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.
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.
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!
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.