From Connecticut to Hawaii

Aloha from Sarah Oliver, Summer Archives Intern at CHS! I started my internship at the Connecticut Historical Society in late May, just two weeks after completing my freshman year at Vassar College. Having never worked in a research center before, I had no idea what to expect. I was greeted by smiling, welcoming faces, then jumped right into researching the connection between Connecticut and Hawaii. I have headed down into the stacks, through the manuscript library, and leafed through artifacts, only to find a wealth of information. There are boxes of correspondences, lithographs from Captain Cook’s voyage, newspaper articles written by a Seminary teacher, annual reports, and lists of donors; pretty much a little bit of everything. I was even just notified of a painting of Honolulu from the 1850s . I cannot wait until I get to explore more!

In 1820, a group of missionaries, including New Haven’s Reverend Hiram Bingham and three other Connecticut residents, set sail for the Sandwich Islands, hoping to establish a long-standing mission in the foreign islands. Not only were they successful in converting the native people, but the Sandwich Islands Mission educated many native Hawaiians, teaching English and transcribing the Hawaiian language into a systematic written word. The mission grew exponentially, sending many succeeding companies to the islands for decades to follow.

This is a lithograph from “Incidents of a Whaling Voyage” by Francis Allyn Olmstead. Perhaps this is what the Connecticut missionaries saw upon their arrival in the Sandwich Islands!

Many of the missionaries were from our home state of Connecticut! Our manuscripts collection holds letters and diaries from some of these missionaries, including Titus Coan, a preacher in the 7th Company, and Amos Cooke, a teacher who founded the Royal School in Hawaii, an institution that educated Hawaiian royals and still exists today. The letters and diaries contain information about daily life: the bouts of sickness that the Cooke family faced, Reverend Coan’s children and his hopes to send his eldest son to Yale College. Some send birthday wishes, some discuss the details of wills, and almost all of them mention their passion for the work they are doing in Hawaii, but their homesickness for Connecticut.

This excerpt from a letter that Amos Cooke wrote to his sister Mary back in Danbury is typical of the letters missionaries would send to their families.

We also have books that tell us about the missionaries. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) kept yearly reports, some of which are on file, including the 1820 report that sent Reverend Bingham and the Pioneer Company to the Sandwich Islands. Incidents of a Whaling Voyage describes a whaler’s journey through the Sandwich Islands and is even mentioned in one of Amos Cooke’s letters home!

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was responsible for organizing the mission to the Sandwich Islands, along with missions across Asia, the Western United States, and various other Pacific Islands. This is the 1820 Annual Report which recounts the details of the Pioneer Company’s journey to the Sandwich Islands.

“Incidents of a Whaling Voyage” recounts whaler Francis Allyn Olmstead’s voyage through the Pacific Islands, including chapters about the Sandwich Islands mission families. The book also includes pages of information about Hawaiian geography and culture.

In old copies of the Hartford Courant, there is a series of articles written by Carrie P. Winters, a teacher at the Kawaiahao Seminary for Girls in Honolulu. Carrie writes about major historical events, commenting expressively on the overthrow of the Hawaiian government and the controversy over annexation. She also writes articles about Hawaiian culture, lifestyle, and scenery. Her articles always include sketches of the islands, which give us a better picture of what life might have been like.

While many missionaries from Connecticut traveled to Hawaii, there were also native Hawaiians who came to Connecticut, including Henry Obookiah, the man whose mind sparked the idea for a mission to the Sandwich Islands. Obookiah came to New Haven as a refugee and showed the people of Connecticut how pious and educated a man who was not white could be. While Obookiah died before he could return to Hawaii and preach, his legacy established the Foreign Mission School, a school in Cornwall, Connecticut that aimed to educate minorities so that they could return to their homelands and spread Protestantism.

This lithograph of Obookiah was taken from his biography, written in 1819. The biography tells Obookiah’s story, from his turbulent childhood in Hawaii to his peaceful death in Connecticut. There are excerpts of letters written by Obookiah himself as well as commentary from his peers.

One thought on “From Connecticut to Hawaii

  1. You mention Carrie Winter’s articles on Hawaii. Her correspondence of Kawaiaha’o Female Seminary is the basis of a book just published by University of Hawai’i Press: An American Girl in the Hawaiian Islands: Letters of Carrie Prudence Winter, 1890-1893. Letters were selected and edited by Sandra Bonura and Deborah Day.

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