Hawaii Once Again

One of these days, I will have to go to Hawaii because I keep coming back to it in my research and blog posts. Now I am going to be talking to a college class about Connecticut missionaries in Hawaii. In addition, next week is filled with Hawaii-related programs at Central Connecticut State University(CCSU) and the Hartford Seminary. All are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, April 9 from 4:30 to 5:10 p.m. Keala Kelly will show her documentary film Noho Hewa, with a discussion to follow. This award-winning film explores the effects of colonialism on the indigenous people of Hawaii. The program is in the Thorp Theater at CCSU.

On Thursday April 10 there are two programs. First, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Dr. Keanu Sai from the University of Hawaii will talk about “Hawai’i: An American State or a State under American Occupation?” He will be at CCSU in the Vance building, room 105. That will be followed by an evening program, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Hartford Seminary with a panel presentation on “The Hawaii-Connecticut Missionary Connection: Rumors and Realities” featuring Dr. Steven Blackburn of the Seminary, Aolani Kilihou from the University of Hawaii, and Dr. Clifford Putney of Bentley University, with Dr. Sai serving as moderator. At this event, CHS will display some of the items from its collection related to Hawaii and missionaries from Connecticut.

Letter from Amos Starr Cooke in Hawaii to Obadiah Mead of Greenwich, Conn. Ms 63965

Letter from Amos Starr Cooke in Hawaii to Obadiah Mead of Greenwich, Conn. Ms 63965

This series is sponsored by a grant from the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, Women’s Studies at the University of St. Joseph, Peace Studies at CCSU, Hartford Seminary, and CHS. Please join us for one or all of these programs.

An Archival Trip to Hawaii

Mrs. Starr, the wife of a whaling captain created this image of Hawaii about 1855.

Mrs. Starr, the wife of a whaling captain created this image of Hawaii about 1855.

With the weather getting colder, this might be a good time to consider taking An Archival Trip to Hawaii, offered this Saturday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, free with admission to the museum. On display will be a number of objects, books and manuscripts documenting the 200-year connection between Hawaii and Connecticut. Continue reading

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.

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.