“What wonder that we so long for release from this little prison-house!” (Laura Fish Judd – 1828)
From 1820 to 1847, there were 12-Companies of missionaries sent under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to the Islands. Every group of missionaries arrived by ship, sailing from New England, around Cape Horn and finally reaching the Hawaiian Islands usually after a five-month sea voyage. (Miller)
The Prudential Committee of the ABCFM in giving instructions 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)
The Pioneer Company, led by Hiram Bingham, left New England on the “Thaddeus” and arrived in the Islands on April 4, 1820, two centuries after their forebears, the pilgrims, landed from the “Mayflower” in New England.
For the most part, the missionaries were married – typically ‘just married’ a few weeks or months of their departure. In the Pioneer Company, by the middle of the trip, four of the wives were pregnant. (The following is a composite from writers from different Companies describing the trip.)
Travel wasn’t easy.
“We were hardly able to stand even by holding on with both hands and every now and then we were called to belch up the contents of our stomachs without discrimination.” Sea sickness was a constant issue for these non-sailors. (Judd; Miller)
Things were stored everywhere. Stephen Shepard observed that “the way to our room is blocked up with potato bags and other provisions, so as to render it almost impassable; having to scramble over a large quantity of luggage to get in or out.” (Miller)
Sleeping quarters were tight. A journal entry by Maria Patton noted, “It (the stateroom – serving 4 people) is 7 feet wide and 5½-feet long, and has a window about the size of a tea cup directly over my berth. … it contains a bureau, 8 trunks, 4 bandboxes, each of us a writing desk, 8 bags, 4 baskets …” (Maria Patton; Miller)
“Last evening, found myself much exhausted in consequence of fatigue through the day in putting order in our little room. To accomplish a little, costs much labor on board a vessel. I am grieved to find it too much the case, that with my bodily strength, my spirits sink. Several such seasons have arisen in my new situation.” (Sybil Bingham)
“… those who occupy the higher berths have to climb before we can get into them. And what is still worse, not a breath of fresh air can get in, and the cockroaches are so thick, they crawl over us and the smell is intolerable. My berth is the highest in the place, so high that there is only 12 inches between my head and the deck.” (Patton; Miller)
The “day commenced (with) the study of the Owhyhee language. … This evening held our first singing school. It is greatly to be wished that we could all join with our hearts and voices too …” (Sybil Bingham)
“After having been out ninety-four days, and witnessing nothing but floating barques like our own, some monsters of the deep, the expansive ocean and the wide-spread heavens, I can not describe to you the joyful emotions which the sight of land has this day produced. We have a fair view of Terra del Fuego on the right, and Staten Land on the left.” (Lucy Thurston)
Then, after many more days at sea, “Memorable day – a day which brings us in full view of that … land so long the object of our most interested thoughts. Between twelve and one this morning, the word was … ‘land appears’ … ‘Owhyhee sight!’”
“There was but little sleep. When the day afforded more light than the moon we were all out, and judge you, if possible, what sensation filled our breasts as we fixed our eyes upon the lofty mountains of Owhyhee!”
“O! It would be in vain to paint them. I attempt it not.”
“A fair wind carried us by different parts of the island near enough to discern its verdure, here and there a cataract rushing down the bold precipice.” (Sybil Bingham)
Upon landing, an observer ashore noted, “They look careworn and feeble; Mr. W- said ‘hungry.’” (Laura Fish Judd)
Intelligence of the arrival of our mission at the Islands, reached the United States seventeen months after we left Boston. (Lucy Thurston)
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.
By the time the Pioneer Company arrived, Kamehameha I had died and the centuries-old kapu system had been abolished; through the actions of King Kamehameha II (Liholiho,) with encouragement by former Queens Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani (Liholiho’s mother,) the Hawaiian people had already dismantled their heiau and had rejected their religious beliefs.
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 houses 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 Site and Archives, 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.
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