The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM,) based in Boston, was founded in 1810, the first organized missionary society in the US.
One hundred years later, the Board was responsible for 102-mission stations and a missionary staff of 600 in India, Ceylon, West Central Africa (Angola,) South Africa and Rhodesia, Turkey, China, Japan, Micronesia, Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, North American native American tribes, and the “Papal lands” of Mexico, Spain and Austria.
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of ABCFM missionaries set sail on the Thaddeus to establish the Sandwich Islands Mission (now known as Hawai‘i.)
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.
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.
Interestingly, as the early missionaries learned the Hawaiian language, they then taught their lessons in the mission schools in Hawaiian, rather than English. In part, the mission did not want to create a separate caste and portion of the community as English‐speaking Hawaiians.
The missionaries established schools associated with their mission stations across the Islands. This marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy. The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of Chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing.
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 most difficult problem was that of obtaining enough competent teachers. As far back as 1825 the missionaries had taken steps to establish teacher training classes at the various stations, but the plan of station schools was not very fully carried out until after 1830.
There were never enough missionaries to make the plan uniformly effective. Station schools were intended not only to train teachers but to serve as model schools, and much attention was given to children. In some places there were two station schools, one for teachers and one for children. (Kuykendall)
In eight years from the date of the landing of the Pioneer Company there were 32-missionaries, 4,455-native teachers, 12,000-Sabbath hearers, and 26,000-pupils in schools in the islands.
Many influences were at work, the Bible was circulated, high chiefs were converted and began to work vigorously, the people gathered from great distances in crowds to hear the Word, and in 1828, simultaneously and without communication, a revival unexpectedly commenced in Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, and Maui.
For weeks and months the missionaries could scarcely get time for rest and refreshment. (Bliss)
By 1831, in just eleven years from the first arrival of the missionaries, Hawaiians had built over 1,100‐schoolhouses. This covered every district throughout the eight major islands and serviced an estimated 53,000‐students. (Laimana)
By 1840, the decline of the Hawaiian population, financial restraints, and a move to separate church and school operations led to the consolidation of the church-school meeting houses.
On October 15, 1840, Kamehameha III enacted a law that required the maintenance and local support of the native schools (the Constitution of 1840).
The Constitution provided a “Statute for the Regulation of Schools,” which required that in a village with 15 or more students, the parents were to organize and secure a teacher. (Maly)
By 1853, nearly three-fourths of the native Hawaiian population over the age of sixteen years was literate in their own language. The short time span within which native Hawaiians achieved literacy is remarkable in light of the overall low literacy rates of the United States at that time. (Lucas)
The image shows Meeting House at Lāhainā, the first stone Church in Hawaiʻi (corner stone laid in 1828.)