200 Years Ago Today First Missionaries Arrived on Kaua‘i

King Kaumuali‘i stood at his kauhale compound located along the shoreline just below Paulaula-Fort Elisabeth on the east side of Waimea River. Word has arrived that his long-lost son Humehume had returned. With tears in his eyes the lean but the muscular king of Kauai and Niihau intently gazed at the 100-foot long Boston brig Thaddeus anchored offshore. The date was May 3, 1820. 

A scout sent out to the two-masted ship had returned at a double-beat paddle. He rushed up to the king with the unexpected news of the return of Humehume, the long-lost son of Kaumualii who had departed Kauai as a young child about fifteen years earlier.

Soon a sea captain and three young men dressed in proper western suits, one a young Native Hawaiian man, stepped ashore from the Thaddeus’ whale boat. They were George Prince Kaumualii accompanied by the Samuels, young New England missionaries Samuel Ruggles and Samuel Whitney. Although George had accompanied the missionaries, he had not embraced Christianity.

Whitney describes the arrival in the first missionary journal account ever written from Kauai.

“A salute of twenty-one guns (cannons) was fired from the brig and answered by as many from the fort. Soon after Captain Blanchard, Brother R. & myself accompanyed George to his father’s house. The King & Queen were sitting on a sofa by the door, surrounded by a large company of the principal men. The introduction was truly affecting. With an anxious heart & trembling arms, the aged Father rose to embrace his long lost son. Both were too much affected to speak. Silence for a few moments pervaded the whole, whilst the tears trickling down their…cheeks spoke the feelings of nature.”

This emotional passage marked the beginning of the missionary era of Kauai and Niihau, an islandwide movement that lasted until the early 1860s.

The way seemed to be prepared for the warm welcome given by Kaumuali‘i to the pioneer Protestant missionaries sent from Boston to Hawai‘i in October 1819 as members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions’ Sandwich Islands Mission. Teams of missionaries landed at Kailua–Kona on April 4 after 164 days at sea, and a few weeks sailed to Honolulu.

A year earlier, in May 1819, Kamehameha died at his Kamakahonu compound at Kailua Bay, Hawaii Island. Kamehameha had brought peace and safe passage for the Hawaiian people, and now the missionaries, by uniting the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom through almost twenty years of warfare. 

Months later his son and heir Liholiho, prodded by Kamehameha’s sacred queen, Keopuolani, his favorite and most powerful queen, Kaahumanu, and his kahuna nui, high priest Hewahewa, overthrew particularly the religious aspects of the ancient kapu system of laws that controlled most aspects of the lives of the people of Hawai‘i, specifically the Ai Kapu, which segregated women from eating with men.

The collapse of the kapu system led to the abandonment of all heiau temples in Hawaii. The stone and wooden images of Hawaii’s gods were destroyed or secreted away. Kaumualii told the American missionaries that just months prior to their arrival in May 1820 he gladly overturned the old religion.

Whitney’s account of meeting Kaumualii, whom he knew as Tamoree, portrays him sharing his breath with Kaumualii (the Native Hawaiian cultural greeting known as honi). This goes against the stereotype of the American missionaries as stodgy Calvinists unaware of the ways of Hawaii. 

“We were introduced to Tamoree, as persons who had left our native country & had come to reside at the Islands for the purpose of instructing the natives. They then joined noses with us and said it is good, I am glad to see you. A table was soon set in very good stile, and we were invited to sit down to dinner. In the evening a house was prepared for Brother R. and myself, & we retired much pleased with the prospect of usefulness.”

The missionaries, when not seasick, daily studied the Hawaiian language except Sunday during their voyage from Boston. At their first landing, at Kawaihae Bay on Hawaii Island, the Thaddeus Journal notes missionary wives conversing in Hawaiian phrases with Kalanimoku, the prime minister and lead general of Kamehameha.

Ashore on Kauai, George Prince Kaumualii rediscovered his Hawaiian name, Humehume, a name he had lost to memory over his  years of life in New England and at sea as a marine during the War of 1812.

Ruggles and Whitney presented Kaumualii a special English language Bible sent by the American Bible Society at the request of George. The name “Tamoree” spelled out in gold leaf letters decorated the cover of the large Bible. 

As George Prince, his son had been given a home and a future in 1816 after being found aimlessly living at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. George dwelled in despair; a homeless teenage combat wounded marine returned from the War of 1812. 

Leaders in the American missionary movement provided support for the young prince’s education at the American Board’s Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. There he excelled in astronomy and learned to play the bass viol. 

Missionary teacher Samuel Ruggles arrived at Waimea already accustomed to Hawaiian ways and life among Native Hawaiians. He had befriended George at Cornwall. For over two years Ruggles lived, studied, socialized, and worked in the fields and forests of Cornwall with George, Opukahaia (Henry Obookiah), Thomas Hopu and other Native Hawaiian students.

Whitney and Ruggles returned to Honolulu with a promise from Kaumualii of land for a mission station and full support for holding church services and teaching reading and writing.

In late July 1820 the men returned with their wives to open a mission station at Waimea. 

Mercy wrote in her journal: “George came to the Vessel to see if we were on board, & then sent for his parents who immediately came in a double canoe.”

A great crowd gathered at Waimea on Kauai’s westside to greet the missionary couples to see the first white women to settle on the island.

Nathan Chamberlain, the young son of missionary farmer Daniel Chamberlain, accompanied the missionaries, serving as translator. During the long Thaddeus journey the Chamberlain children quickly picked up the basics of the Hawaiian language by conversing with George, and the three Native Hawaiian missionary assistants aboard.

The Whitneys and the Ruggles soon experienced the ways of Kauai when its population was almost all Native Hawaiians. They slept on layers of kapa cloth,  attended a hula performance, listened to drumming and chanting, and adapted to eating local foods.

The first Christian church service ever held on Kauai began at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning July 30. The missionaries joined by a visiting sea captain led the service in a makeshift chapel erected along the makai side of the fort at Waimea. 

The Kauai missionaries faced a daunting task. 

Their overarching mission was to spread Christianity. In accomplishing this they were greatly aided in advance when a spiritual vacuum was caused six months earlier by the abandonment of the kapu system. 

They saw an immediate need to support Native Hawaiian family life and introducing western medicine with hopes of turning around the drastic decline in the Hawaiian population that had dropped as much as eighty percent from the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778 to the arrival of the missionaries to Hawaii in 1820.

The first laws printed in Hawaii sought to preserve the Hawaiian people. By 1825 Queen Regent Kaahumanu, Kalanimoku and other alii nui had become practicing Christians. Kaahumanu based these first printed laws on the Ten Commandments. She primarily sought to end the rampant prostitution of Hawaiian women to visiting the dozens of shiploads of sailors then arriving in Hawaii ports. And to control the heavy drinking at grog shops that catered to these sailors. A violent reaction resulted in attacks on the missionaries by sailors. 

Within a generation the Kauai missionaries more than accomplished their goals. 

Literacy and education spread to every village in Kauai. Native Hawaiian students trained to be teachers of the palapala; the written word taught through a biblical-based curriculum as its foundation. Students who excelled were trained to teach others and moved on to other villages. By the 1850s these palapala schools ringed Kauai even opening at remote Kalalau and Milolii valleys. The literacy rate in Hawaii rose to first place in the world. 

Mission stations opened at Koloa and Waioli at Hanalei. Queen Deborah Kapule founded a church along the Wailua River near Coco Palms with services held in the Hawaiian language. 

From printing presses in Honolulu and Lahaina millions of pages in the written Hawaiian language were distributed.  The development of a written Hawaiian language, and translation of the complete Bible directly from biblical languages was completed in 1838. The American missionaries worked closely with Native Hawaiian and Tahitian scholars in creating the Bible. The written Hawaiian language flourished in the nineteenth century through a wide variety of Hawaiian language newspapers all tracing their roots back to the first  printing in the Hawaiian language at the mission press in Honolulu in 1822.

Missionary doctors combated the introduced diseases traditional kahuna healers could not cure. In 1853 Dr. James Smith of Koloa, the first western doctor stationed full time on Kauai, inoculated almost every person on Kauai and Niihau keeping away from the shores of Kauai a smallpox epidemic that killed thousands of Native Hawaiians on Oahu and other Hawaiian islands.

Melodious western music caught the ear of the people of Hawai‘i through missionary “singing schools” and the first book ever published in the Hawaiian language was a hymnal that included hymns in Tahitian brought by Tahitian Christians in 1822.

The Sandwich Islands Mission officially ended in 1863 with orders from Boston to encourage Native Hawaiian ministers to become pastors of the churches founded by the American missionaries. Today many of those churches still flourish on Kauai.

For updates on future Kauai Missionary Bicentennial events go to www.missionhouses.org/bicentennial

Reflecting on the current quarantine of Kaua‘i: Looking back to 1853 and how Dr. Smith of Koloa contained a smallpox epidemic

Dr smith

Dr. James Smith of Kōloa Mission Station portrait by Samuel F. B. Morse prior to his departure for the Hawaiian Islands from Boston in 1842.

I have gained a broader perspective on our current quarantine situation here in Hawai‘i, particularly on Kaua‘i, by reading an account of how Kaua‘i missionary doctor James Smith of Kōloa kept Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau from suffering the ravages of a smallpox (mai pu‘upu‘u li‘ili‘i) epidemic in 1853. This plague is considered the most deadly faced by Native Hawaiians since western diseases began decimating the Native Hawaiian population following the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778.

Below I have taken freely from an account titled The Battle Against Smallpox written by my late wife Evelyn Cook in her book 100 Years of Healing – The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor. Mahalo to the Smith family for permission to use facts from this material for my post.

Notice of Kauai Quarantine

This broadside printed in Hawaiian and English and posted by the Kauai Commissioners of Health during the 1853 small pox epidemic warned inter-island ship passengers that they were not allowed to sail from Kaua‘i to O‘ahu, nor from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i, essentially quarenting the island from outsiders. The document is dated Nawiliwili July 19th, 1853. The Kauai Commissioners were J. E. B. Marshall, E. P. Bond, and Dr. James Smith of the Koloa Mission Station.  Only “in cases of extreme necessity” would a passenger be allowed. The quarantine worked, a report following the epidemic showed a low death count from smallpox on Kaua‘i, while thousands died in Honolulu and outlying district. (From the Kahn Collection, Hawaii State Archives)

A smallpox epidemic broke out in Honolulu in February 1853, brought aboard an American ship headed from San Francisco to China. Though the ship was quarantined, the deadly disease came ashore and by May was ravaging the people of Honolulu and outlying districts, most of the victims were Native Hawaiians. The epidemic targeted the young and old, and those living in poverty. 

In Honolulu smallpox victims died by the hundreds, then by the thousands. The epidemic spread into the summer and fall of 1853 and didn’t back off until early 1854. Medical reports from that time counted a range of 6,405 to 11,081 cases, and between 2,485 and 5,947 deaths on O‘ahu. The Ewa district out to Waianae was especially hard hit, with an estimate of a loss of half the population. Some 448 deaths were reported on other Hawaiian islands, but Kaua‘i was spared the smallpox onslaught that plagued O‘ahu through the dedication of Dr. James Smith, the resident American missionary doctor stationed at Kōloa. 

Smith took quick action when word of the Honolulu smallpox outbreak arrived at Kōloa. Traveling on horseback and foot, traversing rough trails, streams and steep gulches, and by outrigger canoe to Niihau and remote areas, he vaccinated the entire mostly Native Hawaiian population of both Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. Smith applied his training in scientific medical practices gained at a New York City medical school to alleviate the plague Kaua‘i faced. Only a small number of people living on the island had earlier been vaccinated for smallpox.

Smith later humbly reported to the Hawaiian mission headquarters in Honolulu: “Through a merciful Providence the Small Pox, which produced such frightful ravages on O‘ahu, passed over us very lightly. There were but 5 cases in our district (ed. probably in Kōloa District), only one of which proved fatal.”

The smallpox epidemic of 1853-1854 inspired King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma to open the Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu. Hale Aloha in Lahaina, Maui was dedicated as a memorial to God’s sparing the Maui seaport from the smallpox epidemic. There American Board missionary the Rev. Dwight Baldwin rode his horse across Maui to inoculate the people of that island.  

Outbreaks of smallpox occurred in Hawaii in 1861, 1873, and 1882. Dr. Smith and the doctors who followed him kept inoculating their patients and thankfully the later smallpox epidemics passed lightly over Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

Smith arrived at Kōloa in the early 1840s to serve as a resident missionary doctor. He left behind a lucrative career serving as a physician in New York City for five years. Instead, he used his education at the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons to serve the people of Kaua‘i. 

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions accepted Smith’s application to be a missionary doctor. He and his wife newly wed wife Melicent sailed from Boston in 1842 as members of the Tenth Company of American Board missionaries sent to Hawai‘i. 

In his application to the American Board Smith noted he was influenced to dedicate his life and skills in a foreign land after meeting a missionary to China. Through that connection he met medical students studying at his medical school who planned to go out as missionary doctors. 

He was inspired to end his practice in New York City in 1839 when he read a notice of the need for a physician for the Sandwich Islands Mission. He then decided dedicate his life as a missionary to the Hawaiian Islands.

He explained in his application, “I feel that I am not my own, that I am the Lord’s, and that every consideration demands I should labor in that part of the vineyard where His providence seems to direct.”

In November 1842 the Smiths landed and settled at Kōloa, Kaua‘i.

Smith went into private practice in 1851, leaving the covering of the Hawaiian mission, though still serving as a missionary at the church in Kōloa. He was later ordained as a minister. Smith became a citizen of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and made a living by charging western residents for his medical services, while freely giving medical care to the Native Hawaiian community for free.

Digging for Treasure in Old Books : Location of burial place of Samuel Mills Jr.

I am adding a new subcategory to obookiah.com I’m calling Digging for Treasure in Old Books. These posts will tell my story behind how I found antiquarian books I have purchased that add new insights to my Christian History of Hawai‘i research.

Location of the burial place of Samuel Mills Jr.

Samuel Mills Jr. of Torringford, Connecticut died at sea on June 14, 1818 off the northwest coast of West Africa aboard the English merchant brig Success during a voyage from Sierra Leone to London. His body was soon buried at sea.

I have a copy of a letter written by the Rev. Ebenezer Burgess, Samuel’s companion on this journey which concluded a surveying tour made south from Sierra Leone earlier in 1818. His journey, though fatal, resulted in the founding of the freed slave nation of Liberia.

Where exactly Samuel was buried has remained a mystery to me. I knew the passage north along the coast of West Africa took about two weeks.

Thanks to a timely recent purchase of a rare book I now know the latitude where Samuel’s body was buried at sea. My purchase of this book was happenstance. I noticed a fair condition copy of a volume of New Haven-published Religious Intelligencer weekly newsletters from 1818-1819 had come up for auction. I knew from experience that the editor of the Religious Intelligencer sometimes received news and letters through Connecticut connections. Often these unique reports failed to appear in the much more widely distributed Boston-published Missionary Herald, the official monthly publication of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Religious Intelligencer photo

My fair-condition copy of the New Haven-published Religious Intelligencer 1818-1819 purchased in March 2020 at a reasonable cost. Inside lay the location of the burial at sea of American foreign missions pioneer Samuel Mills Jr. Author’s photo

Fortunately, perhaps due to condition issues, the bidding was light for my copy of the Religious Intelligencer, an annual bound volume for 1818 with some issues from 1819 tucked in. Some annual volumes of the Religious Intelligencer are available online, and can be key word searched for words like “Obookiah,” “Sandwich Islands,” etc. Some issues in the volume I purchased were unavailable online, thus I wondered what I would find as I scanned through the book

Books from the Second Great Awakening era in New England (approximately 1790-1830) are generally printed on rag paper, that is paper made from recycing rags, rather than from wood pulp. Rag paper lasts fairly well.

I scanned through the old book’s tanned, but still very legible pages, searching for something new for my extensive data base of Christian History of Hawai‘i materials.

In what looks like a New Haven exclusive, in the October 10, 1818 issue of the Religious Intelligencer editor-publisher Nathaniel Whiting printed a brief note sent to the  American Colonization Society from Ebenezer Burgess, posted via an American ship sailing from England. This note alerted New England Christiandom of the death of Samuel Mills Jr. off of West Africa. Mills’ watch may have accompanied the letter, for a rider later approached the Rev. Samuel Mills in Torringford and broke the news of Samuel’s death, producing his son’s watch perhaps to validate the account.

Below is a photo of a selection from the first report of Samuel’s death as it appeared in the issue of the Religous Intelligencer. In the report Burgess carefully notes the latitude of the burial site of Samuel’s remains. The latitude places the burial within nautical minutes of the boundary line of the Tropic of Cancer. Now I knew fairly closely where Samuel was buried, a fact I had never come across in decades of research into the lives of Mills and ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia.

Mills death 1

Mills Death 2

An account of place and date of death of Ameican foreign missions founder Samuel Mills Jr. off coast of West Africa, from October 10, 1818 issue of the Religious Intelligencer.

Samuel passed at age 36. He is a key figure in the Christian History of Hawai‘i. In 1809 he met Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia at Yale and immediately envisioned sending a mission to the Hawaiian Islands. Samuel brought Henry home to Torringford to live in the family parsonage in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The Mills family made Henry a member of their ‘ohana, providing the stability of family life he longed for since the murder of his parents following the Battle of Kaipalaoa in Hilo in 1796.

Samuel and Henry were to lead the pioneer mission to Hawai‘i. But Henry died of typhus fever in Cornwall, Connecticut in February 1818, preceding Samuel in death by about four months.

Samuel led the legendary Haystack Prayer Meeting held at Williams College in 1806 (perhaps 1808) that led to the launching of Protestant foreign missions from the United States. He cofounded the Brethren foreign missions supporting secret society. Samuel petitioned the heads of the Congregational Church in Massachusetts to form a foreign missions board resulting in the creation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He played a key role in forming the American Bible Society, and he died with hopes of ending slavery in the United States by surveying lands for a freed slave colony in West Africa.

My widespread reading of materials linked to Hawaiian history in print and online often inspires me to purchase my own original copy an antiquarian book, booklet, illustration, tract, sermon or newspaper. To find original copies I search in abebooks.com, I receive key word alerts from eBay, I’m sent online catalogs from antiquarian book dealers like New England maritime specialist Ten Pound Island in Gloucester, Mass. I’m sometimes given a book, or a lead to a book.

I do hit deadends where my searching finds no copies for sale, or am priced out of a purchase.

Sometimes I underestimate the value of a random purchase. I have a pretty beat up copy of a rhetorical Sunday school book that has a mother answering questions posed by her children regarding the Sandwich Islands Mission. There is even a page of questions about surfing in this late 1820s book. I purchased this small leather bound book – which lacks a front cover and is missing the frontispiece illustration – for about $10. A bidder who told me she fell asleep and missed the late night final bidding on the book, sent me an email after the auction and asked if I planned to donate the book to a library collection. In response to this note I did a search in worldcat.org, the online global scholarly book catalog, and discovered my book was a very rare first edition copy, in fact it looks like there is only one other first edition copy in public collections.

Audio: Ten Little Known Facts from the Christian History of Hawai‘i

Ten Little Known Facts from the Christian History of Hawai‘i is a podcast I created for Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua, Kona. Mokuaikaua invited me to speak on March 31 and April 2, 2020 as part of their extensive Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial celebration. The celebration is to be rescheduled hopefully for later this summer. For now I hope you enjoy hearing ten ancedotes from Christian History of Hawai‘i material I discovered over the years.

INTRODUCTION (Sound files appear below images)

Blog background

The mission to Hawai‘i was inspired and requested by a Native Hawaiian

01 Opukahaia

Portrait of ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia from Memoirs of Henry Obookiah

Kealakekua Bay: ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia and Captain Cook at Helehelekalani Heiau

02 Cook at Helehelekalani

Captain Cook is the center of attention at a ceremony honoring the Hawaiian god Lono at Helehelekalani Heiau along shore of Kealakekua Bay.

A typhoid epidemic in New England led pioneer Mokuaikaua missionary Asa Thurston to dedicating his life to Christ, studying for the ministry at Yale, resulting in him becoming a missionary to Hawai‘i

03 Yale Thurston

Connecticut Hall at Yale

The American foreign missions movement was influenced by Bible prophecy

04 Jonathan Edwards

The Rev. Jonathan Edwards promoted the Concert of Prayer in New England and foresaw the coming of a millennium of peace and prosperity when Christianity would encompass the world.

The pioneer mission to Hawai‘i and the first mission to Jerusalem aimed at creating a permanent Protestant base in the Holy Land were planned together and sent just a week apart from Boston

05 Palestine

The sermons delivered in Boston in October 1819 by Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons, pioneer American Board missionaries to Palestine, listed Hawai‘i mission publications on its back cover.

’Ōpūkaha‘ia – Henry Obookiah died during a typhus fever epidemic likely caused by a volcano erupting in Indonesia

06 Volcano

A nineteenth-century engraving of a volcanic eruption.


Upon arrival in Hawai‘i the missionaries and their wives conversed in the Hawaiian language with ali‘i nui 

07 Kalanimoku 2

The brig Thaddeus (left) as envisioned in a drawing made for the Year of the Bible back in 1984. Kalanimoku (right) greeted the pioneer mission company at Kawaihae where he lived on an ahpua‘a given him by Kamehameha.

At their first meeting on Kaua‘i, the missionaries and their wives rubbed noses (honi) with King Kaumuali‘i

Mercy Whitney

Mercy Partridge Whitney of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the wife of Waimea, Kaua‘i missionary Samuel Whitney, and  King Kaumuali‘i of Kaua‘i exchanged a honi (ceremonial rubbing of noses) upon her landing at Waimea, Kaua‘i in July 1820.

Deaf education pioneer Thomas Gallaudet used Hawaiian sign language in creating the American sign language

09 Gallaudet and Hopu

Prior to sailng to Hawai‘i aboard the brig Thaddeus, Foreign Mission School student Hopu (Thomas Hopoo) used Native Hawaiian sign language in communicating with deaf students at the pioneer deaf education school run by Thomas Gallaudet in Hartford, Connecticut.

Some Baibala (Hawaiian language Bible) scriptures use words like mana from the Hawaiian language instead of new words created from English or biblical language words10 Baibala PIDThe Partners in Development Foundation in cooperation with Mutual Publishing is publishing modern versions of the Baibala, the Bible in the Hawaiian language. Go to pidf.org for more information.