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Edward Bailey and the missionaries: More than meets the eye

By Staff | Sep 22, 2011

Edward Bailey's life is chronicled in the book “Edward Bailey of Maui.”

What most visitors and locals know about missionaries can be concisely summed up in a few short sentences. They came to Wailuku and Lahaina, converted thousands of Hawaiians, designed a Hawaiian alphabet, clashed with sailors, opened schools and later, some commonly say, grabbed land.

Lahaina’s Dwight Baldwin wore two hats as a minister and doctor. Another, Edward Bailey, wore many more. Among newcomers arriving after Captain Cook, he is perhaps Maui’s first true Renaissance man.

Bailey’s life, starting in Lahaina, is chronicled in a magnificently written and illustrated book by a former president of the Maui Historical Society. It brings to life the missionary experience as few others have in recent years.

In “Edward Bailey of Maui,” Linda McCullough Decker brings to life clearly and insightfully the life of a missionary who has rarely been documented, even though he unselfishly served islanders for more than 40 years.

Missionaries, according to quotations from diaries and other documents Decker researched beginning in 1991, were here to complete the work of saving souls “in the shortest possible time within a single generation.”

With his wife, Carolyn — described as a sweet woman by frequently quoted missionary Julia Cooke — Bailey landed in Lahaina to help run Lahainaluna Seminary. Not long after, the couple was transferred to Wailuku to head the Wailuku Female Seminary in 1837.

The school was the counterpart to the boy’s institution at Lahainaluna, serving some 50 girls age five to 12. It’s purpose? To turn out versatile Christian women, because Lahainaluna boys grown up would need marriage partners who would hold the same newly taught values.

Moving into a vacuum when Queen Ka’ahumanu and others renounced the old religion a few years before their arrival, Hawaii’s missionaries succeeded like no others, according to Decker. Unlike their counterparts in Ceylon, India, and other places, they were able to convert the chiefs and the new reigning ali’i.

Hawaiians had reverence not only for fellow man but for animals, sea creatures of all kinds, the land and even such objects as trees and lava. The missionaries focused on the salvation of people and “introduced a new lifestyle sustained by trade.”

Carolyn asked the missionary board to import all the supplies to sustain the family: “jackets, pantaloons, vests, suspenders, nine yards of gingham, sewing cotton, scissors, needs, ribbons, kettles, pots, plates and tumblers, spices and 31 gallons of lamp oil.”

Seminary girls learned the traditional lessons in Hawaiian and were also taught to sew, spin and crochet. They also would work an hour a day in their own garden plots.

After only 12 years, the board cut off funding to all of its Maui missionaries, forcing the school to close in 1849.

A common belief to this day is that first and second generation missionaries went after land because of greed. Instead, they turned to farming as a way to support their schools and churches and to make a living.

At least 40 out of 400 missionaries who stayed started businesses that became giant companies, some of which still dominate today.

Decker pointed out that with whaling in decline, missionaries also felt that agriculture was the best way for Hawaiians to sustain themselves — which, incidentally, they had been able to do for thousands of years.

To pursue his real passion to teach, Bailey opened up a second private school. Tuition was $18 a month. That didn’t last long either.

The versatile Bailey went on to make a living every way he could, surveying lands for pay. As a surveyor, he laid the routes for roads from Lahaina over the Pali to Makawao. He drew boundaries near Wailuku and bought land in Kula that later became part of Haleakala Ranch.

Over the years, he would supervise a school in Kula, serve as Maui health commissioner and become an agent for a flour company. He started a sugar plantation and turned it over to his son. He built the first bridge over the Wailuku River, vaccinated for smallpox, taught Sunday school and helped build Ka’ahumanu Church on High Street not far from his home — now known as the Bailey House Museum — on the road to Iao Valley.

And he painted majestic watercolors of missionary times and nature that now illustrate the book. He wrote what was described as good poetry and was a musician.

In the end, Bailey died penniless and was supported by one of his sons. When someone Upcountry needed a surveyor, he asked “for an honest man like Bailey.” And that Bailey was.

In Edward Bailey, the reader who wants to know more about missionaries can find no better place.

Columnist’s notebook: Decker’s book is available appropriately at the Bailey House Museum, where this author’s own “Voices of Maui” can be found. A visit to the museum is well worth the trip.