The inscription on a headstone in Oʻahu Cemetery made me curious about her story: “Died in Cheyenne City, Wyoming USA, June 19, 1890.”
How did the daughter of a teacher to Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia, niece of the founder of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, wife of a prominent preacher in Honolulu and mother of a successful Honolulu businessman die in Wyoming? Before we go there, here is some of her background.
Julia Sherman Mills was born on August 17, 1817 in Torringford, Connecticut, the daughter of Eleanor Welles Mills (1785-1831) and Jeremiah Fuller Mills (1777-1833) (brother of Samuel John Mills Jr (1783–1818.))
Julia’s uncle, Samuel John Mills Jr, was one of five participants in the famous 1806 Williams College “Haystack Prayer Meeting” that led to the beginning of a secret missionary fraternity called the Society of Brethren, the first Protestant foreign missions organization in America.
He later led in the formation the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions or ABCFM (the Protestant Missionaries who came to Hawaiʻi in 1820.)
We should also recall that Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia (Obookiah,) a native Hawaiian from the Island of Hawaiʻi who in 1809, at the age of 16, after his parents had been killed, boarded a sailing ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay and sailed to the continent.
He traveled throughout New England and was greatly influenced by many young men who were active in the Second Great Awakening and the establishment of the missionary movement.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia lived with Samuel John Mills Jr and was studying at the Foreign Mission School to become a missionary (with other Hawaiians.) ʻŌpūkahaʻia noted that he continued his “study in spelling, reading, and writing to Mr. Jeremiah Mills (Julia’s father,) … “
“… whom (he) was acquainted with at the first. Here (he) learned some sort of farming-business: cutting wood, pulling flax, mowing, &c. – only to look at the other and learn from them.” (Memoirs)
ʻŌpūkahaʻia died suddenly of typhus fever in 1818, the “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah” served as an inspiration for missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Sandwich Islands. On October 23, 1819, a group of northeast missionaries led by Hiram Bingham, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.)
Julia was orphaned of both parents, at the age of fourteen. On October 16, 1841, Julia Sherman Mills married Samuel Chenery Damon. The Damons sailed from New York March 10, 1842 aboard the Victoria and arrived in Honolulu October 19, 1842.
“Of the social and religious life of this city, Mrs. Damon became a most important component part. The Chaplaincy on Chaplain Street, became under her ministration, a place of constant, simple, cordial hospitality …”
“… which multitudes of guests will ever remember, both travellers from abroad, visitors from our Pacific merchant and whaling fleets, and missionaries in transit, and from other islands.”
“That open parlor was always a place of warm and homelike welcome, while the table in the next room was almost never without one or more guests, often those sojourning in the house.” (The Friend, August 1, 1890)
Julia Damon, was for many years head of the Strangers’ Friend Society, a leading charitable organization to aid the sick and destitute stranger in Honolulu’s early days.
“Those Ladies of Honolulu have become interested in the enterprise, whose benevolence and capability are a sure pledge that it will succeed. The term “stranger” will not be narrowed down to signify only a select few, but it is intended that Charity shall spread wide her mantle.”
“We have bespoke for the sick sailor a berth, and feel confident that his case will be always attended to, whenever the Foreign Consuls in Honolulu do not make provision for him.” (The Friend, July 2, 1852)
“Mrs. Damon found an especial sphere of activity in aid and direction to the needy and suffering. … Dr. Damon was surely blessed in the sweet home his wife made for him, in her strong support and judicious counsel, and in her practical aid in his multifarious Church and Chaplaincy work …”
“… in the latter of which especially, her gift of free and graceful hospitality fell in accord with his own cordiality, and gave influence to them both. In the sacred relation of Mother, her children indeed rise up and call her blessed, and in their own lives and happy homes are testimonies to the excellence of their maternal training.” (The Friend, August 1, 1890)
About Julia’s death … she was widowed on February 7, 1885.
“Overtaken by a nervous depression, for which a change was the prescribed relief, she accompanied eastward, a son and his wife. …”
“Starting in her active way, to say, as is supposed, good bye to some friends leaving the train at a very early hour in the depot at Cheyenne, the car moved as she was leaving it; she fell with one arm under the wheel.”
“Amputation was necessary. After a very few hours of suffering, with no rational consciousness, her spirit took flight from all the clouds of earth into the light of heaven.” (The Friend, August 1, 1890)
A little side note; in 1843, Samuel Chenery Damon founded The Friend and served as editor and publisher of the monthly journal, which continued to be published for more than 100 years.
The Friend began as a monthly newspaper for seamen, which included news from both American and English newspapers, and gradually expanded to adding announcements of upcoming events, reprints of sermons, poetry, local news, editorials, ship arrivals and departures and a listing of marriages and deaths. Rev. Damon published between a half million and a million copies of The Friend, most of which he personally distributed.