God brought Hiram Bingham a woman “he chose himself and bade me take her with a thankful heart, and always remember that God hears prayer. For he had prepared her and her friends to bless the mission with her aid.” (Hiram Bingham to William Jackson, February 1821; Wagner)
“This friend of the heathen was an honor to the town that gave her birth and education. She was a sagacious and successful teacher in Southampton, Mass., Sharon and East Windsor, Conn., Canandaigua, N ., and Honolulu, Sandwich Islands”. (Hiram Bingham to William G. Bates, Westfield, Mass, October 6, 1869; Westfield Jubilee, 1870)
Sybil Moseley Bingham was born September 14, 1792, the daughter of Pliny and Sophia (Pomeroy) Moseley in Westfield, Massachusetts. She was educated at Westfield Academy. By the age of nineteen she had lost both of her parents (1810 and 1811.)
Sybil was a good scholar; and when she arrived at the age of twenty-one, she commenced teaching, in different and distant towns. She was a remarkably mild and gentle person in her manners. (Westfield Jubilee, 1870)
As the eldest of three sisters, she had to work to support herself and her two sisters, who stayed with relatives while she taught school at first at Hartford and later at in Canandaigua, New York.
“The result of her labors there, in conjunction with her fellow-laborers, has been of world-wide importance. Those beautiful islands have been redeemed from heathenism; and, though the population has decreased in its numbers, yet the people have increased in intelligence, and the products of their labor have added to the comforts of the world.”
“I doubt not, but that Mrs. Bingham was not surpassed, in her devotion and zeal, and in her earnest and faithful labors, by any other missionary, who ever went forth to a foreign land. Her whole soul was in the work.”
“She was, in a peculiar manner, fitted for it; and there was a pervading enthusiasm in her mind, which gave to her whole life, the highest impulse of Christian duty.” (Westfield Jubilee, 1870)
Hiram Bingham and his classmate, Asa Thurston, were ordained at Goshen, Ct., September 29, 1819; it was the first ordination of foreign missionaries in the State of Connecticut.
On October 11, Bingham was married, at Hartford, Ct., to Miss Sybil Moseley, who, out of sympathy with the new missionary enterprise, had been led to attend the ordination, and to whom he was first introduced on that occasion. (Congressional Quarterly, 1871)
They sailed for the Hawaiian Islands (then called Sandwich Islands) on October 23, 1819; on March 30, 1820, they anchored off shore of Kawaihae, then sailed to Kailua Kona and anchored there (April 4.) On April 11, King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) gave the missionaries permission to stay. Hiram and Sybil sailed for Honolulu the next day (and arrived April 19.)
It is said that she started the first school in Hawaiʻi in May 1820. (“… Sybil Moseley Bingham, opened the first school in this city in May, 1820, surely an historic date.” (Hiram Bingham II)
Sybil’s June 20, 1820 journal entry notes, “After neglect of my journal for more than two months in a most interesting part of our history too … Very soon I gathered up 12 or 15 little native girls to come once a day to the house so that as early as possible the business of instruction might be commenced. That was an interesting day to me to lay the foundation of the first school ever assembled in this dark land.”
June 21st. “The most which has interested me to-day has been my little school. To see the little things so ready to learn, and so busy with their needles, is very pleasant. I long to know more of their language, that I might be pouring into their tender minds more instruction than ab.”
“I think we make progress in that now. It was impossible to do much on the voyage, as, without books, all our knowledge of it must be acquired as it falls from the lips of the natives. There are a few females who understand a little of English.”
July 20th. “What arrangement we shall make of our family concerns when so large a part has gone, we have not determined. I should like to have this little cottage a few weeks with only my kind husband and pleasant native boy, that so I might attend with more delight to my school which is daily encreasing, and such missionary duties as each day brings with it.”
She did not just teach children, her July 22, 1820 entry notes, “a native woman called Sally in whom we have all been interested. She is the wife of an American – speaks English, and with her two little girls comes regularly every day to learn to read. I earnestly desire to be more faithful in instructing her.”
Sybil was not alone in teaching the native Hawaiians. In 1820, missionary wife Lucy Thurston noted in her Journal, Liholiho’s desire to learn, “The king (Liholiho, Kamehameha II) brought two young men to Mr. Thurston, and said: “Teach these, my favorites, (John Papa) Ii and (James) Kahuhu. It will be the same as teaching me. Through them I shall find out what learning is.”
By 1831, in just eleven years from the first arrival of the missionaries, Hawaiians had built over 1,100-schoolhouses. This covered every district throughout the eight major islands and serviced an estimated 53,000-students. (Laimana)
The proliferation of schoolhouses was augmented by the missionaries printing of 140,000-copies of the pi-ʻapa (elementary Hawaiian spelling book) by 1829 and the staffing of the schools with 1,000-plus Hawaiian teachers. (Laimana)
In 1839, King Kamehameha III called for the formation of the Chiefs’ Children’s School (Royal School.) The main goal of this school was to groom the next generation of the highest ranking Chiefs’ children and secure their positions for Hawaiʻi’s Kingdom. The King asked missionaries Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke to teach the 16-royal children and run the school.
Interestingly, as the early missionaries learned the Hawaiian language, they then taught their lessons in the mission schools in Hawaiian, rather than English. In part, the mission did not want to create a separate caste and portion of the community as English-speaking Hawaiians. (Sybil Bingham is my great-great-great grandmother.)