The coming of Henry Obookiah (ʻŌpūkahaʻia) and other young Hawaiians to the continent had awakened a deep Christian sympathy in the churches and moved the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to establish a mission in the Hawaiian Islands.
Among the other Hawaiian students at the Foreign Mission School were Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaiʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i.)
When asked “Who will return with these boys to their native land to teach the truths of salvation?” Hiram Bingham and his classmate, Asa Thurston, were the first to respond and offer their services to the Board. (Congregational Quarterly)
Bingham and Thurston were ordained at Goshen, Ct on September 29, 1819; it was the first ordination of foreign missionaries in the State of Connecticut.
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.)
There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity in this first company.
These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
Although a large part of the motivation for the Hawaiʻi missionary movement, Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia unfortunately died of typhus fever in 1818 and didn’t return home to teach the gospel. However, his book, “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah,” was the inspiration for this and subsequent Hawaiian missionary companies.
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)
After 164-days at sea, on April 4, 1820, the Thaddeus arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Hawai‘i’s “Plymouth Rock” is about where the Kailua pier is today.
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.
One of the first things Bingham and his fellow missionaries did was begin to learn the Hawaiian language and create an alphabet for a written format of the language. Their emphasis was on teaching and preaching.
On July 14, 1826, the missionaries selected a 12-letter alphabet for the written Hawaiian language, using five vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p and w) in their “Report of the committee of health on the state of the Hawaiian language.” The report is signed by Hiram Bingham and Levi Chamberlain.
The arrival of the first company of American missionaries in Hawaiʻi 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.
By 1831, in just eleven years from the first arrival of the missionaries, Hawaiians had built 1,103 schoolhouses. This covered every district throughout the eight major islands and serviced an estimated 52,882 students. (Laimana)
The proliferation of schoolhouses was augmented by the printing of 140,000 copies of the pīʻāpā (elementary Hawaiian spelling book) by 1829 and the staffing of the schools with 1,000-plus Hawaiian teachers. (Laimana)
Interestingly, these same early missionaries taught their lessons 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. In later years, the instruction, ultimately, was in English.
Within five years of the missionaries’ arrival, a dozen chiefs had sought Christian baptism and church membership, including the king’s regent Kaʻahumanu. The Hawaiian people followed their native leaders, accepting the missionaries as their new priestly class. The process culminated in Hawaiian King Kamehameha III’s adoption of Christianity and a Biblically-based constitution in 1840. (Schulz)
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.
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.
The image shows the early Mission house and Chapel in Honolulu (the precursor of today’s Kawaiahaʻo Church.) More images are added to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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Josh Collins says
I am interested in the work of Dr. Holman in Lahaina. I will be visiting Maui this year and would like to see early missionary sites along with the continuation of his work by William Richards in 1823. Is there a good source of this kind of information?