Missionaries in Hawai'i
The Lives of Peter and Fanny Gulick, 1797-1883
An unvarnished account of missionary life in Hawai’i
Ever since Protestant missionaries from the United States first reached Hawai‘i in 1820, they have inspired conflicting passions. In evangelical circles, the missionaries are praised for christianizing Hawai‘i, transforming Hawaiian into a written language, and inoculating the islanders against smallpox. But this celebratory assessment is rejected by modern-day Hawaiian nationalists, who excoriate the missionaries as advance agents of U.S. imperialism.
In this biography of pioneer missionaries Peter and Fanny Gulick, Clifford Putney offers a balanced view of their contributions. He says the nationalists are right to credit the missionaries with drawing Hawai‘i into America’s political orbit, but argues that the missionary enterprise helped in some ways to preserve key elements of Hawaiian culture.
Based primarily on letters, journals, and other archival materials, Putney’s book provides readers with a detailed portrait of the lives of Peter and Fanny Gulick. Inspired by America’s Second Great Awakening to spread the Gospel overseas, the Gulicks voyaged to Hawai‘i in 1828 and lived there for the next forty-six years, actively proselytizing and working to change the islands. On Kaua‘i, they helped to ensure the success of Hawai‘i’s first sugar plantation and acquainted Hawaiians with inventions such as the wagon. On Moloka‘i (later the site of a leper colony) the couple struggled merely to survive. And on O‘ahu, they took up ranching and helped to found Punahou School, the alma mater of President Barack Obama.
While laboring in Hawai‘i, the Gulicks interacted with kings, queens, and other historically important figures, and Putney chronicles those relationships. He also explores issues of race and gender, and sheds new light on the democratization of government, the spread of capitalism, and the privatization of land. From these last two developments, a number of missionaries grew immensely rich, but the Gulicks did not, and neither did their descendants. A group that includes influential missionaries, educators, and physical fitness experts, the descendants of Peter and Fanny have had numerous books written about them, but Putney is the first to write extensively about the progenitors of the Gulick clan.
"Extremely well researched and well written. I think it will make a lasting contribution to the history of missionaries in Hawai‘i."—Paul Burlin
"Putney's introduction is a useful condensed overview of the motivating forces behind the American missionary movement, including nineteenth-century theology and views on race and ethnicity."—The New England Quarterly
"Putney tells the Gulicks' life stories with an assurance born of meticulous research and attention to contextual detail. . . . there is not doubt that Putney does well what he set out to do. His achievements are considerable. . . .Putney's study makes a decidedly constructive and welcome contribution to the field."—American Historical Review
"This well written and readable work includes seven chapters that are divided both chronologically and, more importantly, according to the geographical location of the Gulicks. Thus, it starts with Peter and Fanny's early life and upbringing in New England and New York, continues with the couple's mission work at various stations in Hawai'i, and ends with their move to Japan and their eventual deaths in that country. . . . Putney’s monograph will be most appreciated by the general public and scholars of missionary history in Hawai’i."—The Hawaiian Journal of History
"Peter and Fanny spent nearly half a century in the Hawaiian kingdom, ranging from a hardscrabble existence on Molokai to helping found Punahou School, and their efforts not only helped draw Hawaii into America's political orbit, argues Putney; they helped preserve Hawaiian culture by bringing into into the modern age."—Honolulu Star-Advertiser
"Putney tells the Gulicks' life stories with an assurance born of meticulous research and attention to contextual detail. . . . Not framed as a tale of heroic deeds, Putney's narrative sustains an interest through his sketching of the complex exchanges between the New Englanders and the Native Hawaiian people. . . . He points to the rigidities, self-discipline, and sacrifices that marked the missionaries' experiences with a notable compassion for human frailties combined with a gently wry humor."—American Historical Review
"Meticulously researched, Missionaries in Hawai'i may prove an indispensable reference for specialists. Missiologists will doubtless appreciate both Putney's intimate familiarity with Gulick family history and his contextualization of their work."—Pacific Historical Review