Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives (Mission Houses) collaborated with Awaiaulu Foundation to digitize, transcribe, translate and annotate over 200-letters written by 33-Chiefs.
The letters, written between 1823 and 1887, are assembled from three different collections: the ABCFM Collection held by Harvard’s Houghton Library, the HEA Collection of the Hawaii Conference-United Church of Christ and the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society.
These letters provide insight into what the Ali‘i (Chiefs) were doing and thinking at the time, as well as demonstrate the close working relationship and collaboration between the aliʻi and the missionaries.
As an example, the following are translations of three letters written by chiefs that specifically relate to that positive, collaborative working relationship.
Chiefs’ Request for More American Teachers
The first was sent August 23, 1836 to the American missionaries; the Hawaiian chiefs asked that more American teachers be sent to the Islands.
“Salutations to you, our friends in America.”
“Here is our proposition for the improvement of the lands here in Hawai‘i. Give us more instructors like those you have in your land, America. These are the types of instructors we are considering.”
A house builder
A paper maker
A make of lead printing type
A farmer who knows the planting and care of cotton and silk, and sugar refining
A clothier, and
Carriages suitable for heavy work
A teacher for the chiefs in matters of land, comparable to what is done in foreign lands
And if there are others appropriate for those endeavors, those as well.”
Also whatever other teachers would be of value to us”
“If you agree and send these teachers when we will protect them when they arrive provide the necessities to make their professions viable and support those efforts that we will.”
(The letter is signed by 15-chiefs, including Kauikeaouli (King Kamehameha III.)
In response to the Chiefs’ request, shortly after, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent the largest company of missionaries to the Islands, that included a large number of teachers. The Eighth Company left Boston December 14, 1836 and arrived at Honolulu, April 9, 1837 on the Mary Frazier from Boston. Among the missionaries were:
• Physician Seth Lathrop Andrews (1809–1892) and wife Parnelly Pierce (1807–1846)
• Teacher Edward Bailey (1814–1903) and wife Caroline Hubbard (1814–1894)
• Rev. Isaac Bliss (1804–1851) and wife Emily Curtis (1811–1865)
• Samuel Northrup Castle (1808–1894) and first wife Angeline Tenney (1810–1841)
• Rev. Daniel Toll Conde (1807–1897) and wife Andelucia Lee (1810–1855)
• Amos Starr Cooke (1810–1871) and wife Juliette Montague (1812–1896), (Later asked by Kamehameha III to teach the young royals at the Royal School)
• Rev. Mark Ives (1809–1885) and wife Mary Ann Brainerd (1810–1882)
• Teacher Edward Johnson (1813–1867) and wife Lois S. Hoyt (1809–1891)
• Teacher Horton Owen Knapp (1813–1845) and wife Charlotte Close (1813–1846)
• Rev. Thomas Lafon (1801–1876) and wife Sophia Louisa Parker (1812–1844)
• Teacher Edwin Locke (1813–1843) and wife Martha Laurens Rowell (1812–1842)
• Teacher Charles MacDonald (1812–1839) and wife Harriet Treadwell Halstead (1810–1881)
• Teacher Bethuel Munn (1803–1849) and wife Louisa Clark (1810–1841)
• Miss Marcia M. Smith (1806–1896), teacher
• Miss Lucia Garratt Smith (1808–1892), teacher, later married to as his second wife Lorenzo Lyons
• Teacher William Sanford Van Duzee (1811–1883) and Oral Hobart (1814–1891)
• Teacher Abner Wilcox (1808–1869) and wife Lucy Eliza Hart (1814–1869)
Chiefs’ Request for American Missionaries to Teach the Chiefs’ Children
The second letter, sent in 1839, was signed by three chiefs, Kamehameha III, Hoapili Wahine and Kekāuluohi; it was directed at the missionaries, specifically Amos Starr Cooke (teacher) and Gerrit Parmele Judd (physician).
The missionaries were asked by the King to teach and care for the next generation of the highest-ranking chiefs’ children of the realm and secure their positions for Hawaiʻi’s Kingdom.
“We ask Mr. Cooke to be teacher for our royal children. He is the teacher of our royal children and Dr. Judd is the one to take care of the royal children because we two hold Dr. Judd as necessary for the children and also in certain difficulties between us and you all.
This resulted in the formation of O‘ahu’s first school, the Chiefs’ Children’s School (The Royal School.) Seven families were eligible under succession laws stated in the 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i; Kamehameha III called on seven boys and seven girls to board in the Chiefs’ Children’s School.
The Chiefs’ Children’s School was unique because for the first time aliʻi children would be brought together in a group to be taught, ostensibly, about the ways of governance.
The School also acted as another important unifying force among the ruling elite, instilling in their children common principles, attitudes and values, as well as a shared vision. No school in Hawai‘i has ever produced so many Hawaiian leaders in one generation.
In this school were educated the Hawai‘i sovereigns who reigned over the Hawaiian people from 1855, namely, Alexander Liholiho (King Kamehameha IV,) Queen Emma, Lot Kamehameha (King Kamehameha V,) King Lunalilo, King Kalākaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani.
In addition, the following royal family members were taught there: Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Princess Elizabeth Kekaʻaniau Pratt, Prince Moses Kekūāiwa, Princess Jane Loeau Jasper, Princess Victoria Kamāmalu, Prince Peter Young Kaeo, Prince William Pitt Kīnaʻu, Princess Abigail Maheha, Prince James Kaliokalani and Princess Mary Polly Paʻaʻāina.
“The missionary success cover decades and decades becomes sort of this huge force where people feel like the missionaries got off the boat barking orders … where they just kind of came in and took over. They got off the boat and said ‘stop dancing,’ ‘put on clothes,’ don’t sleep around.’”
“And it’s so not the case ….” (Nogelmeier)
The third letter is from Kalanimōku to Hiram Bingham, written in 1826; that letter translates to, “Greetings Mr Bingham. Here is my message to all of you, our missionary teachers.”
“I am telling you that I have not seen your wrong doing. If I had seen you to be wrong, I would tell you all. No, you must all be good.”
“Give us literacy and we will teach it. And, give us the word of God and we will heed it. Our women are prohibited, for we have learned the word of God.”
“Then foreigners come doing damage to our land. Foreigners of American and Britain. But don’t be angry, for we are to blame for you being faulted. And it is not you foreigners, the other foreigners.”
“Here’s my message according to the words of Jehovah, I have given my heart to God and my body and my spirit. I have devoted myself to the church and Jesus Christ.”
“Have a look at this letter of mine, Mr Bingham and company. And if you see it and wish to send my message on to America to our chief (President,) that is up to you. Greetings to the chief of America. Regards to you all, Kalanimōku.”
The Ali‘i Letters is an exciting new project of Mission Houses and is part of the initial activities related to the Hawaiian Mission Bicentennial. As these and other letters demonstrate, there was a very good working relationship between the chiefs and the missionaries.
Click HERE to view/download Background Information on the Ali‘i Letters
(This includes links to the letters and discussions about them.)
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M.N. Muench says
A fine book to accompany this is Brown’s ‘Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ‘I’i ‘. He was a witness to this period of change and Missionary activity, and became one of the important liaisons between Europeans and Hawaiians during this period.