“If there is a missionary ground on earth it is here (in Nantucket).” (Christian Herald and Seaman’s Magazine; April 6, 1822)
The headline ‘Heathen School at Nantucket’ in The Religious Intelligencer, May 4, 1822 would suggest the possibility of a second Foreign Mission School was in Nantucket (to the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall). It possibly served as a feeder to the Cornwall school.
It appears plausible, given Nantucket’s early American leadership in the Pacific whaling fleets following the first American whalers’ visit to Hawai‘i in 1819 (Edmund Gardner, captain of the New Bedford whaler Balaena (also called Balena,) and Elisha Folger, captain of the Nantucket whaler Equator).
Nantucket emerged as the world’s most vigorous whaling port in the colonies, with a substantial fleet dedicated exclusively to pelagic sperm and right whaling on distant grounds, and a highly developed network of merchants and mariners to prosecute the hunt. (Lebo)
Gardner, like other whalers “shipped two Kanakas from Maui and had them the remainder of the Voyage and took them to New Bedford.” (Gardner Journal)
Many Nantucket captains, returning home from their Pacific whaling voyages, also recounted their Hawaiian adventures. Some brought back objects of Hawaiian manufacture, as well as Native Hawaiian seamen. Other Native Hawaiians landed in Nantucket, New Bedford, and nearby ports almost immediately after.
There were more than three hundred Nantucket whaling voyages to Hawai‘i and the Native Hawaiian crewmen aboard. Thousands of Hawaiians shipped out as seamen aboard the whaling ships, so many that the crews were often half Hawaiian. (NPS)
Within a few years, over fifty “natives of the South Sea Islands” reportedly served aboard Nantucket whaleships. By the 1830s, Nantucket whalers employed about fourteen hundred seamen, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Four or five hundred men arrived or departed annually. (Nantucket Historical Association)
Whaling had been “an economic force of awesome proportions in these Islands for more than forty years,” enabling King Kamehameha III to finally pay off the national debts accumulated in earlier years. (NPS)
In part, it seems that some of the Islanders were also coming for Western education and were part of the enrollment in the First Congregational Church’s Sabbath School. (Nantucket Historical Association)
“Very little is known relative to the history of the first Congregational church and society in Nantucket, (anciently called Sherburne,) prior to the year 1761. The oldest church records that have been preserved, commence June 27th, of that year.”
“The original meeting-house was first located on a spot about a mile from the town in a northwesterly direction, and in 1765 it was moved into town and rebuilt.”
“It has since that period undergone various repairs and alterations, and in 1834 it was moved a few rods from the spot on which it was re-erected.”
“On that spot, called Beacon hill, now stands the new meeting-house built and dedicated in 1834. The old meeting-house has been fitted up in a commodious style, and is now used as a vestry for the church, and is also used for the Sabbath school.” (Deacon Paul Folger; American Quarterly Register, May 1843)
An unknown number of the Hawaiians attended local schools or temporarily resided in town with local families. In 1822, three of the “Heathen Youth” aboard an outbound whaler formerly attended the Sabbath School at the First Congregational Church.
That year, the Nantucket Inquirer reported “7 natives of the Sandwich Islands” at the school, while the Boston Recorder indicated “twenty Society or Sandwich Islanders” in attendance.
Two years later, Henry Attvoi (or Attooi) left for a whaling cruise aboard the Nantucket ship Oeno; he probably lived in the largely nonwhite section of town called New Guinea before his Oeno voyage began. (Nantucket Historical Association)
(The label “New Guinea” was used in numerous cities and towns to designate the section in which people of color resided.) (MuseumOfAfroAmericanHistory)
The Boston Reporter noted, Nantucket “has long been the resort of youth from pagan countries … there resided here twenty Society and Sandwich Islanders, who, on stated evenings when the sky was clear, assembled in the streets, erected the ensigns of idolatry, and in frantick orgies paid their worship to the host of heaven.”
“(A) kind of school has recently been instituted into which 15 natives of Owhyhee and other islands of the Pacific, have been received.”
“ Of these, 7 are still here are mostly between 14 and 17 years of age and generally remarkable for mildness of disposition, cleanliness of person, and symetry and activity of body.”
“They are anxious to learn, but as yet, ignorant of the true God and eternal life, and more or less addicted to idolatry. … Others have discovered emotion at religious truth.”
“Could one of the pious youth in Cornwall School be placed in our academy, he would enjoy the instruction of an able and devoted preceptor, late of the Theological Seminary in Andover, and perhaps render at his leisure as great service to his countrymen, as though he was stationed in Owhyhee.”
“We lamented to hear of the lack of means for the support of a greater number at Cornwall, since it has frustrated our hopes of introducing a very promising candidate from Chili, and another from the Sandwich Islands.”
“Such as might be given up by their master to receive an education, will if permitted to remain here, be sent to sea. Could they therefore be taken into the pious families of pious mechanics in the country, they might earn qualifications for future and extensive usefulness in connexion with some foreign mission.” (Boston Recorder copied in The Religious Intelligencer, May 4, 1822)
There appears to be some connection between the Nantucket and Cornwall schools, The Report of the 15th Annual Meeting of the ABCFM (Pecuniary Accounts, 1824) noted “Expenses of four youth from Cornwall; to Nantucket, and provisions and clothing for three of them, and their passage to the Sandwich Islands $183 55”.
By the 1840s, with Nantucket harbor no longer deep enough to handle newer, larger whaling ships, most of the vessels relocated to New Bedford, while most of the financiers and much of the money and good life stayed in Nantucket. (Lebo)
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