Hawaiian Mission Houses was established in 1923 by the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society, a private, non-profit organization and genealogical society. It consists of three mission houses that served as homes and workplaces for the first Christian missionaries who came here. At right is the 1821 Mission House, and, left, the Mission annex that was originally built of coral block as a bedroom annex, but now houses the print shop.
By Mike Smola, Curator of Public Programs
Honolulu, HI -- In October of 1819, a young missionary couple embarked from Boston on board the ship Thaddeus on their way to a new life in the Hawaiian Islands. Elisha Loomis, a printer by trade, and his wife Maria would spend seven years in Hawai’i as missionaries. After seven years, they returned to New England but took up a new missionary post out in the Old Northwest–Mackinac Island–among the Ojibwe people. After two years in that missionary field they would return to New York. After Elisha’s death in 1836, Mrs. Loomis returned west to Ypsilanti, Michigan. She would spend the rest of her days there until she died in 1862. She is buried at Spencer Cemetery. This is just one of the interesting connections I found between the New England missionaries sent to Hawai’i by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and Michigan.
Hawai’i is not just beaches, Waikiki, shopping, or breathtaking ocean and mountain landscapes. We have a diverse, rich, and long history that spans over a thousand years, encompassing peoples such as Native Hawaiians, New England missionaries, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Europeans, Filipinos, Koreans and many others. Today Honolulu is the biggest and most developed urban area on Oahu and in all of Hawai’i. But in the middle of the modern bustle of downtown Honolulu, the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives is a green gem of an oasis near the urban financial district and government buildings. This historic site was the mission headquarters of New England Protestant missionaries that began coming to the islands in 1820. Three white New England-style homes built in 1821, 1831, and 1841 and now in the middle of downtown make up the historic part of the site. The 1821 Mission House is the oldest standing house in the entire state. The Chamberlain House was built in 1831 and is the second oldest standing house in the state. Today the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives operates as an educational institution dedicated to teaching about nineteenth-century Hawaiian history.
I lived in East Lansing and Lansing for about seven years while I was in school at Michigan State University (MSU). I earned my B.A. in History and received a Graduate level certification in Museum Studies. I was working at the MSU Museum, the Turner-Dodge House, and interning at the Michigan Historical Center all at the same time at one point in my life.
History and museums are an important part of learning who we are and where we come from. When I got my job, initially as the Volunteer Coordinator at the Hawaiian Mission Houses, I knew very little about Hawaiian or Polynesian history—but I learned and I am still learning! Today, almost eight years after I left Michigan, I am the Curator of Public Programs—responsible for our tour programs, school programs, research and interpretation, and special events—and I couldn’t be happier! But back to the Hawaiian Mission Houses, some interesting history, and Michigan connections with Hawai’i I have discovered since coming here.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was a Boston-based evangelical venture to spread the Gospel to the world. It was formed in the midst of the Second Great Awakening, a period of religious revivalism throughout the United States. It was a joint venture between the Congregationalist, Presbyterian and Methodist churches in New England. Most of the missionaries that came out to the “Sandwich Islands,” as Hawai’i was known then, were Congregationalist and Presbyterian. Over the course of the 43 years of the Sandwich Islands Mission (1820 – 1863), 12 “companies,” or groups, of missionaries would come to found 17 mission stations on five of the eight major Hawaiian Islands, with the headquarters station in Honolulu. Their instructions read,
“Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale; but you are to open your hearts wide and set your marks high. You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of raising up the whole people to an elevated state of Christian civilization. You are to obtain an adequate knowledge of the language of the people; to make them acquainted with letters; to give them the Bible, with skill to read it…” (Instructions to the missionaries, October, 1819.)
From 1820 to 1863, these missionaries would have a large impact on Hawaiian history. It is impossible to talk about the many changes in Hawaiian society and culture in the 1800's without talking about the influence of these missionaries. The mission’s collaborative relationship and work with the ali’i (chiefs and royalty) resulted in the introduction of Christianity to the Hawaiian people, the development of a written Hawaiian language and establishment of schools that resulted in widespread literacy, the introduction of the concept of constitutional government, the combination of Hawaiian and Western medicine, and the evolution of a new and distinctive musical tradition.
Through our programming and tour content, the Hawaiian Mission Houses elaborates on these themes and the collaborative relationship with the Hawaiian royalty. The 1821 Mission House is furnished as it would have been the late 1820's and early 1830's. In the parlor, a sparse room lined with Windsor chairs around the edge of it, one can hear the strains of a very popular hymn “Hawai’i Aloha” by Rev. Lorenzo Lyons. Rev. Lyons, like most of the missionaries, was fluent in Hawaiian. This song along with “Hawai’i Pono’i” by King David Kalakaua and “Aloha ‘Oe” by Queen Liliuokalani are beautiful examples of the combination of Hawaiian poetry for lyrics with Western styles of choral and marching music.
The Bingham bedroom upstairs showcases a beautiful portrait of Sophia Bingham, the Hiram and Sybil Bingham’s eldest daughter. She, like many other missionary children before 1841, was sent back to New England for her education. The missionaries felt that the opportunities for a formal education and future opportunities that such an education provided were not really available in the Islands. Many times, they were too busy to teach their own children. The children would live with extended family or family friends until they finished high school, if not college. There were no guarantees that their children would ever come back to Hawai’i or that the parents would ever see their children again. Sophia was sent back at the age of 7. Her portrait was painted in order to send it back to her parents in Honolulu as gift by which to remember her. The portrait arrived, but was encrusted with grime that had accumulated during its voyage. The Bingham’s were heartbroken that they could not immediately see the image of their daughter upon opening the wrapping. Luckily, Rev. Bingham wiped the portrait with alcohol and the image appeared underneath the grime. The Bingham’s were very happy to see an image of their daughter. The Bingham’s finally saw their daughter again in 1841 when they arrived back in the United States. Sophia Bingham later married William Moseley and they headed west to Union City, Michigan, near the Indiana border. She was a school teacher there for many years and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Union City.
Above:Sophia was the daughter of Hiram and Sybil Bingham who arrived in the first company of missionaries in 1820. At the age of seven years old she was sent back to New England to be educated. This portrait was painted and sent to her parents. The establishment of Punahou School in 1841 was a much a product of the Hawaiians thirst for knowledge as it was for the missionaries who could not bear to be parted from their children.
Also upstairs in the 1821 Mission House is the bedroom of Dr. Gerrit P. Judd and his wife Laura Fish Judd. The Judds have a strong connection to Michigan. Eurotas P. Hastings was a banker in Detroit and auditor-general of the state. He was also the maternal uncle of Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, who arrived in Hawai’i in 1828 as a medical missionary. In 1836, Eurotas would sell a piece of land near Battle Creek to Philo Dibble, Lansing Kingsbury, and Cornelius Kendall that would become the town of Hastings. When Dr. Judd was on a diplomatic mission for the Hawaiian government with two young Hawaiian princes, he took Prince Lot Kamehameha and Prince Alexander Liholiho to visit his family in Michigan. They arrived in Detroit on June 14, 1850 and stayed with Dr. Judd’s brother, Rev. William Pitt Judd. The trio then went to Troy to visit Judd’s other brother Henry Augustus Judd and their mother, Betsey Hastings Judd. Dr. Judd took the Hawaiian princes on a hunting trip near Rochester and held a picnic the next day in Orchard Lake, near Pontiac. After getting Dr. Judd’s mother to agree to come to the islands the following year, the doctor and his two royal charges went back to New York and then back to their home in Honolulu.
Dr. Judd was an interesting man. In the 1821 Mission House cellar, we have recreated Dr. Judd’s office and apothecary as it would have appeared from 1832 – 1835. The walls are lined with shelves of medicinal ingredients and his instruments laid out on a side table next to the examination table In the back is a workspace for his Native Hawaiian assistants to mix medicines. Dr. Judd was one of the very few Western doctors in the Islands to learn about Hawaiian medicinal practices. Not only that, he took on Native Hawaiian assistants and tasked one of them, Ho’okano, with interviewing Hawaiian doctors about their practices and recording them on paper. It was the first fairly comprehensive written record of Hawaiian medical practices. Dr. Judd went on to take his new knowledge of Hawaiian medicine and began incorporating useful methods and ingredients into his medical practice. In 1838, he published the first medical book in the Hawai’ian language—Anatomia. In 1870, he also began the first Hawaiian medical school at the request of the royal government.
Left: Princes Alexander 'Iolani Liholiho Keawenu (later King Kamehameha IV) and Lot Kapu'iwa (Kamehameha V) with Dr. Gerrit P. Judd (center), on their tour of Europe and the United States, including Michigan.
One of the biggest successes of the Sandwich Islands Mission was in the field of education. In 1820, Hawaiian culture was an oral culture—no writing. Everything was done from memory. This is not terribly useful if you are a group of Protestant missionaries whose faith is based on the written word of God, the Bible. It was necessary for Hawaiians to read and understand the Bible, from the missionaries’ point of view. Kings Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III knew the utility of this new knowledge and tasked the mission with teaching Hawaiians how to read and write in Hawaiian. The missionaries, with help from Rev. William Ellis, a group of Christian Tahitians, and well-learned Hawaiians like John Papa Ii devised a way to write down Hawaiian. They fit 17 English letters to the sounds they were hearing around them. In 1822, the mission printed a spelling book. This was the first book ever printed in the Hawaiian language. In 1826, the alphabet was reduced to 12 letters – A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M ,N, P, and W. This standardized written Hawaiian across all of the islands, since there were small dialect differences between the islands. The missionary focus on literacy in order to read scripture, along with the ali’i support that resulted in a public education system in 1840, created a literacy miracle in Hawai’i. In 1853, Rev. Richard Armstrong, the Superintendent of Public Instruction , estimated that 75% of all Hawaiians could read and write, making the Hawaiian Kingdom more literate than most of the world at the time. Today the Hawaiian language is being taught in schools and in private classes across the islands. It is a living language, just as Hawaiian culture is a living culture.
The Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives bring this history and culture to life, not only in our daily tours, but also in our special programs. One of them is our Hawaiian music series. In 2015, we focused this four part series on Mele Wahi Pana, “Songs of Legendary Places.” In 2016, we will be focusing on Mele Aloha, “Songs of Alohda,” and the different kinds of aloha and the different shades of meaning to the most universally recognized word in the Hawaiian language. We bring together musicians, hula dancers, experts, and elders for a night of music, stories, and history under the stars on our backyard stage with professional lighting and sound.
Another program that highlights how the Hawaiian Mission Houses brings history and culture to life is our acclaimed “Cemetery Pupu Theatre” program (Pupu is a Hawaiian word for appetizer). Five people buried at the oldest public cemetery on Oahu are chosen, with each related to a main theme. In 2014, "For the Sake of the Public Health" focused on medicine and diseases. There were four doctors and a Hawaiian victim of the devastating 1853 smallpox epidemic. In 2015, "Footprints on the Land" focused on environmental history and those that had an impact, positive or negative, on the Hawaiian environment. For the upcoming year, Muses of Hawai’i and will focus on four writers and a songwriter. The lives of these people are researched, and the research is given to a scriptwriter to develop a 15 to 20 minute monologue that each actor, dressed in period clothing, delivers in the first person voice. The really neat thing is that the actor is standing at the person’s actual grave.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your short visit with the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives and with me, a former Michigan resident living in a historical, cultural, and natural paradise. Come visit!
Mike Smola is the Curator of Public Programs at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives in Honolulu. He graduated with a B.A. in History and received his Graduate Certification in Museum Studies from Michigan State University. His previous jobs include work at the Turner-Dodge House, the MSU Museum, and the Michigan Historical Center. He is also a poet, musician and avid hiker.
Information for When You Visit:
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives is located in Honolulu’s Historic Capital District and is the leading authority on Protestant missionary history in Hawai‘i. It is known worldwide as the place where the Hawaiian written language was developed through the collaborative efforts of the missionaries, the Hawaiian royalty, and the Hawaiian people. It preserves the two oldest existing houses in Hawai‘i, which were built and used by missionaries in the early nineteenth century, and the largest collection of Hawaiian language books in the world.
Hawaiian Mission Houses is near several other sites of interest you may want to visit: ‘Iolani Palace, Judiciary History Center, Washington Place, Chinatown, Hawai‘i State Art Museum, and Honolulu Museum of Art.
Open to the Public
Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Archive Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Guided Tour of Chamberlain Exhibit, Printing Office, and 1821 Mission House: $10
Kama‘a-ina, Military, Senior: $8
Student (with valid ID): $6
Children under 5 years and members: Free
Tours begin on the hour, every hour from 11 a.m.
Last tour departs at 3 p.m.
MISSION Social Hall
Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives
553 South King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813-3002
For More information
Visit our website to learn more about our public programs and explore our resources online: missionhouses.org
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives is the business name of the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society (HMCS), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization founded in 1852.
Editor’s note: Hawaiian language uses glottal stops, macrons and diacritical marks in their alphabet. Even with modern technology, sometimes they cannot always be used.