Hana Hou New England Tour History Background

Introduction to Sites to be visited on the Hana Hou New England Tour October 20-October 26, 2019 during the Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial 2019-2020

Quick Links Plymouth – Newburyport – New Haven – Andover – Bradford – Hollis – Goshen – Cornwall – Boston


Newburyport, Massachusetts is a scenic historic New England sea port on the Atlantic set along the mouth of Merrimack River north of Boston.

Newburyport has signifcant ties to the history of global Christianity through the English evangelist George Whitefield (Wit-field). The coastal town is the unlikely final resting place of one the key persons who sparked the sweeping revivals experienced in America and England in the mid-1700s and early 1800s, setting the stage for the pioneer misson to Hawai‘i of 1819-20. 

Here George Whitefield is buried. 

Here Samuel Mills Jr. of Haystack Meeting fame, the man who became a big brother to ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia, was ordained alongside the first American Board of Commissioners mission party sent to Ceylon. 

And from Newburyport the riches of the West Indies and China trade, brought to the town by its adventurous sea captains, helped seed the launch of foreign missions in America by funding the Theological Seminary at Andover and more importantly the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

You will find Newburyport charming and interesting, and a break from our tour to mountainous Cornwall and urban Boston and New Haven. 

The handsome stone classical architecture buildings you will see in Newburyport were mostly built after a fire in 1811 burnt down 16 acres of its Colonial and Federalist eras wood frame buildings, changing the look of this significant port town. The Newburyport Preservation Trust offers a history of the town.

Our main stop in Newburyport is the Old South Presbyterian Church. Here you are going to visit a church with a tour you will never forget, guaranteed. Old South is filled with the spirit, and home to the mortal body, of the English minister who brought revival up and down the thirteen colonies of America, sparking the Great Awakening of the mid-1700s, and possibly the Revolutionary War. 

George Whitefield arrived in Newburyport in 1740 to preach. The churches in town refused to open their doors to him so he set up a platform outdoors in a field. Hundreds dropped all they were doing, leaving their farms and homes to hear him preach. The resulting revival in the town caused many to want to keep it going and they birthed Old South Church Presbytrian Church in his wake.

During his life cross-eyed, booming voiced Whitefield made thirteen Atlantic crossings, preached 18,000 sermons in the open despite being mocked, was pelted with a variety of unsavory items. He drew crowds as large as 15,000 people and became a fast friend of non-believer Benjamin Franklin.

Towards the end of his life, on the cusp of the American Revolution, Whitefield returned to Newburyport.

An Old South church history recounts, “His activities continued to the evening before his death. In response to the appeal of the people gathered on School Street, outside of the home of Parsons, he preached to them from the staircase, — ‘until the candle, which he still held, burned away, and went out in its socket.’

“At six o’clock on Sunday morning, September 30, 1770, he passed into eternal glory 30 years to the day after his first visit to Newburyport.”

Old South is hosting a tour of the church that will take you underground to a crypt located directly beneath the pulpit. There rests Whitefield buried according to his wishes in the Newburyport church he founded.

Samuel Mills

Samuel Mills Jr., the mentor and adoptive older brother of Ōpūkaha‘ia in New England, traveled to Newburyport to be ordained in June 1815. Mills stood alongside the first American Board mission company sent out to faraway Ceylon. This followed Mills going out on short term missions making two domestic Bible society sponsored surveying tours made on horseback and river boat out to and down the Missiissippi River. 

Even though he led in launching foreign missions from America at the Haystack Meeting held at Williams College, Samuel stayed at home as others departed for foreign shores to continue his promotional and recruit efforts for missions. 

Returning from his second tour into the developing states over the Alleghenies Samuel heard that friends he had studied with at the Andover Theological Seminary (located about 15 miles inland from Newburyport) were being ordained. The group of Andover gradutes was heading for Ceylon. Leading the mission company was James Richards, one of Mills’ prayer warriors at the Haystack Meeting.

Many people from nearby churches gathered for the interesting missionary commissioning service held directly above the crypt of George Whitefield. 

Dr. Samuel Worcester of Salem preached a sermon he titled “Paul on Mars Hill, or A Christian Survey of the Pagan World” from Acts 17: 16.


Worcester aided Mills, Adoniram Judson and their fellow members of the secret Brethren foreign mission student society in launching in 1810 at nearby Bradford the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Thus the American Protestant foreign missions movement was launched. 

“…the deeply impressive services increased the missionary spirit in all the churches in that section of New England,” wrote Mills’ biographer Thomas Richards.

The Ceylon mission sailed in October while Samuel headed south to New York City for urban mission work in the slums of the city, and to New Jersey where he organized a training academy for African-American pastors.

Charles Reed Bishop

Several decades later Newburyport played a significant role in the history of Hawai‘i. Through the portals of the Custom House in Newburyport in the 1850s (now home to the Custom House Maritime Museum) departed two adventurous Upstate New York men, Charles Reed Bishop and William Little Lee. Bishop and Lee paid for passage to the Oregon Territory, but bad weather at the mouth of the Columbia River delayed them in Honolulu. Both were recruited to fill significant positions in Honolulu and they took up residence. 

Bishop went on to marry Royal School student Bernice Pauahi (an heir to the lands of Kamehameha), and later helped her wife establish the Bishop Trust. Charles founded what became the First Hawaiian Bank, and later in life fulfilled his late wife’s wishes for the Kamehameha Schools. He used his own personal funds to founded the Bishop Museum. 

Lee, an attorney, became Chief Justice of the Kiongdom of Hawai‘i and greatly improved its legal system.