839 that guaranteed rights to commoners that included rights to their own property.”
“The class also led to the establishment of the first constitution of Hawai‘i in 1840. The class may also have prepared the way for the Māhele in the late 18405 that established the right of private land ownership.” (Woods)
Two years after Kamehameha III created the first Hawaiian constitution, legislature, and public education system, the ABCFM aided the missionaries by transitioning to a salary system. The Board allotted each couple $450 per year and granted children under 10 an additional $30 and children over 10, $70 annually. (Schulz)
At their General Meeting in 1843, the Mission resolved, “That although we consider the salary allowed us by the Board a bona fide salary, still, in our character as missionaries, we are a peculiar people, having wholly consecrated ourselves to the Lord for the spread of the Gospel in the earth …”
“… and however it may be proper for other men to engage in speculations, and accumulate property, we cannot consistently with our calling engage in business for the purpose of private gain.” (Cheever)
The Depository continued as a purchasing agent for missionaries who could purchase their supplies at a discount from the Secular Agent, but all gifts or other earnings were still deducted from this salary. Land and herds continued to be owned jointly by the mission. (Woods)
Missionary parents could now give their children a New England education in the islands at O‘ahu College (Punahou, founded in 1841) and save their personal incomes for their children’s futures. (Schulz)
In 1863, the ABCFM withdrew financial support for the mission and the Missionary Period ended.
I encourage folks to visit the Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, in the shadow of Kawaiahaʻo Church, on King Street. It’s a great way to learn the facts about the missionaries and the Missionary Period.
Docent guided tours (Tuesday through Saturday, starting on the hour every hour from 11 am with the last tour beginning at 3 pm) take about an hour and cost $10 ($8 Kamaʻāina, Seniors and Military,) Students $6 (age 6 to College w/ID;) Kamaʻāina Saturday (last Saturday of the month) 50% off for residents.)