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.
Stories circulated about failed London Missionary Society stations where single male missionaries “went native” among South Sea islanders. (Brown)
Of the seven men in the Pioneer Company of missionaries to Hawai‘i, only Daniel Chamberlain was married; the other the six men had a little over a month to find brides before the October departure date.
Fortunately for the awkward seminarian men unaccustomed to courting women, the American Board kept an informal list of potential female candidates – all of them in their twenties – who expressed interest in missionary work in the past. (Brown)
At first, Hiram Bingham thought he had the hand of Sarah Shepard … but her father, the Rev Samuel Shepard, refused to allow his daughter to go to the Islands.
To which Sarah asked, “Is not this a plain intimation that providence desires to employ another and not me in the good work of Owhyhee?” (Shepard; Wagner)
Now, finding a wife was an unexpected obstacle.
A fellow missionary, Levi Parsons, had been engaged to a teacher – Miss Sybil Moseley … they were headed for a mission in Palestine.
However, at the last minute the ABCFM decided it was not safe for women there; so, Levi had to leave alone. Levi heard of Hiram’s dilemma and mentioned her to him.
On September 29, 1819, Hiram and Asa Thurston were ordained as missionary ministers. However, the occasion was more than just church protocol – as noted by Reverend Thompson, “there was a touch of romance. … … when Hiram met Sybil lingered most vividly in the recollections of the people in which they rightly regarded as a marked interposition of God’s good providence.”
He met Sybil there; “I gave her some account of myself, put into her hands a copy of my statement to the Prudential Committee in offering myself to the work, asked her to unite with me in it, and left her to consider till the next day whether she could give me encouragement, or not.”
Hiram then states, “the result you know”. Hiram and Sybil were married October 11.
“Asa Thurston’s early marital career, like his collegiate career, paralleled that of Hiram Bingham.” (Andrew) He thought he was to marry Miss Clapp … however, he notes in a September 7, 1819 letter to Rev Worcester of the ABCFM:
“In compliance with your request I send you a short statement of the business which called me to this place. I handed the letter which I brought with me to Mrs Clapp early on Wednesday morning & left her to reflect on the subject till afternoon when I had some further conversation with her on the question which was before her.”
“It appears, sir, that the good woman is decidedly opposed to have her daughter engage in the mission to Owhyhee. She seems to think it improper for females to go to the heathen as missionaries at all. No reasons however were offered except such as were stated in that letter which you read.”
“Mr Clapp was not at home though I inquired respecting his opinion on the subject, & Mrs Clapp observed that his opinion was if possible more decided that hers that females should not engage in missions to the heathen.”
“I did not this it proper to urge the matter. I found that the letter from yourself & Dr Woods had no influence to change her opinion on the subject. She seemed to think that if Dr Wocester or Dr Woods was placed in her situation, that they would decide as she had done. – I think, sir, I can cheerfully say respecting this whole affair, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”
“PS I shall make proposals to no other on without some degree of certainty as to success.” (Asa Thurston to Rev Samuel Worcester, September 7, 1819)
Asa Thurston eventually married Lucy Goodale Thurston from Marlborough, Massachusetts, and graduate of Bradford Academy. Years later, Lucy remembered their first family-arranged meeting as a shy-yet-playful occasion, “Then one by one the family dispersed, leaving two of similar aspirations, introduced at sunset as strangers, to separate at midnight as interested friends.”
The Thurstons proved to be a devout couple that famously grew old and died together on the desolate missionary station of Kailua and were fondly remembered as the “grandparents” of the Hawai‘i mission by Americans and Hawaiians alike.
The marriages of the assistant missionaries were equally hasty, yet oddly fitting and felicitous. Samuel Ruggles found a bride in Nancy Wells Ruggles from East Windsor, Connecticut, while Dr. Holman, the physician, conveniently married Samuel’s attractive older sister, Lucia Ruggles Holman.
Samuel, who suffered a long bout of seasickness on the Thaddeus, thanked God for the pairing: “Dear girl she has been severely tried with her sick husband…I cannot forbear to mention how greatly the Lord has favored me in a companion. She is all and more than I could reasonably ask.”
Samuel Whitney joined in matrimony with Mercy Partridge Whitney from Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Halfway through the journey on the Thaddeus, Mercy pledged in her journal:
“He is worthy of my sincere and lasting attachment. It shall ever be my constant study to make his life pleasant and useful. And should I be a means of lightening his cares or contributing in any measure to his happiness, I shall be doubly compensated.”
The youngest Elisha Loomis found a bride in Maria Theresa Sartwell Loomis from Hartford, New York, who was three years older than the teenager. (Brown)
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for Hawai‘i. With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauai’s King Kaumuali‘i.)
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863) (the “Missionary Period”,) about 184-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.
This is just a summary; click HERE for more information.
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