By the time the Pioneer Company of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) Protestant missionaries arrived in 1820, Kamehameha I had died and the centuries-old kapu system had been abolished.
The missionaries first lived in the traditional Hawaiian hatched house, the hale pili. In addition to their homes, the missionaries had grass meeting places and, later, churches. One of the first was on the same site as the present Kawaiahaʻo Church.
On December 31, 1820, Levi Sartwell Loomis, son of Elisha and Maria Loomis (the first white child born in the Sandwich Islands) and Sophia Moseley Bingham, daughter of Hiram and Sybil Bingham (the first white girl born on Oʻahu) were baptized.
Within a year, Hiram Bingham began to preach in the Hawaiian language. 4-services a week were conducted (3 in Hawaiian and 1 in English.) Congregations ranged from 100 – 400; by the end of the year, the thatched church was expanded.
Between 1836 and 1842, Kawaiahaʻo Church was constructed. Revered as the Protestant “mother church” and often called “the Westminster Abbey of Hawai‘i” this structure is an outgrowth of the original Mission Church founded in Boston and is the first foreign church on O‘ahu (1820.)
Kawaiahaʻo Church was designed and founded by its first pastor, Hiram Bingham. Hiram left the islands on August 3, 1840 and never saw the completed church. Reverend Richard Armstrong replaced Bingham as pastor of Kawaiahaʻo.
Richard Armstrong was born in 1805 in Pennsylvania, the youngest of 10-children; he attended three years at Princeton Theological Seminary. He married Clarissa Chapman, September 25, 1831; was ordained at Baltimore, Maryland, October 27, 1831; and sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts, November 26, 1831 for Hawaiʻi.
Armstrong was with the Fifth Company of missionaries (which included the Alexanders, Emersons, Forbes, Hitchcocks, Lymans, Lyons, Stockton and others. They arrived on May 17, 1832.
Shortly after arrival, Clarissa wrote about a subject most suspect was not a part of the missionary lifestyle … On October 31, 1832, she noted, “Capt Brayton has given me a little beer cask – it holds 6 quarts – Nothing could have been more acceptable.”
“I wanted to ask you for one, but did not like to. O how kind providence has been & is to us, in supplying our wants. The board have sent out hops – & I have some beer now a working. I should like to give you a drink.”
Armstrong was stationed for a year at the mission in Marquesas Islands; he then replaced the Reverend Green as pastor of Kaʻahumanu Church (Wailuku) in 1836, supervised the construction of two stone meeting houses one at Haiku, and the other at Wailuku. Reverend Green returned to replace Armstrong in 1840.
He was pastor of the Kawaiahaʻo Church in Honolulu from 1840 to 1848. “Mr. Armstrong preached to congregations of twenty-five hundred and often three thousand people. The ground about the church looked like an encampment when the people came from valley and shore on horseback and spent their noon hour in the rush-covered basement awaiting the afternoon session.” (The Friend, July 1932)
Following the re-raising of the Hawaiian flag above the Islands on July 31, 1843 for Ka La Hoʻihoʻi Ea – Sovereignty Restoration Day, religious services were held that evening in Kawaiahaʻo Church.
A sermon apropos of the occasion was preached by Rev. Richard Armstrong, the text being taken from Psalms 37, 3 – ‘Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.’ There could have been no question but that his hearers had been fed on that day. (Thrum)
In 1848 Armstrong left the mission and became Minister of Public Instruction on June 7, 1848, following the death of William Richards. Armstrong was to serve the government for the remainder of his life. He was a member of the Privy Council and the House of Nobles and acted as the royal chaplain.
He set up the Board of Education under the kingdom in 1855 and was its president until his death. Armstrong is known as the “the father of American education in Hawaiʻi.”
The government-sponsored education system in Hawaiʻi is the longest running public school system west of the Mississippi River. To this day, Hawaiʻi is the only state to have a completely-centralized State public school system.
Armstrong helped bring better textbooks, qualified teachers and better school buildings. Students were taught in Hawaiian how to read, write, math, geography, singing and to be “God-fearing” citizens. (By 1863, three years after Armstrong’s death, the missionaries stopped being a part of Hawaiʻi’s education system.)
The Armstrongs had ten children. Son William N Armstrong (King Kalākaua’s Attorney General) accompanied Kalākaua on his tour of the world, one of three white men who accompanied the King as advisers and counsellors (Armstrong, Charles H Judd and a personal attendant/valet.)
Armstrong and Judd were Kalākaua’s schoolmates at the Chiefs’ Children’s School in 1849. (Marumoto) “Thirty years afterward, and after three of our schoolmates had become kings and had died (Kamehameha IV & V and Lunalio) and two of them had become queens (Emma and Liliʻuokalani,) it so happened that Kalākaua ascended the throne, and with his two old schoolmates began his royal tour.” (Armstrong)
Another Armstrong son, Samuel Chapman Armstrong, became a Union general in the American Civil War and was founder of Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School (later called the Hampton Institute, then Hampton University.) (King Kalākaua visited Hampton Normal and Agricultural School on one of his trips to the continent.)
Among the school’s famous alumni is Dr Booker T Washington, who became an educator and later founded Tuskegee Institute. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was read to local freedmen under the historic “Emancipation Tree,” which is still located on the campus today.
Richard Armstrong’s home was a stone building on Beretania adjoining Washington Place (called “Stonehouse,” named after the residence of Admiral Richard Thomas in England. It later served as temporary facilities at different times for what became St. Louis and Punahou Schools.
Reverend Richard Armstrong died on September 23, 1860; on his way to preach in Kāneʻohe “he had been thrown from his horse and seriously hurt. He was a good rider, but the horse had been suddenly startled and a girth gave way.”
He is buried “in the shadow of the great Kawaiahaʻo church where he had preached for so many years.” Clarissa, moved to California in 1880; she died in 1891 (the reverse of her tombstone says “Aloha.”)
The image shows Richard Armstrong. In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
© 2014 Hoʻokuleana LLC
Ellen McPherson says
He was my great great grandfather. I’m descended from his son William Nevins Armstrong, William’s son Morgan Kalani Armstrong and Morgan’s youngest daughter Rozanne Armstrong McPherson (my mother). What a life they led in Hawai’i. Even I, four generations later, am enriched by the knowledge of it. My grandparents, aunts and mother lived in Hampton on Armstrong Point across from what was then Hampton Institute so our family was also deeply influenced by the memory of Samuel Chapman Armstrong as well.