In 1778, British Captain James Cook discovered Hawaii, which he named “The Sandwich Islands” in honor of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich – the acting First Lord of the Admiralty. Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii in 1779.
When Captain Cook’s voyages were read in England they raised awareness of new lands and inspired a missionary movement, led by William Carey, who took the Gospel to India in 1793.
The Hawaiian Islands were united by King Kamehameha I in 1810. In 1819, King Kamehameha I died. His wife, Kaʻahumanu, and his son, Liholiho (King Kamehameha II), abolished the pagan religion with its kapu rules and human sacrifice.
The next year the first missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham and Yale graduate Asa Thurston, with his wife, Lucy, arrived from New England on the brig Thaddeus. Hiram Bingham’s grandson, of the same name, discovered the Inca city of Machu Pichu in 1908, then became governor of Connecticut and a U.S. Senator. Missionaries Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston created Hawaii’s 12-letter alphabet, then translated the Bible into the Hawaiian language.
On Nov. 22, 1822, Betsey Stockton, a young African-American woman from New Haven, Connecticut, set sail with the second group of missionaries for the for a five-month voyage to Hawaii. Commissioned by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Betsey Stockton was the first single American woman sent overseas as a missionary. An edition of Betsey Stockton’s Hawaiian diary as the teacher in Hawaii’ first mission school was published in the Christian Advocate, 1824 and 1825, by Dr. Reverend Dr. Ashbel Green, president of Princeton University.
In 1823, Queen Kaʻahumanu and six high chiefs requested to be baptized as Christians. The Queen Kaʻahumanu’s government then banned prostitution and drunkenness, resulting in sailors resenting the missionaries influence.
In 1824, Chiefess Kapiolani, the cousin of Kamehameha I, defied the volcano goddess Pele by saying a Christian prayer, climbing down into the lava crater and returning unharmed, then eating the forbidden Ōhelo berries. In 1825, Queen Ke’opuolani was baptized into the Christian faith, speaking Hawaii’s motto, “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness” (“Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono”). When Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) died, his brother, King Kamehameha III, ascended to the throne, having the longest reign in Hawaii’s history, 1825-1854.
The various island kingdoms of the Pacific had no navies capable of repelling the global maritime powers of the day, namely, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, British and Japanese. King Kamehameha III was instrumental in using diplomacy to keep the Kingdom of Hawaii from being taken over by the British and French.
King Kamehameha III introduced the first Hawaiian Constitution in 1840: “Kingdom of Hawai’i Constitution of 1840, Declaration of Rights of People and Chiefs: ‘God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth,’ in unity and blessedness. God has also bestowed certain rights alike on all men and all chiefs, and all people of all lands. … God has also established government, and rule for the purpose of peace. … We are aware that we cannot ourselves alone accomplish such an object – God must be our aid, for it is His province alone to give perfect protection and prosperity. – Wherefore we first present our supplication to Him, that he will guide us to right measures and sustain us in our work.”
Hawaii’s 1840 Constitution continued: “It is therefore our fixed decree, I. That no law shall be enacted which is at variance with the word of the Lord Jehovah, or at variance with the general spirit of His word. All laws of the Islands shall be in consistency with the general spirit of God’s law. II. All men of every religion shall be protected in worshiping Jehovah, and serving Him, according to their own understanding, but no man shall ever be punished for neglect of God unless he injures his neighbor, of bring evil on the kingdom. … The above constitution has been agreed to by the Nobles, and we have hereunto subscribed our names, this eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord 1840, at Honolulu, Oahu. (Signed) Kamehameha III. Kekauluohi”
King Kamehameha III granted the “Ka Wai” freshwater springs where High Chiefess Ha’o frequented to be the location for building of the historic Kawaiaha’o Church. Located on the Island of O’ahu, the Kawaiaha’o Church is listed on the state and national registers of historic sites, as it is one of the first Christian churches in Hawaii. Built between 1836-1842 in New England style architecture, Kawaiaha’o Church was called the “Westminster Abbey of Hawaii.” Constructed with 14,000 coral slabs, quarried by hand from reefs 10 to 20 feet under water – each slab weighed more than 1,000 pounds.
Within its walls the kingdom’s royalty prayed, sang hymns, were married, christened their children, and finally laid in state. On the grounds surrounding the church are buried some of the original missionaries.
In 1852, Hawaiian James Kekela went as a missionary to the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. He wrote that Hawaii was fortunate to have come under the protection of the United States rather than France: “The French government is celebrating the 14th of July in Papeete, as America does on the 4th of July. What Americans do to celebrate is to give speeches, worship God, do things to strengthen the body, and so on. The French are pleasure lovers, acting as in the old days … the dances of Tahiti, Tuamotu, Rurutu, Tubuai, and Atiu. … What is done is like what the (filthy arioi?) did. It is a very painful thing for our eyes to behold, because all kinds of liquor are allowed on the tables on this day-beer, soda, wine, whiskey.”
Hawaii became a U.S. territory July 7, 1898, when President McKinley signed the Treaty of Annexation. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state. The occasion was marked by ceremonies within the sanctuary walls of the Kawaiaha’o Church.
On April 19, 1970, President Richard Nixon spoke at the historic Kawaiaha’o Church, saying: “Reverend Akaka … I wanted to attend … this great church, with all of its history that is here … having in mind the fact that today … you will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of Christianity in … these islands.”
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