Thursday, January 22, 2015

Morse and the Missionaries

Jedidiah Morse was a country boy from Woodstock, Connecticut who attended Yale during the American Revolution. In the middle of his college career, a spiritual awakening came to Yale.

Jedidiah fell under conviction of sin, and, in the spring of 1781, gave his life to Christ – this energized him in all parts of his life.

Daniel Webster said Jedidiah was “always thinking, always writing, always talking, always acting.” Jedidiah’s motto was “better wear out than rust out.”  (Fisher)  Morse was a pastor, a graduate of Yale and a former teacher of young girls in New Haven.  (Spoehr)

Recognizing the inadequacy of the textbooks available in America at the time, Morse compiled and published the first American geography book.  Morse has been informally accredited by some as being "the father of American geography."

Jedidiah and his sons started the first Sunday school in New England. (The family continued this kind of work when they moved to Connecticut; his son, Samuel, became the first Sunday school superintendent in New Haven.)    (Fisher)

Morse had set up a separate Theological Seminary at Andover in 1805. The Andover Seminary served as the recruitment and educational base of operations for a new American project, international missions to evangelize the world as the “School of Nations”.

In 1810, a group of Americans (including Rev. Jedidiah Morse) established the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missionaries (ABCFM) at Farmington, Connecticut.  (Wesser)

Jedidiah brought all the separate strands of the Christian community in New England together to found Andover Theological Seminary.  Out of Andover’s first graduating class came America’s first foreign missionaries, and the school became known as a missionary training ground. (Fisher)

To them, Christianity was not a “personal religious question” or “feeling,” but rather as a profound philosophical passion to “do good works”.  (Wesser)

Morse was an abolitionist and friend of the black community in Boston, when abolitionists were few. Also, a significant portion of his life was spent looking for ways to benefit Native Americans and preparing the way for missions among them.  (Fisher)

ABCFM accounted for 80% of all missionary activities in America; reformed bodies (Presbyterians and Congregationalists, in particular) made up nearly 40% of the participants.

On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.)  There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity in this first company.

These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.

With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i.)

Prior to departure, a portrait of each of the company had been painted by Samuel Morse; engravings from these paintings of the four native "helpers" were later published as fund-raisers for the Sandwich Islands Mission and thereby offer a glimpse of the "Owhyhean Youths" on the eve of their Grand Experiment.  (Bell)

Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863) (the “Missionary Period”,) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.

In addition to his religious endeavors, son, Samuel, showed enough artistic promise for his father to send him abroad to study painting after he graduated from Yale University in 1810.

Painting provided Samuel with pocket money to help pay his term bills at Yale. He became one of the small handful of important American painters in his generation, and many famous depictions of notable Americans are his work.

The portrait of Noah Webster at the front of many Webster dictionaries is his, as are the most familiar portraits of Benjamin Silliman, Eli Whitney, and General Lafayette.  (Fisher)

The problem was not a lack of talent, for Morse showed great promise as a painter, but he offered Americans grand paintings with historical themes, when all his paying patrons really wanted were portraits of themselves.

Eventually Morse accepted many portrait commissions, but even they did not bring the steady income he needed to support himself and his family.

At the same time, Morse was also deeply involved in trying to make a go of his newfound vocation as a daguerreotypist. Morse enthusiastically embraced this startling new technology and became one of the first to practice photography in America.  (LOC)

Morse the artist also became known as “the Father of American photography.” He was one of the first in the US to experiment with a camera, and he trained many of the nation’s earliest photographers.  (Fisher)

Oh, one more thing about Samuel Morse, while he did not invent the telegraph, he made key improvements to its design, and his work would transform communications worldwide.

First invented in 1774, the telegraph was a bulky and impractical machine that was designed to transmit over twenty-six electrical wires. Morse reduced that unwieldy bundle of wires into a single one.

Along with the single-wire telegraph, Morse developed his “Morse” code. He would refine it to employ a short signal (the dot) and a long one (the dash) in combinations to spell out messages.

Following the routes of the quickly-spreading railroads, telegraph wires were strung across the nation and eventually, across the Atlantic Ocean, providing a nearly-instant means of communication between communities for the first time.

Newspapers, including as the Associated Press joined forces to pool payments for telegraphed news from foreign locales. Railroads used the telegraph to coordinate train schedules and safety signaling. Morse died in 1872, having advanced a practical technology that truly transformed the world.  (PBS)

The image shows the Samuel Morse painting of Hiram and Sybil Bingham, leaders of the Pioneer Company of missionaries to Hawaiʻi.  (They are my great-great-great grandparents.)  In addition, I have added others similar images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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