Pioneer Missions to Hawaii

  • Overseas
  • 1820

The first Christian missionaries to land in Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) were funded by donations to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. A group of men, women, and children from Massachusetts—a mix of Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Dutch Reformists—arrived to begin their service after spending a grueling 164 days at sea. They began building schools and churches, provided medical care that was avidly appreciated by natives, taught farming, home building, and sewing, established the first written form of the Hawaiian language, and printed materials in the native tongue, including classic Hawaiian tales.

The ruling families of Hawaii began to send their children to mission schools, and to convert to Christianity in the 1820s and 1830s. An 1839 Edict of Toleration from King Kamehameha III established religious liberty in the islands.

When whalers began to frequent Hawaiian ports in the 1820s, the missionaries intervened to protect natives from exploitation, weathering threats for their trouble. The missionaries also agitated against native practices like widespread infanticide and occasional human sacrifice. Every few years, ships brought additional small groups of missionary families; some became permanent residents while others rotated home. The actions of the American missionaries were crucial in linking Hawaii to the U.S. and eventual statehood.

  • Orramel and Ann Gulick, The Pilgrims of Hawaii (Revell, 1918)