Parentage, Childhood, and Early Years - Militia Service - Asahel Nettleton - Years in Western New York - Sickness - Home Again - Auburn Seminary
MY father was Gaylord Coan, of Killingworth, Middlesex Co., Connecticut. He was a thoughtful, quiet, and modest farmer, industrious, frugal, and temperate, attending to his own business, living in peace with his neighbors, eschewing evil, honest in dealing, avoiding debts, abhorring extravagance and profligacy, refusing proffered offices, strictly observing the Sabbath, a regular attendant on the services of the sanctuary, a constant reader of the Bible, and always offering morning and evening prayers with the family. He was born Aug. 4, 1768, and died Sept. 24, 1857, in his 90th year.
My mother was Tamza Nettleton, sister of Josiah Nettleton and aunt of Asahel Nettleton, D.D., the distinguished Evangelical preacher. She was the tender, faithful, and laborious mother of seven children, six sons and one daughter. Of these I was the youngest.
While still in the vigor of womanhood, she was cut down Jan. 14, 1818, by typhus fever, aged 58. Her death left the house desolate, and the loss was deeply mourned by all the children.
After this our father married Miss Platt, of Saybrook, by whom he had one daughter, who died at the age of eighteen.
I was born on the first day of February, Sunday morning, 1801, in the town of Killingworth, Conn. My physical constitution was good, my health was perfect, and my childhood happy.
From the age of four to twelve I was sent to the district school, where the boys and girls were drilled in Webster’s spelling book, The American Preceptor, writing, arithmetic (Daball’s), Morse’s geography, Murray’s grammar, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Days and weeks and years went quietly along, with the usual experiences of joyous childhood. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter each had their peculiar charms, their duties and diversions, and I moved along the stream with only now and then a ripple.
Once, when a boy of about seven years, I had a memorable experience. My father was to be absent during the day. and in the morning he said to me, “Titus, go straight to school to-day.” When he left, some boys came along and persuaded me to play truant. Off we started, and spent the day in as much pleasure as we could enjoy, with some twinges of guilt and fear. At 4 P.M., the time for the school to close, I managed to fall in with the children who were returning home.
Evening came—my father returned. We had supper and prayers. My conscience throbbed a little, and I prepared for bed early. When ready in my night-robe to leap into bed, my father called me to him. I trembled, but obeyed. Sitting quietly in his chair, he laid me, face downward, across his knees, took up a small birch rod and said, “Well, Titus, you are all ready now for the reward of disobedience—you did not go to school.” He then gave me a few salutary touches with the birch, and I stole off to bed. That was one of the best lessons of my childhood It made a distinct impression upon me which I could not forget. It worked through my skin and my flesh, and went into my heart. I never played truant again.
Yes, I did get one more lesson which cooled my blood and made me thoughtful. A deep mill-pond lay between my home and the school-house. In the winter this pond was often frozen over, and my father warned me not to venture upon the ice on my way to school. One morning when I was nine years old, a mate of my age went with me to school. As we came to the pond we agreed to have a little slide. We went on half-way across the pond, I leading, and Julius following. Coming to the deepest part of the pond, the ice broke suddenly under me and I went under the water, but found no bottom. I rose to the surface in the same place where I went down, and screamed for help. My companion stood aghast and feared to come near. I threw up my hands and caught hold of the ice, but it broke before me. Again and again I struggled to find firm hold, but still the treacherous ice gave way until I nearly despaired of life. At length, however, I came to firmer ice, and clung to it as with a death grasp, calling on Julius for help. The timid boy approached slowly until his hand reached mine; and with his help and God’s mercy I was delivered from a watery grave. But it was mid winter, and I was sadly chilled. To avoid freezing we ran all the way, a half mile, to the school-house, where we found a roaring fire and the master not there. I stood by the fire, turning round and round, and smoking like a spare-rib, until the master came, when I took my seat and shivered until noon. The intermission being one hour, I improved it to dry my clothes, and went home at evening, charging my schoolmate never to tell anyone of this event. He kept his promise until I came to the Hawaiian Islands, and then he told the story. This was another lesson which I report with thanks to the Lord for sparing my life, and as a warning to all children to “Obey their parents in the Lord that their days may be long.”
But it is not necessary to enlarge on “the scenes of my childhood,” though diversified, and very many of them “dear to my heart.”
Nor will I take time to tell all my childhood’s faults; and as for its virtues, I have nothing of which to boast.
When about thirteen I worked with my father on the farm during the summer months, and attended school in the winter. The next year I was a pupil in a select school at the house of my honored and excellent pastor, the Rev. Asa King. In this school I spent two happy winters, while my summers were passed on the farm, or in fishing on Long Island Sound, or for shad in early spring in the Connecticut River.
Not satisfied with my knowledge of English grammar derived from Murray and unskilled teachers, I had private lessons from a teacher fresh from a grammar school in the city of New York, and under his instructions gained a more satisfactory insight into the construction of my mother tongue than from all my winter’s study in what seemed to me dry Murray.
I also read eagerly such worthy books as I was able to buy or borrow; few indeed, compared with the overwhelming flood of literature of the present time. I read history, rhetoric, astronomy, philosophy, logic, and the standard poets. I joined an Academy in East Guilford, now Madison, where I studied with delight geometry trigonometry, surveying, etc., under the instruction of the Principal, an active graduate of Yale College.
At the age of eighteen I was called to teach a school in the town of Saybrook, and from this time onward my winters were occupied in teaching in Saybrook, Killingworth, and Guilford, until I left New England for Western New York.
When the time came for me to enter the militia ranks, according to the laws of the State, I enlisted in a company of light artillery whose regiment had been commanded by Col. Bray during the war of 1812–15 and in which one of my brothers had served in the garrison of my native town during that war.
In this company I was at once chosen sergeant, and in about two years was promoted, receiving first the commission of 2nd Lieut., then that of 1st Lieut.
I had been dazzled, while a boy, with the tales of military and naval exploits, with the flashing of sabers, the waving of plumes, and with the beauty of uniforms. It had been my delight to watch the evolutions of cavalry, artillery, and militia regiments on days of drill and of general review. I had seen the proud war-ships of Britain driving the fishing-boats the sloops, schooners, brigs, barks, ships, all the floating commerce of Long Island Sound, into our rivers, lagoons, bays, creeks, and harbors. I had seen the flashes and heard the thunder of their guns; had been wakened at midnight by the alarm-bells of the town, and the quick fire of the garrison. I had heard of Canada, of Buffalo, of the Northern and Southern Lakes, of the Potomac, of Washington, of New Orleans, and of the peace with its joyful celebrations, and its thunder-notes of gladness rolling over the land.
Afterward, when all this died out, and a more rational, a calmer and purer peace spread over land and sea, there came a change in my military feelings and aspirations.
While absent from my native town, a memorable season of religious interest was awakened among all classes in Killingworth.
The Rev. Asahel Nettleton, whose fame as an evangelical preacher has spread over the land, was invited to return to the place of his birth, to preach the Gospel to his kindred and townsmen. He came, and the “Power of the Highest” came with him. Our pastor, Mr. King, was heart and soul with him. Sinai thundered the law, and Calvary cried pardon to the penitent. “The axe was laid at the root of the trees” and the winnowing fan was seen in the hand of the Eternal. Conversions multiplied. Profanity was hushed. Revelry ceased. “Young men” became “sober-minded.” The fiddle and the midnight dance were superseded by the “Village Hymns,” the “Songs of Zion,” the quiet sanctuary, and the tender, the loving and the happy prayer-meeting. All things be came new. I heard the fame of them, but was absent. In childhood, tender and anxious religious thought had often filled my eyes with tears, and my heart with throbs. I had prayed under the shadows of rocks and lone trees, but no man knew my spiritual wants or met them. I regretted my absence from Killingworth while my kind pastor and own beloved cousin were thus leading thirsty souls to the Fountain of Life. I returned just in time to see 110 of my companions and neighbors stand up in the sanctuary and confess the Lord Jehovah to be their Lord and Saviour, and pledge themselves to love, follow, and obey Him.
I was thoughtful and sober, but passed on much as usual in the ordinary affairs of life.
In the spring of 1826, with a friend and my sister, I left my native home in a private carriage, and went via Middletown, Hartford, Stockbridge, Albany, and Schenectady to Rochester, taking the Erie Canal at Schenectady and leaving our friend to go on in the carriage.
I had then four brothers in Western New York; the oldest, the Rev. George Coan, had received that summer a call from the Presbyterian church at Riga, in Monroe County, to become its pastor. This call he accepted, and at the same time I was engaged to teach the large school near the church. Here I often met excellent pastors of the surrounding churches, whose preaching, religious conversation, and personal friendship awakened afresh the pious longings of my soul. Most of these pastors are now in heaven, and I know of but one who is still living, and now more than fourscore years old. His letters of love still come to me fresh as the dews of Mount Zion.
During this summer of 1826 I often rode by a school-house in a western district of Riga, and through the windows I saw a face that beamed on me like that of an angel. The image was deeply impressed, and is still ineffaceable.
On inquiry, the young lady proved to be Miss Fidelia Church, of Churchville. I often saw her sunlit face in the choir on the Sabbath, for she was a sweet singer, but I did not make her acquaintance for many months.
During the summer of 1827, after the close of my winter-school, I opened a select-school in Riga, and Fidelia applied for admittance. In this I rejoiced greatly, for it gave me a good opportunity to mark the character of her mind, which proved bright and receptive, and to become acquainted with her moral and social characteristics.
I was called again to teach the central school during the winter of 1827-8, and though I had not yet united with the visible Church, I was elected and urged to become superintendent of the Sabbath-school, which I reluctantly accepted under the firm resolve to spend the remainder of my days, not in doubting and inactivity, but in doing what I could to bless my fellow mortals, and to honor God. And in this resolution, which formed an era in my life, I was greatly helped, comforted, and established, so that duty done for Christ was a sweet and joyous pleasure.
On the 2nd day of March, 1828, I was received to the fellowship of the Presbyterian church in Riga, then under the pastoral care of my brother. Although I had now publicly devoted myself to the service of the Master, my profession was not yet chosen.
Soon after this union with the church, I visited Medina, a young and promising village west of Albion, in Orleans County, where one of my brothers was established in mercantile business. As this brother had long urged me to connect myself with him in his business, I went to look into it and to consider his offer. I spent the summer and winter with him.
Here work for the Master opened before me. The town was new, the inhabitants were from different parts, and of various professions and religious opinions. But notwithstanding this, there was much harmony in the village, so that, if a Methodist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, or a Congregational minister came along and was invited to preach, a large portion of the people united harmoniously in listening to the Gospel; and when there was no clergyman, the layman professors kept up Sabbath services in reading sermons, and with exhortation and prayer. I was appointed Sunday-school superintendent, and this with visiting the sick, attending funerals, and assisting the brethren in religious services, opened just such a field of labor as I needed.
As winter approached I was again pressed into school-teaching, spending outside hours with my brother in the store.
Still I had not chosen my life-work. Four paths lay before me. My brother wished me to become his partner in the mercantile business. A good physician in Rochester, and several in other places, advised me to become a physician, offering to teach me free of charge. Some said I was made for a school teacher, and many clergymen and Christian laymen urged me to go into the Gospel ministry.
What should I do? What could I do? The subject pressed heavily upon my mind and heart. I said that teaching is pleasant in youth, but for life it would not satisfy me. As for the medical profession, I was not adapted to it, and I dared not make the trial. But how of the sacred ministry? I felt utterly unfit and unworthy—my natural talent, education, piety, were all unequal to the exalted calling. As Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah shrank from the offices of legislator and prophet, so I from being an ambassador of Christ, yet I was willing to work hard as a layman, and even longed to go as a servant among the heathen to help the honored missionaries. Thus my spirit labored under a burden which none but God knew, and to find relief, I decided to be an active and devoted layman; to return to Connecticut, finish up my business there, and then settle down to a mercantile life in Medina.
In April, 1829, I left Medina for the East, and in Bergen met, by agreement, an old and faithful friend, the Rev. H. Halsey, who had been chosen by his Presbytery a representative to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which was to meet in Philadelphia the coming May. With him I agreed to visit Philadelphia, attend the sessions of the General Assembly, and then go on to Connecticut. We took the canal-boat at Rochester, and on the next day I had a shake of ague, followed by a fever. We had no doctor and no medicines, and I kept quiet, thinking to brave it out.
On the next Saturday we reached Syracuse, my ague shakes becoming more positive. We left the boat and went to Onondaga Hollow, spending the Sabbath and Monday with the Principal of an Academy, who was brother-in-law to Mr. Halsey. Here the ague was heavy and I had little comfort.
On Tuesday we went on to Albany, and thence by steamer to New York; my chills and fever growing all the while more and more intense. Here I gave up going to Philadelphia, parting reluctantly with my companion. Taking passage up the Sound, I went to Madison, where I had friends. I was then so prostrated I could go no farther, and was laid at once on a bed of weakness, from which I did not rise for four months. A good physician and kind friends ministered to me daily, but the disease held me fast until I was wasted to a skeleton, so that I could not sit in an easy-chair without fainting while my bed was being made. This was a time for reflection.
When the cold winds of autumn came, the disease relaxed, and I was taken carefully in an easy carriage to my father’s house, only seven miles distant. Here I was ill until the last of October. I then rose through the mercy of God, and was offered the school where my cousin Nettleton and where all my brothers and sisters had been taught their A B C.
During all that winter there was a cheering revival in the town and in my school, and many of my pupils were hopefully born again. This was the best year of my life up to that time. It was the turning point, the day of decision. It was the voice of God to me. I could no longer doubt. I had purposed and the Lord had disappointed. I had chosen, but He had other work for me. I said, Lead me, Saviour. Tell me where to go and what to do, and I will go and do.
On my return to Western New York I had a free consultation with many ministerial friends, and all advised me to pursue a short course of preparatory study, and enter Auburn Theological Seminary.
I had formed a pleasant acquaintance with the Rev. Lewis Cheeseman, while he was pastor of a church in Albion. He then seemed like a young Apollos, fervid, eloquent, and impressive. He had now settled in Byron and was preaching with great power and success. He invited me to study and labor with him, as an interesting work of grace was in progress, not only in Byron, but in Rochester and many other towns of that region.
Accordingly I spent the summer of 1830 in his family, studying and laboring in the revival; sometimes meeting the Rev. Charles Finney.
In the autumn an earnest invitation came to me from the Rev. David Page and the church in Knoxville, to come and labor there. I accepted the invitation, and spent the winter and spring in that place, continuing my classical studies, and assisting the pastor, and conducting evening meetings in surrounding villages. The religious interest was widespread, the meetings were full and solemn, consciences were tender, and many were turned to the Lord.
On the first day of June, 1831, I entered the middle class of Auburn Theological Seminary.
The faculty then consisted of the Rev. Doctors Richards, Perrine, and Mills, all noble men and fine scholars.
Here the months and seasons flowed pleasantly along, and I was very happy in my studies, in the society of the students and in the instructions of the professors. Every Sabbath morning I went with other students to teach the convicts in the Auburn State Prison, numbering seven or eight hundred, and for a year or more I had the office of Superintendent of the prison Sunday-school. This work was very interesting, as I had personal access to every class and to every individual. Many confessed to deeds and purposes of great depravity, and some professed a radical change of heart. About 200 professed conversion. A few of these I afterward met in Rochester and Albany, of gentlemanly bearing, and in citizen’s dress. I did not recognize the men whom I had known in the convict’s garb, until they gave me their names. I was rejoiced to find them members of Sunday-schools and churches, in good business, and happily settled in life.
On the 17th of April, 1833, I was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Cayuga County, at a meeting in Auburn.
I was then invited to preach during the summer vacation in one of the churches in Rochester, while the pastor was absent as a delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.
At the close of the vacation, as I was about to return to Auburn, the elders of the church in which I had labored put the following paper into my hands:
ROCHESTER, July 8, 1833.
Rev. TITUS COAN:
Dear Sir:—In behalf of the First Free Presbyterian Church and Congregation of Rochester, we present you this testimonial of our entire satisfaction of your ministerial labors among us during the absence of our beloved pastor, Rev. Luke Lyons, who was called from us to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.
You may rest assured that we shall remember you in our prayers, and may the Lord abundantly reward you for your labors of love among us, guide you by His counsel, and make you eminently useful in promoting the Redeemer’s Kingdom in whatever situation you may be placed.
We are, dear sir, your friends and brethren in Christ our Lord.
(Signed), A. W. RILEY,
MANLY G. WOODBURY.
It was but a few days after my entrance upon my last term at the Seminary, when a letter from the Rev. Rufus Anderson, Secretary of the A. B. C. F. M., called me to Boston to be ordained, and to sail on a mission of exploration to Patagonia, on which expedition I embarked on the 16th of August, 1833. An account of this trip may be found in my “Adventures in Patagonia.”
Marriage - Embarkation for Hawaii - Santiago, Callao, and Lima in 1835 - Arrival in Honolulu - Passage to Hilo - Our New Home - First Labors
ON returning from Patagonia I landed in New London, Conn., May 7, 1834. During all the long months of my absence in the South, not a word had come to me from friends, nor had any tidings from me reached the land of my birth. There had been many fond recollections and tender heart-longings, and quires of paper had been filled, but no breath of heaven, no bird of the air had wafted these yearnings, these burning thoughts from North to South, and from South to North. Over the Atlantic or the vast continent no answer had come to anxious inquiries, no echo to calls of love.
But the perils of the sea and of the howling wilderness of savages were now past, and I was in the land of liberty, of light, and of Christian love.
I went to Boston and reported; to Killingworth, to surprise with joy my aged and mourning father; and to Middlebury in Vermont to find the one whom I had chosen, and who had waited patiently and with out change of object or of purpose, for seven long years to welcome this glad day.
She was then teaching with the dear mother Cooke, in the Middlebury Female Seminary.
She went with me to her father’s house in Churchville, where on the 3rd of Nov. 1834, we were married in the church on Monthly Concert evening. On Nov. 4th we left for Boston, visiting friends in New York and Connecticut by the way.
On the 23rd of November we received our instructions as missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, in Park Street church, together with Miss Lydia Brown, Miss Elizabeth Hitchcock, Mr. Henry Dimond and wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Edwin O. Hall.
On the same occasion a company of twelve missionaries, destined to South-eastern Africa, received their instructions. The house was packed and the occasion was one of great interest.
On the 5th of December 1834, we embarked on board the merchant ship Hellespont, Capt. John Henry, and bade farewell to Boston, to hundreds of dear and precious friends, to our dear country, not expecting ever to see them again. On the 6th we awoke and looked in vain for land. City, hills, mountains, had sunk in the ocean, and nothing outside of the dancing Hellespont was seen but the ethereal vault and the boundless blue sea.
We plunged into the Gulf Stream and were handled roughly by current and wind and foaming wave. The wild winds howled, the clouds thickened and darkened, and the tempest raged.
Our good ship labored, plunged, rose, trembled, plunged and rose again amidst the foaming billows, shaking off the feathery spray like a sea-lion, and rushing along her watery way with grandeur. In the night her shining pathway was all aglow with countless, sparkling brilliants. Our voyage soon became pleasant. The weather was favorable, the captain attentive and kind, the officers faithful, and the crew obedient and respectful. Our seasickness vanished, our skies brightened, and we were a happy family, daily becoming better acquainted with each other. Miss Brown was a maiden lady from New Hampshire, of true devotion to the work of the Lord. She was appointed to the Islands to teach the women of Hawaii domestic duties, such as carding, spinning, weaving, etc., in connection with a civilizing Christianity. Miss Hitchcock was also a maiden lady, well educated and pious. One of her brothers was already an active missionary on the Islands, and she was going out to assist in teaching. She afterward married Mr. Edmund H. Rogers, a missionary printer.
Mr. Dimond came as a book-binder. His good wife was Miss Ann Anner, of New York City. Both of them are now living. Mr. E. O. Hall was a printer from Rochester, N. Y. He also found his wife in New York City, a Miss Williams, a devoted lady. Mrs. Hall died a few years ago.
This united circle held morning and evening devotions, and our days were spent in reading, writing, and social intercourse. On Sabbaths when the weather was favorable we had preaching, at which service the captain, officers, and crew were present.
But I need not detain the reader with a third voyage in the Atlantic. Enough to say that we passed pleasantly along to the South, sinking the Northern constellations one by one, and raising the Southern, seeing no Equatorial line, no Neptune, and no land until the hills of Terra del Fuego lifted their snowy heads upon us above the clouds. I had longed to see the wild coast of Patagonia and the Falkland Islands, where only a year before I had roamed with the savage tribes, or found more comforts among the whalers and sealers of those southern islets. But we passed between the Continent and the Islands, descrying neither.
My heart mourned for this land of Patagonia, a land on which the shadows of death had always rested, and where no day had yet dawned.
We passed through the Strait of Le Maire, and with all sails set, in a balmy and bright summer day sailed very near the dreaded Cape Horn.
Only a day after we had set our studdingsails and spread all our canvas, a stormy wind took us far toward the Southern Cross and the ice mountains of the Antarctic. But in a few days, more favoring gales hurried us Northward again, and on the 8th of March the joyful sound of “land ho!” thrilled all on board, and the lofty Cordillera chain stood out in grandeur before us. It was Chili, and the city of Valparaiso was in sight. We came into the roadstead, dropped anchor, furled sails, congratulated one another, and blessed the Lord for a safe passage thus far.
As the Hellespont was to remain in port about twenty days, Mr. Dimond and I engaged a carriage and driver, and made a trip to Santiago, the capital of Chili, about 100 miles inland and near the foot-hills of the Andes. Our ride was very exhilarating. This city is one of the most beautiful in South America, well watered from the mountain snows, and well shaded with trees. On our way we passed over high hills and broad plains. The roads over these hills were wide and cut in zigzag lines, with ample terraces or resting-places at the angles. On ascending one of these lofty hills at early dawn, we descried the heads of two men, recently severed, each nailed to a high post at different places, and grinning ghastly upon us. Our driver told us that these men were highway robbers and murderers; that they had, on going up this hill, perpetrated the vilest of crimes, killed a husband and his wife, with two children, stolen their baggage clothes, and horse, and thrown the dead bodies into a deep ravine below; and for these horrid crimes their heads had been made beacons of warning to all who passed along this road.
We left Valparaiso on the 27th of March, and anchored in the harbor of Callao, Peru, on the 6th of April 1835. Here we spent twenty-one days, giving us opportunity of going on shore as often as we desired, of visiting Lima, of attending the gorgeous ceremonies of Passion Week, of looking into the grand Cathedral and their splendid churches, and of noticing the monuments of art, and the scars of revolution in that renowned, but often suffering, desecrated, and vandalized city.
With the courteous Bishop of Lima, we went through the Cathedral, he bowing and crossing him self as he passed by the various pictures and statues, telling us of the guardian care of the different saints over the city.
We left Callao on the 27th of April, saw the mountains of Hawaii on the 5th of June, and on the 6th landed in Honolulu. The Hawaiian mission was then in session, and on the arrival of the Hellespont, the mission appointed a committee of three to meet us on board, while the meeting was adjourned, and a large part of the members with wives and children came down to the wharf to welcome us, and to escort us to the house of the Rev. Hiram Bingham. The welcome was warm and warmly reciprocated, and the meeting was joyful. It seemed to us apostolical. We regarded these veteran toilers with a feeling of veneration. Some looked vigorous and strong others seemed pallid and wayworn. Here were the fathers and mothers in Israel, and here the brothers and sisters, with flocks of precious children. We rejoiced that we were permitted to be numbered with this honored and happy family. We all united in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, and then knelt in prayer.
The new reinforcement united in the daily meetings of the mission until the closing of its sessions, when we went forth to our appointed stations, my wife and I to Hilo, Hawaii, with Mr. and Mrs. Lyman.
We embarked at Honolulu, in the schooner Velocity, falsely so-called, on the 6th of July. The schooner was small, a slow sailor, dirty, crowded with more than one hundred passengers, mostly natives, and badly managed. The captain was an Irishman given to hard drinking.
We sailed from Honolulu on Monday. The sea was rough and nearly all of the passengers were very seasick. Our first port was Lahaina, eighty miles from Honolulu, where we were to land Mr. and Mrs. Richards, Dr. and Mrs. Chapin, Mr. and Mrs. Spaulding, and other families. On Wednesday morning the captain announced that the land just ahead was Maui, and that we should all land in about an hour at Lahaina, where we might rest a day, bathe, eat grapes and watermelons, and be refreshed for the rest of the voyage, about 150 miles further.
But the poor captain’s eyes were dazed, and he had lost his reckoning. We had gone about in the night and we were back at Honolulu! This fact came upon us with a shock of agony. After such seasickness as some of us had never before endured, the dreadful thought came over us, “Shall we ever reach our homes on this vessel and with this master?” Many of us had tasted neither food nor wafer from Monday to Wednesday, and all had lain crowded on a dirty deck, exposed to wind, rain, and wave, and how could we live to reach our destination? But there was no alternative. We said go, and the dull Velocity went about and headed again for Lahaina, where we landed passengers, and on the 21st we saw the emerald beauty of Hilo, and disembarked with joy and thanksgiving. Hundreds of laughing natives thronged the beach, seized our hands, gave us the hearty “Aloha” and followed us up to the house of our good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Lyman, who were with us to comfort and inform us all the way.
The bay of Hilo is a beautiful, spacious, and safe harbor. The outline of its beach is a crescent like the moon in her first quarter. The beach is composed of fine, volcanic sand, mixed with a little coral and earth. On its eastern and western sides, and in its center, it is divided by three streams of pure water; it has a deep channel about half a mile wide near the western shore, sufficiently deep to admit the largest ship that floats. Seaward it is protected by lava reef one mile from the shore. This reef was formed by a lateral stream of lava, sent out at right angles from a broad river of molten rocks that formed our eastern coast. This reef is a grand barrier against the swell of the ocean. Lord Byron, who visited Hilo, when he brought home the corpses of King Liholiho and his queen, gave the name of “Byron Bay” to this harbor, but that name is nearly obsolete.
The beach was once beautifully adorned with the cocoa palm, whose lofty plumes waved and rustle and glittered in the fresh sea-breeze. Beyond our quiet bay the broad, blue ocean foams or sleeps, with a surface sometimes shining like molten silver, tumbling in white foam, or gently throbbing as with the pulsations of life.
Inland, from the shore to the bases of the mountains, the whole landscape is “arrayed in living green,” presenting a picture of inimitable beauty, so varied in tint, so grooved with water channels, and so sparkling with limpid streams and white foaming cascades, as to charm the eye, and cause the beholder to exclaim, “This is a scene of surpassing loveliness.”
Behind all this in the background, tower the lofty, Snow-mantled Mountains, Kea and Loa, out of one, which rush volcanic fires. At the first sight we were charmed with the beauty and the grandeur of the scene, and we exclaimed, “Surely the lines are fallen to us in pleasant places, and we have a goodly heritage.”
We were satisfied, yes more, we were delighted, with our location, and to this day we bless the Lord that He inclined the minds of the mission to assign us to this field of labor. In this, as in all the past, we see the guiding hand of Him who has promised to “direct the steps” of all who “commit their way to Him.”
Hilo had then but one framed house. It was a low, two-story building in the style of a New England farm-house, built and occupied by the Rev. Joseph Goodrich, a good and faithful missionary of the A. B. C. F. M.
Mr. Lyman’s home, into which we were received, was a small, stone house, with walls laid up with mud, and a thatched roof. Each family had but one room about fifteen feet square.
Mr. Goodrich, with his family, left Hilo in November for the United States, not to return, and we were advised to occupy his house, which with later additions and improvements has been our habitation ever since.
Mr. Lyman soon built a comfortable house near us, and the old stone-and-mud hut was devoted to a schoolroom.
By the advice of the Lymans, who had been two years in Hilo, and whose experience and wise counsel were of great use to us, we at once began teaching a school of about a hundred almost naked boys and girls, being ourselves pupils of a good man named Barnabas, who patiently drilled us daily in the language of his people. By reading, trying to talk, teach and write, we crept along, without grammar or dictionary, the mist lifting slowly before us, until at the end of three months from our arrival, I went into the pulpit with Mr. Lyman, and preached my first sermon in the native language. Soon after, I made a tour with him into Puna, one wing of our field, and then through the district of Hilo, in an opposite direction. These tours introduced me to the people for whom I was to labor, and with whom I had a burning desire to communicate freely, and helped me greatly in acquiring the language.
The General Meeting at Honolulu in June had advised Mr. Lyman and myself to establish a boarding-school for boys, leaving to us the question as to which of us should be the principal of the school, and which the traveling missionary.
He chose the school as his chief work, and I the pastoral and preaching department. Our labors, however, were not separated for a long time, he preaching always when I was absent on tours, and often when I was at home; we always worked in harmony. After a year or two, the school being enlarged and important, Mr. Lyman requested the mission to accept his resignation of the joint pastoral of the church and to appoint me as the sole pastor. This was done harmoniously, and we have labored side by side until the present day, mutually assisting, and rejoicing in the success of all departments of the service.
Under the efficient care of Mr. and Mrs. Lyman the school has been a great success. Its department of manual labor is an important feature in the institution. It has given a very valuable physical training to the boys, imparting to them skill and health, and making the school nearly self-supporting. The young men are well dressed, neat and manly in their appearance, and give evidence of an elevation above the common masses around them. In all, the Seminary has graduated about one thousand pupils. Many of them are among the most useful members of society, and some of them have become legislators, judges, teachers, Christian ministers, foreign missionaries, etc.
Mr. Lyman, feeling obliged through declining health to resign his office as Principal, the Rev. W. B. Oleson was appointed in September 1878, as his successor.
The Field - The People - Hilo District - Crossing the Torrents - Perils of a Canoe Voyage - Puna District
THE field in which I was called to labor is a belt of land extending by the coast-line 100 miles on the north-east, east, and south-east shore of Hawaii, including the districts of Hilo and Puna, and a part of Kau.
The inhabited belt is one to three miles wide, and in a few places there were hamlets and scattering villages five to ten miles inland. Beyond this narrow shore belt there is a zone of forest trees with a tropical jungle from ten to twenty-five miles wide, almost impenetrable by man or beast. Still higher is another zone of open country girdling the bases of the mountains, with a rough surface of hill, dale, ravine, scoriaceous lava fields, rocky ridges, and plains and hills of pastureland. Here wild goats, wild cattle, wild hogs and wild geese feed. Still higher up tower Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, nearly 14,000 feet above the sea, the former being a pile of extinct craters, often crowned with snow, and the latter a mountain of fire, where for unknown ages earthquakes that rock the group and convulse the ocean have been born, and where volcanoes burst out with awful roar, and rush in fiery rivers down the mountain sides, across the open plains, through the blazing forest jungle and into the sea. All but the narrow shore belt is left to untamed bird and beast, and to the wild winds and raging fires of the mountains, except when bird-catchers, canoe makers, cattle-hunters, or volcano visitors are drawn thither by their several interests from the shore.
The population of this shore belt was probably at that time about 15,000 to 16,000, almost exclusively natives. Very few foreigners had then come here to live. Several missionaries had resided in Hilo for short periods, but none had settled here permanently except Mr. and Mrs. Lyman. Occasional tours had been made through Hilo and Puna, and the Gospel had been preached in most of the villages. Schools had also been established through the districts and a goodly number could read and write. Some pupils were in the elements of arithmetic, and many committed lessons in the Scriptures to memory.
Forms of idolatry were kept out of sight, but superstition and ignorance, hypocrisy and most of the lower vices prevailed. The people were all slaves to their chiefs, and no man but a chief owned a foot of land, a tree, a pig, a fowl, his wife, children, or himself. All belonged to his chief and could be taken at will, if anger or covetousness or lust called for them. I have seen families by the score turned out of their dwellings, all their effects seized, and they sent off wailing, to seek shelter and food where they could. “On the side of the oppressor there was power, but the poor man had no comforter.”
Hilo, the northern wing of this field, is a district including about thirty miles of its shoreline. It is covered with a deep rich soil, clothed with perennial green of every shade, watered with the rain of heaven and grooved by about eighty water channels that run on an angle of some three degrees, leaping over hundreds of precipices of varied heights, from three or four feet to 500, and plunging into the sea over a cliff rising in height, from the sand beach of the town, to 700 or 800 feet along the northern coast-line.
For many years after our arrival there were no roads, no bridges, and no horses in Hilo, and all my tours were made on foot. These were three or four annually through Hilo, and as many in Puna; the time occupied in making them was usually ten to twenty days for each trip.
In passing through the district of Hilo, the weather was sometimes fine and the rivers low, so that there was little difficulty in traveling. The path was a simple trail, winding in a serpentine line, going down and up precipices, some of which could only be descended and ascended by grasping the shrubs and grasses; and with no little weariness and difficulty and some danger.
But the streams were the most formidable obstacles. In great rains, which often occurred on my tours, when the winds rolled in the heavy clouds from the sea, and massed them in dark banks on the side of the mountain, the waters would fall in torrents at the head of the streams and along their channels, and the rush and the roar as the floods came down were like the thunder of an army charging upon the foe.
I have sometimes sat on the high bank of a streamlet, not more than fifteen to twenty feet wide, conversing with natives in the bright sunshine, when suddenly a portentous roaring, “Like the sound of many waters, or like the noise of the sea when the waves thereof roar,” fell upon my ears, and looking up-stream, I have seen a column of turbid waters six feet deep coming down like the flood from a broken mill-dam. The natives would say to me, “Awiwi! awiwi! o pea oe i ka wai” — “Quick! quick! or the waters will stop you.”
Rushing down the bank I would cross over, dry shod, where in two minutes more there was no longer any passage for man or beast. But I rarely waited for the rivers to run by. My appointments for preaching were all sent forward in a line for thirty or sixty miles, designating the day, and usually the hours, when I would be at a given station, and by breaking one of these links the whole chain would be disturbed. It therefore seemed important that every appointment should be kept, whatever the inconvenience might be to me. In traveling, my change of raiment was all packed in one calabash, or large gourd, covered by the half of another; a little food was in a second calabash. With these gourds one may travel indefinitely in the heaviest rains while all is dry within. Faithful natives carried my little supplies.
I had several ways of crossing the streams.
1st. When the waters were low, large rocks and boulders, common in all the water-channels, were left bare, so that with a stick or pole eight or ten feet long, I leaped from rock to rock over the giddy streams and crossed dry-shod: these same poles helping me to climb up, and to let myself down steep precipices, and to leap ditches six to eight feet wide. 2nd. When the streams were not too deep and too swift I waded them; and 3rd, when not too deep, but too swift, I mounted upon the shoulders of a sturdy aquatic native, holding on to his bushy hair, when he mowed carefully down the slippery bank of the river, leaning up-stream against a current of ten knots, and moving one foot at a time, sideways among the slimy boulders in the bottom, and then bringing the other foot carefully up. Thus slowly feeling his way across, he would land me safe with a shout and a laugh on the opposite bank. But this is a fearful way of crossing, for the cataracts are so numerous, the waters so rapid, and the uneven bottom so slippery, that the danger of falling is imminent, and the recovery from a fall often impossible, the current hurrying one swiftly over a precipice into certain destruction. Both natives and foreigners have thus lost their lives in these streams, and among them three of the members of the Hilo church who have traveled and labored and prayed with me.
I once crossed a full and powerful river in this way, not more than fifty feet above a cataract of 426 feet in height, with a basin forty feet deep below, where this little Niagara has thundered for ages. A missionary brother of another station seeing me landed safely, and knowing that this crossing would save about six miles of hard and muddy walking, followed me on the shoulders of the same bold native that took me over. But before he had reached the middle of the rushing flood, he trembled and cried out with fear. The bearer said, “Hush! hush! be still, or we perish together.” The brother still trembling, the native with great difficulty managed to reach a rock in the center of the river, and on this he seated his burden, commanding him to be quiet and sit there until he was cool (he was already drenched with rain and river-spray), when he would take him off, which he did in about ten minutes and landed him safely by my side.
This mode of crossing the streams, however, was too dangerous, and I soon abandoned it.A fourth mode was for a sufficient number of strong men to form a chain across the river. They made a line, locking hands on the bank; with heads bending up-stream entering the water carefully, and moving slowly until the head of the line reached good foothold near the opposite bank. With my hands upon the shoulders of the men I passed along this chain of bones, sinews, and muscles and arrived in safety on the other side.
The fifth and safest, and in fact the only possible way to cross some of these rivers when swollen and raging, was to throw a rope across the stream, and fasten it to trees or rocks on either side; grasping it firmly with both hands, my feet thrown down-stream, I drew myself along the line and gained the opposite bank. This I sometimes did without removing shoes or garments, then walked on to my next station, and preached in wet clothes, continuing my travels and labors until night; when in dry wrappings I slept well, and was all ready for work the next day.
I was once three hours in crossing one river. The day was cold and rainy, and I was soaked before I entered the stream. This was so wide at the only possible crossing point, that we were unable to throw a line across, even with a weight attached to the end of it. The raging roaring, and tossing of the waters were fearful, and the sight of it made me shudder. Kind natives collected on both banks by scores, with ropes and courage to help. The fearful rapids, running probably twenty miles an hour, were before us. Fifty feet below us was a fall of some twenty feet, and about 100 yards further down was a thundering cataract, where the river was compressed within a narrow gorge with a clear plunge of about eighty feet.
Our natives tried all their skill and strength, but could not throw the line across. At length a daring man went up-stream close to a waterfall, took the end of the rope in his teeth, mounted a rock, calculated his chances of escape from the cataracts below, and leaped into the flood; down, down he went quivering and struggling till he reached the opposite shore only a few feet above the fall, over which it must have been a fatal plunge had he gone. But by his temerity, which I should have forbidden, had I known it in season, a passage was provided for me.
After years had passed, and a little had been done toward making roads, I purchased a horse, and tried to get him over these streams by swimming or hauling him over with ropes. Twice when I attempted to go over in the saddle, his foot caught between two rocks in the middle of the stream, and horse and rider were saved only by the energy and fidelity of the natives.
Once in going up a steep precipice in a narrow pass between a rocky height on one hand and a stream close on the other, my horse fell over backward and lay with his head down and his feet in the air, so wedged and so wounded that he could never have escaped from his position, had not a company of natives for whom I sent came to the rescue and extricated the poor, faithful animal from his rocky bed. I escaped instant death by sliding out of the saddle upon the narrow bank of the stream, before the back of my horse struck between the rocks. He was so hurt that I was obliged to leave him to recover.
In order to save time and escape the weariness of the road and the dangers of the rivers, I sometimes took a canoe at the end of my tours to return home by the water. This trip required six to eight hours, and was usually made in the night.
On three occasions my peril was great. One description will suffice for all; for although the difficulties and escapes were at different points along a precipitous and lofty sea-wall, yet the causes of danger were the same, viz.: stormy winds, raging billows, and want of landing-places.
About midway between our starting-place and Hilo harbor, we were met by a strong head-wind, with pouring rain and tumultuous waves in a dark midnight. We were half a mile from land, but could hear the roar and see the flashing of the white surf as it dashed against the rocky walls. We could not land, we could not sail, and we could not row forward or backward. All we could do was to keep the prow of the canoe to the wind, and bail. Foaming seas dashed against our frail cockleshell, pouring in buckets of brine. Thus we lay about five hours, anxious as they “who watch for the morning.” At length it dawned; we looked through the misty twilight to the rock-bound shore where “the waves dashed high.” A few doors of native huts opened and men crawled out. We called, but no echo came. We made signals of distress. We were seen and numbers came down to the cliffs and gazed at us. We waved our garments for them to come off to our help. They feared, they hesitated. We were opposite the mouth of a roaring river, where the foam of breakers dashed in wild fury. At last four naked men came down from the cliff, plunged into the sea, dived under one towering wave after another, coming out to breathe between the great rolling billows, and thus reached our canoe. Ordering the crew to swim to the land, they took charge of the canoe themselves because they knew the shore. Meanwhile men stood on the high bluffs with kapa cloth in hand to signal to the boat-men when to strike for the mouth of the river. They waited long and watched the tossing waves as they rolled in and thundered upon the shore, and when at last a less furious wave came behind us, the shore men waved the signals and tried out, “Hoi! hoi!” and as the waves lifted the stern of our canoe, all the paddles struck the water, while the steerer kept the canoe straight on her course, and thus mounted on this crested wave as on an ocean chariot, with the feathery foam flying around us, we rode triumphantly into the mouth of the river, where we were received with shouts of gladness by the throng who had gathered to witness our escape. Then two rows of strong men waded into the surf up to their arm-pits to receive our canoe and bear it in triumph to the shore.
Praising the Lord for His goodness, and thanking the kind natives for their agency in delivering me, I walked the rest of the way home.
The district of Puna lies east and south of Hilo, and its physical features are remarkably different from those of the neighboring district.
Its shoreline, including its bends and flexures, is more than seventy miles in extent. For three miles inland from the sea it is almost a dead level, with a surface of pahoehoe or field lava, and a-a or scoriaceous lava, interspersed with more or less rich volcanic soil and tropical verdure, and sprinkled with sand-dunes and a few cone and pit-craters. Throughout its length it is marked with ancient lava streams, coming down from Kilauea and entering the sea at different points along the coast. These lava streams vary in width from half a mile to two or three miles. From one to three miles from the shore the land rises rapidly into the great volcanic dome of Mauna Loa (Long Mountain). The highlands are mostly covered with woods and jungle, and scarred with rents, pits, and volcanic cones. Everywhere the marks of terrible volcanic action are visible. The whole district is so cavernous, so rent with fissures, and so broken by fiery agencies, that not a single stream of water keeps above-ground to reach the sea. All the rain-fall is swallowed by the 10,000 crevices, and disappears, except the little that is held in small pools and basins, waiting for evaporation. The rains are abundant, and subterranean fountains and streams are numerous, carrying the waters down to the sea level, and filling caverns, and bursting up along the shore in springs and rills, even far out under the sea. Some of these waters are very cold, some tepid, and some stand at blood heat, furnishing excellent warm baths. There are large caves near the sea where we enter by dark and crooked passages, and bathe by torchlight, far underground, in deep and limpid water.
Puna has many beautiful groves of the cocoa-palm, also breadfruit, pandanus, and ohia, and where there is soil it produces under cultivation, besides common vegetables, arrowroot, sugar-cane, coffee, cotton, oranges, citrons, limes, grapes, and other fruits. On the highlands, grow wild strawberries, cape gooseberries, and the ohelo, a delicious berry resembling our whortleberry.
On the shore line of the eastern part of Kau, adjoining Puna, were several villages, containing from 500 to 700 inhabitants, separated from the inhabited central and western portions of the district by a desert of unwatered lava about 15 miles wide, without a single house or human being. These villages were occasionally visited by the Rev. Mr. Forbes, then stationed in South Kona; but to reach them required a long, weary walk over the fields of burning lava, and at his request, I took them under my charge, thus extending the shoreline of my parish ten miles westward.
First Tours in Hilo and Puna - The Work of 1837-38 - Spontaneous Church-building - The Great Awakening - The Volcanic Wave - Pastoral Experiences and Methods - The Ingathering.
I MADE my first tours of Hilo and Puna during the latter part of my first half-year on Hawaii. In 1836 I had gained so much in the language as to be able to converse, preach, and pray with comfort and with apparent effect on my audiences
On my arrival in Hilo, the number of church members was twenty-three, all living in the town. A considerable portion of our time was then devoted to the schools. Mr. and Mrs. Lyman were heartily engaged in the boys’ boarding-school. Mrs. Coan was already teaching a day-school of 140 children, and I a training-school of 90 teachers to supply the schools of Hilo and Puna.
Giving a vacation to my pupils, I set off Nov. 29, 1836, on a tour around the island. This was made on foot, with the exception of a little sailing in a canoe down the coast of Kona. My companions were two or three natives, to act as guides and porters. On reaching the western coast of Kau, I visited all the villages along the shore, preaching and exhorting everywhere. The people came out, men, women, and children, in crowds, and listened with great attention. Here I preached three, four, and five times a day, and had much personal conversation with the natives on things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
On reaching the western boundaries of Puna, my labors became more abundant. I had visited this people before, and had noticed a hopeful interest in a number of them. Now they rallied in masse, and were eager to hear the Word. Many listened with tears, and after the preaching, when I supposed they would return to their homes and give me rest, they remained and crowded around me so earnestly, that I had no time to eat, and in places where I spent my nights they filled the house to its entire capacity, leaving scores outside who could not enter. All wanted to hear more of the “Word of Life.” At ten or eleven o’clock I would advise them to go home and to sleep. Some would retire, but more remain until midnight. At cock-crowing the house would be again crowded, with as many more outside.
At one place before I reached the point where I was to spend a Sabbath, there was a line of four villages not more than half a mile apart. Every village begged for a sermon and for personal conversation. Commencing at daylight I preached in three of them before breakfast, at 10 A.M. When the meeting closed at one village most of the people ran on to the next, and thus my congregation increased rapidly from hour to hour. Many were “pricked in their hearts” and were inquiring what they should do to be saved.
Sunday came and I was now in the most populous part of Puna. Multitudes came out to hear the Gospel. The blind were led; the maimed, the aged and decrepit, and many invalids were brought on the backs of their friends. There was great joy and much weeping in the assembly. Two days were spent in this place, and ten sermons preached, while almost all the intervals between the public services were spent in personal conversation with the crowds, which pressed around me.
Many of the people who then wept and prayed proved true converts to Christ; most of them have died in the faith, and a few still live as steadfast witnesses to the power of the Gospel.
Among these converts was the High Priest of the volcano. He was more than six feet high and of lofty bearing. He had been an idolater, a drunkard, an adulterer, a robber, and a murderer. For their kapas, for a pig or a fowl he had killed men on the road, whenever they hesitated to yield to his demands. But he became penitent, and appeared honest and earnest in seeking the Lord.
His sister was more haughty and stubborn. She was High Priestess of the volcano. She, too, was tall and majestic in her bearing. For a long time she refused to bow to the claims of the Gospel; but at length she yielded, confessed herself a sinner and under the authority of a higher Power, and with her brother became a docile member of the church.
During this tour of thirty days I examined twenty schools with an aggregate of 1,200 pupils.
After my return, congregations at the center increased in numbers and in interest. Meetings for parents, for women, for church members, for children, were frequent and full. Soon scores and hundreds who had heard the Gospel in Kau, Puna, and Hilo, came into the town to hear more. During all the years of 1837-8, Hilo was crowded with strangers; whole families and whole villages in the country were left, with the exception of a few of the old people, and in some instances even the aged and the feeble were brought in on litters from a distance of thirty or fifty miles. Little cabins studded the place like the camps of an army, and we estimated that our population was increased to 10,000 souls. Those who remained some time, fished, and planted potatoes and taro for food. Our great native house of worship, nearly 200 feet long by about eighty-five feet wide, with a lofty roof of thatch, was crowded almost to suffocation, while hundreds remained outside unable to enter. This sea of faces, all hushed except when sighs and sobs burst out here and there, was a scene to melt the heart. The word fell with power, and sometimes as the feeling deepened, the vast audience was moved and swayed like a forest in a mighty wind. The word became like the “fire and the hammer” of the Almighty, and it pierced like a two-edged sword. Hopeful converts were multiplied and “there was great joy in the city.”
Finding the place of our worship “too strait” for the increasing multitudes, our people, of their own accord and without the knowledge of their teachers, went up into the forest three to five miles, with axes, and with ropes made of vines and bark of the hibiscus, cut down trees of suitable size and length for posts, rafters, etc., and hauled them down through mud and jungle, and over streams and hillocks to the town. Seeing a very large heap of this timber, I inquired what this meant. The reply was, “We will build a second house of worship so that the people may all be sheltered from sun and rain on the Sabbath. And this is our thought; all of the people of Hilo shall meet in the larger house, where you will preach to them in the morning, during which time the people of Puna and Kau will meet for prayer in the smaller house, and in the afternoon these congregations shall exchange places, and you will preach to the Puna and Kau people; thus all will hear the minister.”
Several thousands, both men and women, took hold of the work, and in about three weeks from the commencement of the hauling of the timber, the house was finished and a joyful crowd of about 2,000 filled it on the Sabbath.
Neither of the houses had floors or seats. The ground was beaten hard and covered from week to week with fresh grass.
When we wished to economize room, or seat the greatest possible number, skilled men were employed to arrange the people standing in compact rows as tight as it was possible to crowd them, the men and women being separated, and when the house was thus filled with these compacted ranks, the word was given them to sit down, which they did, a mass of living humanity, such perhaps as was never seen except on Hawaii.
During these years my tours through the extended parish were not given up. Nearly every person left in the villages came to the preaching stations. There were places along the routes where there were no houses near the trail, but where a few families were living half a mile or more inland. In such places, the few dwellers would come down to the path leading their blind, and carrying their sick and aged upon their backs, and lay them down under a tree if there was one near, or upon the naked rocks, that they might hear of a Savior. It was often affecting to see these withered and trembling hands reached out to grasp the hand of the teacher, and to hear the palsied, the blind, and the lame begging him to stop awhile and tell them the story of Jesus. These pleas could not be resisted, for the thought would instantly arise, “This may be the last time.” And so it often was, for on my next tour some of them had gone never to return. It was a comforting thought that they had been told of “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world,” and to feel a sweet assurance from their tears of joy and eager reception of the truth that they had found “Him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote.”
Time swept on; the work deepened and widened, Thousands on thousands thronged the courts of the Lord. All eastern and southern Hawaii was like a sea in motion. Waimea, Hamakua, Kohala, Kona, and the other islands of the group, were moved. Reporting and inquiring letters circulated from post to post, and from island to island. One asked another, “What do these things mean?” and the reply was, “What indeed?” Some said that the Hawaiians were a peculiar people, and very hypocritical, so debased in mind and heart that they could not receive any true conception of the true God, or of spiritual things; even their language was wanting in terms to convey ideas of sacred truth; we must not hope for evangelical conversions among them. But most of the laborers redoubled their efforts were earnest in prayer, and worked on in faith. Everywhere the trumpet of jubilee sounded long and loud, and “as clouds and as doves to their windows,” so ransomed sinners flocked to Christ.
I had seen great and powerful awakenings under the preaching of Nettleton and Finney, and like doctrines, prayers, and efforts seemed to produce like fruits among this people.
My precious wife, whose soul was melted with love and longings for the weeping natives, felt that to doubt it was the work of the Spirit, was to grieve the Holy Ghost and to provoke Him to depart from us.
On some occasions there were physical demonstrations, which commanded attention. Among the serious and anxious inquirers who came to our house by day and by night. there were individuals who, while listening to a very plain and kind conversation, would begin to tremble and soon fall helpless to the floor. At one time, when I was holding a series of outdoor meetings in a populous part of Puna, a remarkable manifestation of this kind occurred. A very large concourse were seated on the grass, and I was standing in the center preaching “Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus.” Of a sudden, a man who had been gazing with intense interest at the preacher, burst out in a fervent prayer, with streaming tears, saying: “Lord, have mercy on me; I am dead in sin.” His weeping was so loud, and his trembling so great, that the whole congregation was moved as by a common sympathy. Many wept aloud, and many commenced praying together. The scene was such as I had never before witnessed. I stood dumb in the midst of this weeping, wailing, praying multitude, not being able to make myself heard for about twenty minutes. When the noise was hushed, I continued my address with words of caution, lest they should feel that this kind of demonstration atoned for their sins, and rendered them acceptable before God. I assured them that all the Lord required was godly sorrow for the past, present faith in Christ, and henceforth faithful, filial, and cheerful obedience. A calm came over the multitude, and we felt that “the Lord was there.”
A young man came once into our meeting to make sport slyly. Trying to make the young men around him laugh during prayer, he fell as senseless as a log upon the ground and was carried out of the house. It was some time before his consciousness could be restored. He became sober, confessed his sins, and in due time united with the church.
Similar manifestations were seen in other places, but everywhere the people were warned against hypocrisy, and against trusting in such demonstrations. They were told that the Lord looks at the heart, and that “repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus” were the unchangeable conditions of pardon and salvation, and that their future lives of obedience or of disobedience would prove or disprove their spiritual life, as “The tree is known by its fruit.”
But God visited the people in judgment as well as in mercy. On the 7th of November, 1837, at the hour of evening prayers, we were startled by a heavy thud, and a sudden jar of the earth. The sound was like the fall of some vast body upon the beach, and in a few seconds a noise of mingled voices rising for a mile along the shore thrilled us like the wail of doom. Instantly this was followed by a like wail from all the native houses around us. I immediately ran down to the sea, where a scene of wild ruin was spread out before me. The sea, moved by an unseen hand, had all on a sudden risen in a gigantic wave, and this wave, rushing in with the speed of a race-horse, had fallen upon the shore, sweeping everything not more than fifteen or twenty feet above high-water mark into indiscriminate ruin. Houses, furniture, calabashes, fuel, timber, canoes, food, clothing, everything floated wild upon the flood. About two hundred people, from the old man and woman of threescore years and ten, to the new-born infant, stripped of their earthly all, were struggling in the tumultuous waves. So sudden and unexpected was the catastrophe, that the people along the shore were literally “eating and drinking,” and they “knew not, until the flood came and swept them all away.” The harbor was full of strugglers calling for help, while frantic parents and children, wives and husbands ran to and fro along the beach, calling for their lost ones. As wave after wave came in and retired, the strugglers were brought near the shore, where the more vigorous landed with desperate efforts and the weaker and exhausted were carried back upon the retreating wave, some to sink and rise no more till the noise of judgment wakes them. Twelve individuals were picked up while drifting out of the bay by the boats of the Admiral Cockburn, an English whaler then in port. For a time the captain of the ship feared the loss of his vessel, but as the oscillating waves grew weaker and weaker, he lowered all his boats and went in search of those who were floating off upon the current. Had this catastrophe occurred at midnight when all were asleep, hundreds of lives would undoubtedly have been lost. Through the great mercy of God, only thirteen were drowned.
This event, falling as it did like a bolt of thunder from a clear sky, greatly impressed the people. It was as the voice of God speaking to them out of heaven, “Be ye also ready.”
Day after day we buried the dead, as they were found washed up upon the beach, or thrown upon the rocky shores far from the harbor. We fed, comforted, and clothed the living, and God brought light out of darkness, joy out of grief, and life out of death. Our meetings were more and more crowded, and hopeful converts were multiplied.
Even the English captain, who spent his nights in our family, and his intelligent and courteous clerk, professed to give themselves to the Lord while with us, and both kneeling with us at the family altar, silently united in our morning and evening devotions, or cheerfully led in prayer. The captain was a large and powerful man, bronzed by wind and wave and scorching sun. He had been long upon the deep, had suffered shipwreck, had been unable to reach his London home for more than three years, and had been given up as dead by all his friends. Under this belief his wife had married another, when he surprised her by his return, and she gave him joy by returning to him. He gave us an interesting account of his eventful life, and confessed that he had enjoyed very few religious privileges and had thought little of God or the salvation of his soul.
He now accepted the offer of life through Christ, with the spirit of a little child.
On returning to the ship he immediately told his officers and crew that he should drink no more intoxicants, swear no more, and chase whales no more on the Lord’s day, but, on the contrary, observe the Sabbath and have religious services on that holy day.
Though thousands professed to have passed from death unto life during the years 1836-7, only a small proportion of these had been received into the church. The largest numbers were gathered in during 1838-9. I had kept a faithful note-book in my pocket, and in all my personal conversations with the people, by night and by day, at home and in my oft-repeated tours, I had noted down, unobserved, the names of individuals apparently sincere and true converts. Over these persons I kept watch, though unconsciously to themselves; and thus their life and conversation were made the subjects of vigilant observation. After the lapse of three, six, nine, or twelve months, as the case might be, selections were made from the list of names for examination. Some were found to have gone back to their old sins; others were stupid, or gave but doubtful evidence of conversion, while many had stood fast and run well. Most of those who seemed hopefully converted spent several months at the central station before their union with the church. Here they were watched over and instructed from week to week and from day to day, with anxious and unceasing care. They were sifted and re-sifted with scrutiny, and with every effort to take the precious from the vile. The church and the world, friends and enemies, were called upon and solemnly charged to testify, without concealment or palliation, if they knew aught against any of the candidates.
From my pocket list of about three thousand, 1,705 were selected to be baptized and received to the communion of the church on the first Sabbath of July, 1838. The selection was made, not because a thousand and more of others were to be rejected, or that a large proportion of them did not appear as well as those received, but because the numbers were too large for our faith, and might stagger the faith of others. The admission of many was deferred for the more full development of their character, while they were to be watched over, guided, and fed as sheep of the Great Shepherd.
The 1,705 persons selected had all been gathered at the station some time before the day appointed for their reception. They had been divided into classes, according to the villages whence they came, and put in charge of class leaders, who were instructed to watch over and teach them.
The memorable morning came arrayed in glory. A purer sky, a brighter sun, a serener atmosphere, a more silvery sea, and a more brilliant and charming landscape could not be desired. The very heavens over us and the earth around us seemed to smile. The hour came; during the time of preparation the house was kept clear of all but the actors. With the roll in hand, the leaders of the classes were called in with their companies of candidates in the order of all the villages; first of Hilo district, then of Puna, and last of Kau. From my roll the names in the first class were called one by one, and I saw each individual seated against the wall, and so of the second, and thus on until the first row was formed. Thus, row after row was extended the whole length of the house, leaving spaces for one to pass between these lines. After every name had been called, and every individual recognized and seated, all the former members of the church were called in and seated on the opposite side of the building, and the remaining space given to as many as could be seated.
All being thus prepared, we had singing and prayer, then a word of explanation on the rite of baptism, with exhortation. After this with a basin of water, I passed back and forth between the lines, sprinkling each individual until all were baptized. Standing in the center of the congregation of the baptized, I pronounced the words, “I baptize you all into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The scene was one of solemn and tender interest, surpassing anything of the kind I had ever witnessed. All heads were bowed, and tears fell. All was hushed except sobs and breathing.
The nature of the Lord’s Supper and the reasons for its observance were then explained, and the bread and cup distributed among the communicants.
This was a day long to be remembered. Its impressions were deep, tender, and abiding; and up to the present time, the surviving veterans of that period look back to it as the day of days in the history of the Hilo church.
At this period the ecclesiastical year of the mission began on the 1st of May. The reports of the churches were made up to the 30th of April, 1838. I find in the records of Hilo church the
Numbers received during year (ending April 30):
During the following decade ending in 1850, the number received was 2,348.
And for the decade ending in 1860, 1,445.
The whole number received on profession to 1880: 12,113; by letter, 812; dismissed, 3,546; deceased, 8,190; of marriages, 3,048; of children baptized, 4,370.
Those received from the district of Kau, when there was no settled pastor there, were afterward dismissed to the church, which was organized and placed under the care of the Rev. J. D. Paris.
In order to keep every member under my eye, and to find ready access to each, I prepared a book ruled thus:
By simple signs males and females were distinguished. This is important here, because the same name is often used interchangeably for the sexes
For many years I always took this book with me in my tours, and called the roll of the church members in every village along the line. When any one did not answer the roll-call, I made inquiry why. If dead, I marked the date; if sick, visited him or her, if time would allow; if absent on duty, accepted the fact; if supposed to be doubting or backsliding, sent for or visited him; if gone to another part of the island, or to another island, I inquired if the absence would be short or perpetual, and noted the facts of whatever kind.
Our young men often shipped for whaling voyages. Noting these cases, I would watch for their return, and then visit them, inquiring whether they chased whales on the Lord’s day, used intoxicants, or violated other Christian rules of morality; and I dealt with them as each case demanded.
Some church members removed to other districts or islands without letters of dismissal. The names of these I used to send to the pastors whither they had gone, requesting them to look after these absent ones, and receive them to their communion, reporting to me.
As hundreds of our people went from place to place to visit friends or on business, to learn whither they had gone, to follow them with letters, and to see them properly cared for, became an important but arduous labor. The Hawaiians are not nomads, but they are fond of moving, and curiosity or the call of friends leads very many of them to wander over many parts of the group. During my annual visits to Honolulu, on occasion of the General Meeting of the Mission held there in May or June, I often gave public notices in the churches that I would meet any of my people who were there, at a given hour on Sunday, and a company of fifty to a hundred would assemble at the hour appointed.
Our Confession of Faith is the Bible, and each individual in the Hilo church promises, with his hand on the Sacred Book, to abstain from all that is forbidden, and to obey all that is commanded therein. We advise them to abstain from the use of tobacco, ava (a narcotic root), and from all intoxicants. Like all savages, they were almost to a man addicted to the use of these articles, especially of tobacco, and we supposed that it would be next to impossible to persuade them to abandon these habits. But the Lord came to our help. All over Hilo and Puna, during that mighty work of the Spirit, multitudes pulled up all their tobacco plants and cast them into the sea or into pits, and thousands of pipes were broken upon the rocks or burned, and thousands of habitual smokers abandoned the habit at once and forever. I have been surprised at the resolution and self-denial of old men and women who had long indulged in smoking, in thus breaking short off. Some, however, went back to the old habit, and some used the article secretly. I have never excommunicated or suspended members for this indulgence, but have taught them, by precept and example, a better way. Mr. and Mrs. Lyman, and nearly every missionary brother and sister on the islands, were united with me in this matter.
In all cases we found that those who would not relinquish smoking were the more troublesome members of the church, giving more doubtful evidence of love to Christ, and oftener running into other excesses, which called for church discipline.
Mrs. Coan's School for Girls - Common Schools - Medical Work - The Sailors' Church - Sunday Work - Visits of Foreign Vessels - The U. S. Exploring Expedition
IN the year 1838, Mrs. Coan opened a boarding school for native girls. This was to be self-supporting in part, but to receive such aid in labor, food, kapas, mats, etc., as parents and friends chose to render.
As soon as the plan was made known to the church and people they rallied cheerfully, went into the woods, hauled down timber by hand, and with great promptness erected and thatched a comfortable building on our premises. A floor was laid over about one fourth of the building, on which was placed a table, and a few chairs for the teacher and visitors.
On each side of the remaining three-fourths of the house was a row of little open cells, partitioned from each other by mats, and furnished with beds of straw or dried grass, and with mats and kapas for coverings. In the space between these rows of compartments was a plain table, with seats, bowls, spoons, etc., for the pupils. The number of little girls in the school was twenty, their ages from seven to ten years. Arrangements were made with the people living in and near the town, that they should bring in weekly supplies of food and fish for the girls. Taro, potatoes, bananas, and fish were then abundant and cheap, and the people provided willingly. At length they set apart a parcel of ground and appointed each monthly concert day as a time when they would cultivate that ground and thus supply the food necessary for the school.
Little gifts of money were sometimes made by strangers who came to Hilo, by officers of whale ships and men-of-war; or a piece of print or brown cotton was given, and thus the real wants of the school were supplied. No application to the A. B. C. F. M., or to any Board, or to an individual was ever made for help. Mrs. Coan toiled faithfully from day to day, in spite of pressing family cares, teaching her charges the rudiments of necessary book knowledge, and of singing, sewing, washing and ironing, gardening, and other things. Most of the girls became members of the Hilo church, and we had hope that all were the children of God. The school was sustained about eight years, and sent out a company of girls, who, for the most part, did honor to their instructions, and who were distinguished among their companions for neatness, skill, industry, and piety. As domestic cares increased and her strength was weakened, the faithful teacher at length felt compelled to give up her charge.
For a time I had the supervision of the common schools, numbering not less than fifty, and containing about 2,000 pupils. My duties were to furnish them with books, slates, and pencils; to visit them on my tours, to attend their examinations, and make a tabular record of numbers, readers, writers, etc. For want of writing-paper or a full supply of slates, the children would prepare square pieces of the green banana-leaf, and with a wooden style or slate-pencil form letters and thus learn to write.
At the central station and on all my tours I was thronged with the sick and afflicted multitudes, or their friends, begging for remedies for almost all kinds of diseases. So numerous were the applications for medicines, and so varied and sad were the spectacles of disease, that it became a task for the skill and the whole time of a well-read and experienced physician. I had a fair collection of medical books, and these were consulted as much as was possible in connection with my other labors, but my regret was that I could not visit the sick as I wished, or pay them the attention they needed.
When at last, in 1849, a good physician, Charles H. Wetmore, was sent to our relief, my heart rejoiced. I immediately resigned my medical functions, turned over my medicine-chest and drugs to him, and blessed the Lord that I was not doomed to wander “forty years in the wilderness of powders and pills.” This kind and faithful doctor with his excellent wife have been our nearest neighbors ever since their arrival.
I was also greatly relieved of the care of the common schools by Mr. and Mrs. Abner Wilcox, lay missionaries, who came to us as teachers and remained in Hilo several years.
Previous to our arrival, when whale-ships and other vessels were in the harbor of Hilo, the officers and crews received kind attentions from the missionaries at this station. The Reverends Joseph Goodrich, Jonathan Green, Sheldon Dibble, and D. B. Lyman, and their wives, had entertained many of these sons of the deep, given them reading-matter, and sought to promote their spiritual interests.
We were at once ready to help in this important work. Masters, officers, and sailors were made welcome to our house; books and tracts were provided for them to take to sea, and a religious service was held for them every Sunday afternoon.
For many years this service was held in one of the houses of the missionaries. Finally, we fitted up the old stone-building, our first home, for a bethel, and added a library of about 200 volumes, with periodicals.
My regular services on the Sabbath were: a Sunday-school at 9 A.M.; preaching at 10:30; at 12 M. a meeting for inquirers; at 1 P.M. preaching; and at 3 P.M. preaching in English to seamen, and English-speaking residents and visitors. When ships were in port we often had a full house, and not a few hearers professed a determination to forsake all sin and to live godly lives. Of some we afterward learned, either by their own letters or otherwise, that they had kept their vows and united with Christian churches, and that some had become ministers of the Gospel.
Several masters and officers gave up Sabbath whaling, and instead held religious meetings with their men on the Lord’s Day.
Very precious friendships were formed with many of these seamen, which friendships continue to this day. We have found noble specimens, not only of generosity and fine natural talent among this class of men, but also many choice Christians.
Not a few national ships have visited Hilo, from the tender or schooner up to the sloop-of-war, the frigate and the great seventy-four-gun line-of-battle ship, as the Collingwood and Ohio.
The largest of these ships represented the United States of America, the next Great Britain, then France, Russia, Germany, and Denmark. We have had more than seventy-five of these war-ships of different nationalities in our harbor, and of all classes of vessels about 4,000. The approximate number of seamen who have visited Hilo during our residence here we put at 40,000.
In this labor for seamen I have been led to correspond with the American Bible, Tract, Peace, Temperance, and Seamen’s Friend Societies, and have obtained Bibles and tracts in the English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, and Chinese languages; which with many thousands of tracts have been distributed among these vessels. Some of this “bread cast upon the waters” has been found again according to the promise.
In 1840, Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition, arrived in Hilo bay in the flag-ship Vincennes. Here with an admirable corps of scientists he spent three months in explorations, measurements, observations, etc. Parties of officers and scientific gentlemen were detailed to visit different parts of the island, some to ascend the mountains, and some to survey the shore, making collections, drawings, and observations in all the branches of the natural history of the Islands. The commander called for 300 young and vigorous men to take him, with the materials of a wooden house and all the apparatus of a large observatory, with food, fuel, water, beds, etc., to the summit of Mauna Loa, where he and his attendants were to spend twenty or thirty days in taking observations.
Other parties required large numbers of men to carry baggage, instruments, etc., and to act as guides and assistants in making surveys and collecting a large amount of specimens.
Parties of natives thus employed needed to be recruited often on account of fatigue and exhaustion, and for the lack of shoes and warm clothing to endure the hard travel and the rains, cold, and snows of the mountains. Some died of cold. It is supposed that about one thousand of our strongest men were brought into this service, and with small pay, during these three months. Some parties of men were required to travel and work on Sunday as on other days. All this had a demoralizing effect upon the poor natives. They had been accustomed to rest from all physical toil, and to worship on the Lord’s Day. Our congregations were much reduced in numbers. There was no little murmuring among the people at this new state of things, and for years the moral tone of the church and community could not be fully restored to its cheerful and normal state.
This was a trial of faith, and a fan to winnow the church, but most of our Christians stood fast, and although it checked the progress of the revival, the loss to the church was less than might have been feared.
The visit of the expedition to Hilo afforded us an opportunity to form an acquaintance with many worthy gentlemen , several of whom we met again in the United States in I870–1. Among these we met and received as a very welcome guest the then youthful James D. Dana, one of the scientific corps, now so distinguished in various departments of natural science, and honored as a Christian philosopher. The friendship then formed has been increased by years and can never wane.