This first exhibit of Eia Hawai‘i: 1819 – 1841 explores the events in Hawai‘i and New England before missionaries first arrived in Hawai‘i in 1820. Within a period of fifty years, Hawai‘i had experienced a dramatic transition from geographic isolation to playing a pivotal role as a provisioning stop for growing Western trade and colonial exploration, a shift that profoundly impacted the indigenous culture and practices of the islands. The islands were unified for the first time by Kamehameha I. During that same fifty years in New England, Americans declared independence from Great Britain, fought the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, while economic, cultural and political change accompanied a passionate spiritual awakening.
These changes set the context for the intersection of the two worlds: the first company of missionaries’ arrival in Kona. What were challenges and opportunities for Hawaiians at that time, particularly the ali‘i? What motivated their actions and decisions? What drove the missionaries to board the Thaddeus for Hawai‘i? What were their aspirations?
Explore the timeline below that shows the chain of events in Hawai‘i and New England.
Around 1,000 years ago, navigators from the Marquesas Islands launched an unprecedented voyage of discovery across the Pacific Ocean. Steering hand-hewn canoes across 2,000 miles of uncharted seas, guided by stars, ocean swells, birds, and cloud formations, they found one of the most remote archipelagos on Earth – the Hawaiian Islands.
Captain James Cook was a British naval officer and explorer who commanded three voyages to the Pacific. Privately, he carried orders from the Admiralty to claim any “undiscovered” Pacific islands for Britain, with an eye to assessing the islands’ natural resources.
King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands at a time when foreign influences were transforming everything around him. He managed the difficult feat of preserving traditional Hawaiian beliefs while exploiting the economic benefits of modern trade.
In 1786, trading ships began making regular stops in Hawai‘i on their way to China and the Pacific Northwest. Pursuing the lucrative fur trade, vessels from Great Britain, Spain and America found Hawai‘i an ideal place to restock provisions and replenish depleted crews with fresh Hawaiian sailors.
From 1790 – 1830, a Protestant revival called the Second Great Awakening swept across America. The movement was a reaction to the loosened social bonds brought on by the nation’s westward expansion and beginning industrialization.
For missionaries, education was essential to both salvation and worldliness. Prominent Congregationalist ministers, such as Timothy Dwight and Edward Dorr Griffin, led schools and churches that stood at the forefront of spiritual revival during the Second Great Awakening.
Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia played a pivotal role in inspiring the missionary presence in Hawai‘i. His avid embrace of Christianity, told in the best-selling Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, created a compelling vision of what the missionaries could accomplish in these far-off lands.
Faced with declining revenues for its global missions, ABCFM founded the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, in 1816 as a way to proselytize at home and to boost donations.This boarding school aimed to educate non-Christian boys to become missionaries in their homelands.
Kamehameha I died in May 1819, in Kamakahonu, Hawai‘i. Early on, the king had named his son, Liholiho, successor. But two powerful women – Ka‘ahumanu and Keōpūolani, both his widow – would demand new freedoms, igniting a struggle that toppled the ancient religion.
On October 23, 1819, the fourteen men and women of the first company to Hawai‘i boarded the brig Thaddeus, anchored in Boston Harbor. They were joined by four Hawaiian men, three as members of the mission and a prince returning home to Kaua‘i.
Research, Writing and Edits Carlyn Tani, Cynthia Wessendorf
Exhibit Advisors and Contributors Malia Ane, Bonnie Christensen, Kimo Keaulana, Marion Lyman-Mersereau, Dita Ramler-Reppun, Ke‘alohi Reppun, Lynette Roster
Exhibit Content Review David Ball, Christopher Cook, Ted Demura-Devore, Emma McGuire, Pam Sakamoto, Erik Swanson, Denise Wong, Peter Young
Project Support Kathy Nelson and Jim Scott for providing the opportunity for this project. Noe Archambault and Mike Latham for their ongoing support.
Community Support American Bible Society Brook and Deena Parker of HawaiianAtArt in honor of Kame’e Parker ’18. Christopher Cook Hawaii State Archives Hawaiian Mission Houses Museum and Archives and Peter Young, President, Board of Trustees Honolulu Museum of Arts Iolani Palace Mānoa Heritage Center Mokuaikaua Church Torringford Congregational Church University of Hawaii at Mānoa Library
1 “Heathen” was a commonly used term in the 19th century. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term as “of or relating to people or nations that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible.”