Missionary to Hawaii, Amos Cooke

A collection we have had for a while but has never been fully processed consists primarily of letters from missionary Amos Starr Cooke and his wife Juliette to Amos’s sister Mary Keeler Seeley of Danbury, Conn. The letters from Hawaii start in 1837 and the last one is dated 1854, although Amos did not die until 1871. I found several of his commentaries very interesting. Evidently, the mission school in which Amos taught was financially supported by the Hawaiian King and his chiefs, not strictly by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). While he missed his family in Connecticut, Amos insisted he would stay in Hawaii to do his duty, but also because he had heard that missionaries were not always welcomed when they returned home. That brought to mind how many returning veterans feel, regardless of the conflict in which they served. So is being a missionary akin to being in combat??

In March 1845 Amos noted that the King ceded the Hawaiian island to England. According to Amos, the King “was forced to do so by the exorbitant demands of the acting consul, Alexander Simpson.” That same year (1845) there was an outbreak of influenza; in 1848 measles killed thousands of natives; in 1853 smallpox panicked the residents bringing business to a stand still. In his letters of 1850 he complained that native servants were demanding too high wages and also that they generally were lazy. His wife Juliette was a bit more outspoken about religion. She asserted that once natives became Catholic, they were “forbidden to speak with their former missionaries and avoid them, and if spoken to, answer not and remain as if they heard them not.”

I am sure there is a lot more to be gleaned from these letters, particularly about religious revivals in Connecticut and the education of native children in Hawaii. Now that they are arranged more coherently, I hope they get used for some fascinating research.