Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
Ian R. Mather
This study analyzes the relationship between New England whalemen and American Protestant missionaries after each group traveled to the Sandwich Islands in the early nineteenth century. Arriving at virtually the same point in time, these two groups had very specific, but mutually irreconcilable goals in the islands. Whaling ships could be away from their home port for four years or more and created no shortage of weary sailors and battered gear. For whalemen, the Sandwich Islands were the locale where they restocked with supplies and reinvigorated their men with alcohol and women. Contrary to the debauchery sought by the whalemen while ashore, missionaries worked to instill the native population with Christian values in preparation for the coming of the Millennium. In an era of benevolent societies, these missionaries found the souls of Pacific islanders as their primary target for conversion. In an attempt to shield their new followers from sin, missionaries held disdain for anyone who brought values contrary to the Bible to the islands. These conflicting goals created tension between the whalemen and missionaries that often led to violent encounters.
This relationship manifested itself in a series of ways with physical and ideological conflict being the most visible. After successfully converting the Hawaiian monarchy and gaining influence over their decision-making, missionaries encouraged native government officials to enact laws barring sailors from partaking in alcohol and prostitutes. When whalemen came ashore after months at sea, they were outraged at to find that the influence of the missionaries robbed them of their long awaited time for excess and frequently rioted in protest.
The second facet of this study highlights the reasons for leniency or compromise given to the whalemen. Fear of alienating the American whaling fleet and forcing them to another port led to preferential treatment of whalemen in Hawaiian law. Because whalemen brought wealth to the islands, a unique relationship developed where missionaries and converted Hawaiians both disliked whalemen for their behavior, but became reliant on the whalemen for the capital they brought. The Sandwich Islands serve as a unique setting where it is possible to see exactly how whalemen and missionaries related to one another and how they impacted the native population. The spread of western culture, the introduction of Christianity, and the treatment of women are also themes that appear.
This study presents a more complete historical understanding of how these groups interacted and the implications associated with this contact. Recent maritime history has moved away from the "nautical" stigma of weights, guns, and tonnages and been more concerned with the social circumstances of the average sailor, or Jack Tar. This discussion continues this trend by increasing the awareness of Jack Tar as human rather than an industrial or military cog. Similarly, in addressing the topic of missionaries, a deep theological discussion is deferred in favor of and analysis of everyday living in the Sandwich Islands. This not only includes the interaction the missionaries had with the whalemen and the native population, but also discusses the way in which they were part of larger social trends of the nineteenth century.
The project covers the years from 1820, when the first missionaries and whalemen arrived, to 1860, when depleted stocks and the American Civil War decimated the American whale fishery. During this time, hundreds of ships and thousands of sailors visited the ports of Honolulu and Lahaina. At the same time, missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) established and maintained its most successful foreign mission. Although some of the sources used show the biased and rhetoric of the missionary cause, they yield insight into the complex relationship that developed in the Sandwich Islands during this time period. They reveal that the cultural conflict between whalemen and missionaries was softened by the economic benefit of allowing the whalemen to visit the islands.
Edge, Shawn M., "Barrels and Bibles: Conflict and Compromise Between Whalemen and Missionaries in the Sandwich Island, 1820-1860" (2008). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1772.