The Prudential Committee of the ABCFM in giving instructions to the pioneers 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.” (The Friend)
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.
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.
Very prominent in the old mission life was the annual “General Meeting” where all of the missionary families from across the Islands gathered at Honolulu from four to six weeks.
“The design of their coming together would naturally suggest itself to any reflecting mind. They are all engaged in one work, but are stationed at various and distant points on different portions of the group, hence they feel the necessity of occasionally coming together, reviewing the past, and concerting plans for future operations.”
“Were it not for these meetings, missionaries at extreme parts of the group might never see each other, and in some instances we know that persons connected with the Sandwich Island Mission, have never seen each other’s faces, although for years they have been laboring in the same work.” (The Friend, June 15, 1846)
The primary object of this gathering was to hold a business meeting for hearing reports of the year’s work and of the year’s experiences in more secular matters, and there from to formulate their annual report to the Board in Boston.
Another important object of the General Meeting was a social one. The many stations away from Honolulu were more or less isolated-some of them extremely so. Perhaps a dominant influence in the consumption of so much time was the appreciation of the social opportunity, and the unwillingness to bring it unnecessarily to a speedy close. (Dole)
“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.”
“Expenditures upon schools, printing, dwellings, etc., were decided upon. Assignments of work were made in translating, revising and writing books.” (Bishop)
As an example, in 1835, at the General Meeting of the Mission, a resolution was passed to promote boarding schools for Hawaiians; several male boarding schools and two female boarding schools were begun. One of them, Wailuku Female Seminary on the island of Maui, was the first female school begun by the missionaries.
In 1839, the membership discussed “Instruction for the young Chiefs.” The meeting minutes note, “This subject was fully considered in connection with an application of the chiefs requesting the services of Mr. Cooke, as a teacher for their children; and it was voted:”
“That the mission comply with their request, provided they will carry out their promise to Mr. Cooke’s satisfaction; namely, to build a school house, sustain him in his authority, over the scholars, and support the school.”
This became the Chiefs’ Children’s School (later known as Royal School,) founded by King Kamehameha III as a boarding school to educate the children of the Hawaiian royalty (aliʻi). The school was first located where the ʻIolani Barracks stand now.
The annual gathering of the Cousins, descendants of the early missionaries, continues. Our family is part of the Society and Cousins. Hiram and Sybil Bingham (Hiram was leader of the first 1820 group of missionaries to Hawai‘i) are my great-great-great grandparents.
Today, the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, a nonprofit educational institution and genealogical society, exists to promote an understanding of the social history of nineteenth-century Hawai‘i and its critical role in the formation of modern Hawai‘i.
The Society operates the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, comprised of three historic buildings and a research archives with reading room. The Society also compiles the genealogical records of the American Protestant missionaries in Hawai‘i and promotes the participation of missionary descendants in the Society’s activities.
Through the Mission Houses, the Society collects and preserves the documents, artifacts and other records of the missionaries in Hawai‘i’s history; makes these collections available for research and educational purposes; and interprets the historic site and collections to reflect the social history of nineteenth century Hawai‘i and America.
Guided tours of the house and other parts of the historic site are offered Tuesday through Saturday, starting on the hour every hour from 11 am with the last tour beginning at 3 pm.
Nominal fees include: General – $10; Kamaʻaina, Senior Citizens (55+) & Military – $8 and Students (age 6 to College w/ID) – $6; Kamaʻaina Saturday (last Saturday of the Month) 50% off admission for residents. (Reservations for groups of 10 or more are required.)
The tradition of the annual gathering of cousins continues … today is the annual meeting for the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society. As part of the gathering, the names of the missionary families are called out, in the order of the company that they arrived in the Islands.
Our family is part of the Society and cousins. Hiram and Sybil Bingham (Hiram was leader of the first 1820 group of missionaries to Hawai‘i) are my great-great-great grandparents.
I am honored and proud to serve on the Mission Houses Board of Trustees. Please also consider visiting the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives (on King Street, adjoining Kawaiahaʻo Church.) Take a tour, have a bite to eat in the Mark Noguchi run Mission Social Hall and Cafe, visit the gift shop/book store.
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Michele Paularena says
I often wonder, “How did those first missionaries to Hawaii do all that they accomplished?”. It is amazing.