San Francisco News & Tall Tales: 1800s

Missionaries in Hawaii

From 1837 to 1840, nearly 20,000 Hawaiians finally chose to accept Christianity as their new religion. The missionaries translated the Hawaiian language to written form; previously their heritage stories and history were verbally passed from generation to generation. This was the first time they were able to read and write their own language. Schools were established throughout the islands as rapidly as possible. By 1831, only 11 years after the missionaries' arrival, some 52,000 pupils had been enrolled. The missionaries introduced western medicine and undertook the Kingdom's first modern census.
Reprints of Hawaii Map from 1870s are available by clicking on the image.
Map of the Hawaiian Islands, 1870s

Thursday Morning, April 10, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Hawaiian Correspondence

HONOLULU, March 6, 1851

MESSRS EDITORS:--The Missionary body is the most remarkable feature of society in the Sandwich Islands. But with regard to its merits, the foreign residents (for the natives cannot be fairly said to hold an opinion of their own) are divided in opinion. There are two well defined parties in existence, Missionary and Anti-Missionary, both of which seem equally inclined to run into extremes. An impartial statement of the case may be therefore not misplaced, even in a California journal; for owing to the political, in addition to the spiritual agency of this body, American interests are directly concerned in it. But I offer the following observations with some reserve, knowing how difficult it is entirely to free the judgment from the bias of former association, induced by having been long engaged in hot warfare, with printers’ devils for powder monkeys on behalf of missionaries in another country, where they had been oppressed, and most unjustly maligned.

There are two questions to consider in the matter which it is necessary to separate, as they only tend mutually to embarrass each other a religious and a temporal question the merits of missionary agency in the conversion of the natives, and its influence in advancing or retarding the political prosperity of the country.

With regard to the introduction of Christianity, too much praise can hardly be bestowed on their efforts. Even those who differ from them in opinion with regard to the expediency of certain measures connected with it must allow that their earnestness and energy of action, should command the thanks of all who have any respect for the cause which the missionaries have undertaken to serve. For it is not a little that they accomplished. Not so much, indeed, as they profess, or even believe themselves to have accomplished; but that the country under their charge has made a great stride in advance, none but the willfully blind can file to see. They have at all events secured the preliminary step, the introduction of the outward forms of religion throughout the country, a most important point to gain. That they have as yet succeeded in making anything more than formalists, or nominal Christians, I do not believe. But neither do I believe that any other set of men could have succeeded better in their place.

The result of my own experience of missionary labor among the heathen, in various parts of the world, is that it takes three generations to make a Christian, in the true sense of the word. Habits of thought are bred in men, as habits of action in the brute creation. But still these labors have approximated to the period of ultimate success, for there is now one generation less to be worked upon.

Of certain errors in judgment by which the morality of their pupils has suffered, I shall take another opportunity to speak, being more anxious for the present to give them heir full meed of honor in their particular vocation, where it is justly due.

But with regard to the temporal advancement of the country, it appears to have been much retarded by the. Civilization (it is the fashion to call it here) would have been equally introduced without their aid. In that the foreign commercial agents have been the main agents from the beginning, and remain so still. But the crowning fault of the missionaries has been political interference.

Unfortunately they have not confined themselves to their legitimate sphere of action; and being fired with a certain Calvinistic zeal which cannot refrain from hurrying into extremes, have been the cause of not a little mischief. By a line of conduct parallel to that of Pitchard, the British Consul, whose intolerance was the prime cause of misfortune to the Tahitians, they brought the country into one very serious difficulty; whilst another cause of dispute (of which the dismantled fort and broken guns still present commemorative evidence) is ultimately traceable to their influence, and is even still involving the government in diplomatic embarrassment. They are, to all intents and purposes, a political priesthood; not, as a body, assuming power openly, but notoriously pulling the strings, like Punch’s showman, behind the scenes, and as unacknowledged agents, therefore irresponsible.

As usual, extremes have met. None will be more surprised than themselves at being accused of anything that savors of Popery; yet the lust of power and the favoring of hierarchy is as strong in the Sandwich Islands as at home. That it is mainly fostered in the Protestant Missionary by an internal conviction that he can turn his influence to good account that by means of political power he believes himself enabled more effectually to serve the country, must be allowed; but the same concession, in all fairness, must be made to the priest of Rome. Both are actuated by similar feelings, and so far as missions are concerned by similar honesty of purpose; for they of the Propaganda at Rome, who wear the red band around the neck in token of willingness to go forth where certain death awaits them, however they may err in doctrine, are surely no self-seekers. And in both there is similar self-deception if they think themselves able to carry out the policy of an enlightened age.

In this the Sandwich Island missionaries are a good half century behind the times. They are not men of the world. It only redounds to their credit that they should not be of it; but, unfortunately, they are so blind to one of their own virtues, as to undertake the management of worldly matters. Unable, from the nature of their arduous task, to see the world without leisure to make themselves acquainted, even by reading, with sublunary matters, they dwindle into narrow mindedness, and nurse the growth of sectarian prejudices which utterly unfit them from moving onwards with the age. And the consequent dislike in which they are held by so many of the foreign residents, who care little for the conversion of Kanakas, but are sincerely anxious for the advancement of the country, because they themselves are carried onward with it, is strong corroboration of what I have here advanced. "Illiberality" and "want" of "Christian Charity" are the mildest expressions applied to the clerical politicians; and it must be confessed that the former term, at all events, is not unjustly used.

Missions of California

March 2, 1855, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Missions of California.

Gov. Jose Castro gave some very interesting testimony during an examination in the Santa Clara Orchard Case, before Commissioner Lott, in relation to the history of the Missions in California, and the laws governing them.

He said that the Governor of the Departmental Assembly had no authority to sell or grant the orchards and vineyards of the Mission. No such power was ever conferred by the Constitution of Mexico. Neither Figueroa nor the Assembly, in 1833, when the Missions were secularized, assumed to dispose of their orchards or vineyards, but they reserved the control over them to the Supreme Government of Mexico. The Supreme Government, upon this subject being submitted to them by Gov. Figueroa and the Deputation of the Department determined, and made known their determination to Governor Chico, that the orchards, vineyards, Mission buildings, churches, graveyards and gardens of the Missions belonged to the Missions for their use, and the support and maintenance of divine worship.

The government determined that this should be so, because the expense of building up and cultivating and improving them had been derived from the salaries and means of the missionary priests; and the Governors and civil authorities of the Department recognized this determination as binding, and these properties as belonging to the Church.

At the time the Americans raised their flag in Monterey, the orchards and vineyards of the missions were all in the possession of the missionary priests, excepting the Missions of Solidad and Purisuna and San Miguel, which were totally abandoned. The witness also said that when he left California in August, 1846, all the missions of the North were in the possession of the missionary priests, and some of those in the South, but he was under the impression that about this time the Missions of Santa Inez, Buenaventura and San Fernando, and possibly some one or two others were leased out and in the possession of tenants. The missions did not owe any money to the Supreme or Departmental Governments, and their orchards, vineyards and homes could not be told for any purpose whatever.

The deposition was not closed.

December 1, 1855, Los Angeles Star, Los Angeles, California

The Missions of California.
Extract from "Instructions to the commandant of the new establishments of Monterey and San Diego," 17th August, 1775 by the Viceroy of New Spain.

  • Article 5: The conversion of Indians, in proportion to their spiritual advantage, is an object of great interest to the commandant, and one in promoting which the missionaries should exert themselves by affording every facility required.
  • Art. 6. It is of importance to the conversion of the Indians so far as it has been effected, and with reference to what is to-be done, tending to their preservation and increase to assemble them about the missions, that they may be enlightened, and lead a civilized life, which, as experience has proved, will be effected with difficulty, if they be suffered to remain scattered among the mountains.
  • Art. 7. In selecting the district in which a mission is to be established, care should be taken to avoid, as far as possible, exposure to the drying up or the rivers, and to see that there shall be sufficient water for drinking and irrigation, and that the mountains and copsewood in which the streams rise have wood, and the materials necessary for the erection of houses.
  • Art. 8. In the construction of the houses the Indians shall be required to aid, whether they be made of brick, or stone and mortar, according to the extent of land; and all shall have sufficient space, where they (the Indians) may sow seeds and plant trees, which, at the proper time, will return fruits to the owners, and be permanently secured to them, withdrawing them from their natural disposition to roam.
  • Art. 9. All communities have commenced with a few families, and have in the course of time congregated to such an extent that populous cities have been formed; and all of those in which they have not corrected defects from the beginning have become disproportioned, and without proper symmetry.
  • Art. 10. As if the villages of the missions were to become hereafter cities, care should be taken that the houses be built in lines, with wide streets, and an ample space for markets, with a uniformity which will produce beauty, if not also a disposition in the Indians not to be separate, besides holding out inducements to Bush as are not converted to establish themse.ves and adopt a civilized course of life.
  • Art. 11. It is very important for the preservation of the new missions that the increase of cattle shall be encouraged about them; sowing and planting of trees should take place, to the end that the productive lands may be selected, and the greatest efforts be used for the accomplishment of both objects.
  • Art. 12, In order that the new establishments may be peopled as soon as practicable, the commandant is now enpowered to mark out lands in common, and to distribute them to the Indians in particular, that they may devote themselves to agriculture more, and the rearing of cattle, which, buing their own property, will create an attachment for it well calculated to settle them more permanently. But the commandant will understand that it is deemed proper not to suffer them to live scattered, each upon the land which may be granted to him, but that they have their houses and other buildings in the villages or missions in which they have come together.
  • Art. 13. Equal power is conferred upon the commandant to distribute lands among the other inhabitants, according to their merits and ability to work, living in villages, and not scattered, with the injunction that they are to carry out the provisions of this and two preceding articles, and act in everything conformably to laws passed respecting the establishment of settlements, titles being granted to them in such form as to make them masters, without exacting of them any charge, by this act and that erf possession.
  • Art. 14. The commandant must take care and be particular that the inhabitants who join the new settlements have proper arms for their protection. and to aid the garrisons of the presidios or missions, in case of necessity, requiring of them this obligation with a view to their own security and that of their neighbors.
  • Art. 15, Whenever a mission is to be formed into a village, the commandant will proceed to give it a civil government, which shall be obeyed according to the laws of the kingdom, giving it a name, and declaring the titular saint to whose memory and under whose holy protection the mission is founded.

November 12, 1862, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Motives for the Spanish Settlement of Upper California.

The main motive for the establishment of the Californian missions was, undoubtedly, to protect the country against seizure by the, English or French, more especially the former, as the more enterprising in such matters, and the less friendly. The growth of Great Britain in commerce, industry, wealth, military power, and reputation abroad, was extremely rapid during the first half of the eighteenth century. England had already become the greatest of mercantile and manufacturing nations. In four great wars France was beaten, humiliated and almost broken, and in the last of them with England, from 1768 to 1768, she lost her great possessions in Asia and America Hindostan and Canada.

After the peace, which secured to Great Britain not simply the political dominion over these conquests, but the far more important profits of their commerce, and almost exclusive possession of the sea as a naval power and a shipping nation, she began to look around for further prizes. There was much talk of new countries to be occupied, new colonies to be planted, new continents and islands to be discovered. Now that Canada was English, it was doubly important, if possible, to discover the Northwest passage by sea between the two great oceans, from Baffin's, or Hudson's Bay, westward. The exploring vessels of Cook, and other British navigators, about the same time, did not sail until after the missions had been established but the preliminary talk had commenced years before, and the Spanish Court was influenced, if not governed, by the fears of the English expeditions.

It was evidently not possible to establish any ports or settlements too strong to be taken by the English, in case they should resort to force; but no war was then feared, and a mere occupation of a few points it was thought would be sufficient.

The cheapest and simplest mode of taking possession of a distant country, which offered no great prizes of precious metals, pearls or gems, would be to establish Missions, and that was the method adopted.

At the same time that the King ordered the Jesuits to leave his kingdom and its dependencies, he provided that the Franciscan monks should succeed them, in the management of the missions of Lower California, and that other missions should be established in Upper California. The two best known ports in the latter district San Diego and Monterey were selected as sites for the first missions to be established, notwithstanding the fact that those ports are 3OO miles from each other. There was abundant work for several Missions in the immediate vicinity of San Diego; and the establishment and maintenance near each other in the southernmost district of the new country would be of comparatively little expense. The Government at Madrid was well aware that the Missions in Lower California, even after having been in existence for more than half a century, were constant and considerable cost to the public treasury, and it could not be expected that the expense would be less for new Missions, so much more remote. However, the probable cost was not sufficient to outweigh the important object of securing the Northwestern American coast to the Spanish Crown, and so the occupation by Missionaries was ordered. The College of San Fernando, the principal establishment of the Franciscan Monks in New Spain, had charge of the religious department. The Superior of the Convent selected Junipero Serra to be the head of the Friars in California. In about 1768, Serra, with fifteen Franciscans, arrived at Loreto. in Lower California, to relieve the sixteen Jesuits who had Left the peninsula a few weeks before. He spent a year among the existing Missions, and in the spring of 1769 he started, with five missionaries and about seventy-five whites, mostly soldiers and mechanics, for San Diego, where he arrived on the 1st of July, 1769.

Ships at the seaport of San Francisco, California
From the hills looking north to Marin County over San Francisco Bay

From the Alta California: "From January 1, 1849 to April 11, 1849, there were a great many arrivals by sea, including at least 3,000 seamen who abandoned their ships upon reaching San Francisco.

Californians 13,000
Foreigners 18,500
TOTAL 94,000

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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