The Prudential Committee of the ABCFM announced that all overseas missionaries were required to have a wife before departure; their reason, the temptations for inappropriate relations were too great on the Polynesian islands.
Of the seven men in the Pioneer Company of missionaries to Hawai‘i, only Daniel Chamberlain was married. The six other men had a little over a month to find brides before the October departure date.
In addition, the company’s departure from Boston in 1819 was in danger of delay because they lacked a physician for the mission. Samuel Ruggles thought of his sister, Lucia, and her suitor, a physician practicing in Cooperstown, New York.
If the doctor could be persuaded to join the missionary cause, events could proceed on schedule; Lucia could marry, and the Ruggles would have the company of kin on this endeavor.
Lucia Ruggles at twenty-six years of age was an independent and strong-minded woman. She was not indifferent to religion or the cause of foreign missions.
Her brother, Samuel, was a teacher at the Foreign Mission School at Cornwall, Connecticut, and she had been active in the Society of Butternuts, a fund-raising organization for the Cornwall school, prior to opening a girls’ school in Cooperstown, New York.
There Miss Ruggles met Dr. Thomas Holman, a recent graduate of Cherry Valley Medical School in New York. The couple fell in love but could not marry due to the debts incurred by the doctor’s unsuccessful practice.
Then a solution appeared in the guise of becoming missionaries. Reportedly refusing his father’s offer of three thousand dollars to clear his debts, Dr. Holman signed on with the American Board. (Wagner-Wright)
Dr. Holman, the physician, conveniently married fellow Pioneer Company member Samuel Ruggle’s older sister, Lucia Ruggles Holman and joined the mission.
After rounding Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America) and 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.
On April 11, King Kamehameha II gave the missionaries permission to stay. However, “The King gives orders that Dr. H. and our teacher must land at Kiarooah – the village where he now resides, and the rest of the family may go to Oahhoo, or Wahhoo.”
“(H)e wanted the Dr. to stay with them, as they had no Physician and appeared much pleased that one had come; as to pulla-pulla (learning), they knew nothing about it. Consequently it was agreed that Dr. H. & Mr. Thurston should stay with the King and the rest of the family go to Oahhoo.” (Lucia Ruggles Holman)
Things did not go smooth for the Holmans and the rest in the mission – it started on the trip over – “Long before the close of the voyage this little community began most sensibly to feel the unpropitious influence of a most refractory spirit in (Dr Holman) …”
“… (who declared) determination not to comply with the principles established by the Board, & expressed to us in the instructions of the prudential committee, for the regulation of our economical policy.”
“Both the Dr. & his wife spoke often of acquiring personal wealth & returning early if they should succeed, to their own country. The Dr. objected to subscribing to our byelaws founded on the above named principles, because he said they cut him off from his original plans.”
“He wished to acquire the miens of returning at pleasure to America, & to educate his children there &c. … When he was referred to the general tenure of our instructions, he replied … that he had not subscribed them all &c. Sister H. too, from the time of leaving Boston repeatedly talked loudly of returning to her friends.”
“He has now received the 2nd admonition – Br. Thurston says ‘it is most manifestly our duty to proceed in our course of discipline with him even to excision if he does not confess his faults & evidence repentance future amendment’”. (Bingham to Samuel Worcester, October 11, 1820)
Dr. Holman, contrary to the unanimous advice and request of the brethren, left them, and went to reside on the island of Maui, more than 80 miles from any of them. This they considered an abandonment of the mission.
“The subject is too painful to dwell on, except when imperious duty demands – All the mission family is exhausted with it and with one voice, much as they need a physician, they would desire the Dr & his wife were safely landed on their native shore.” (Bingham to Evarts, November 2, 1820)
After only four months in the islands, the Holmans had not adjusted to the spirit of the mission. (Kelley) He withdrew from the mission on July 30, 1820 and returned to the US with his family (including Lucia Kamāmalu Holman born in 1821).
On October 2, 1821, Dr. Holman and family accepted free passage home on the Mentor, a whaleship, via China and the Cape of Good Hope. Mrs. Lucia Ruggles Holman is believed to be the first American woman to circumnavigate the globe. (Portraits)