by Betty Fullard-Leo
Moku‘aikaua Church in
At Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona, beside a
display of the 19th-century brig, Thaddeus, are pages
reproduced from the diary of the Big Islands first
missionary wife, 24-year-old Lucy Goodale Thurston.
Sometimes the writing is poignant, revealing a New England
girls homesickness, often everyday life is recorded
in sharp-eyed detail, but through it all the patience
and fortitude of the writer emerges. How did this refined
young woman embark on such an adventure in an era when
most women were expected to remain stay-at-home wives
In 1819, the memoirs of a young Hawaiian Christian
convert named Henry Opukahaia caused a stir among
devout Congregationalists in New England. The exotic
Sandwich Islands, (Hawaii) were badly in need
of missionaries to save the heathens from idol worship,
drunkenness and the wayward ways of whaling crews who
found the Island maidens generally receptive to their
charms. In New England, seven men volunteered for the
humanitarian mission, but the church required missionaries
to be married. Twenty-four-year-old Lucy Goodales
father arranged a meeting on September 23, 1819, between
his daughter, a well-educated and pious young woman,
and Asa Thurston, a 32-year-old scythe maker who had
graduated from Andover Theological Seminary. The two
were married in less than a month on October 12 and
set sail for Hawaii on October 23, 1819.
The voyage took 157 days. Happily, before it was over,
Lucy had confided in her journal, When I gave my hand
to Mr. Thurston and came out from my fathers house
to go far away to a land of unknown, I felt assured
of the care and friendship of one precious friend, but
my expectations have been more than realized. To be
connected with such a husband and engaged in such an
object, in the present state of the world, is of all
situations in life, what I choose.
Lucys journal indicated she knew of the kapu
system in Hawaii. During the sea voyage she wrote
with trepidation of the restrictions Hawaiian women
lived under not being allowed to eat with men, nor to
eat bananas, and the fact that she might face instant
death if she did not turn her head away when passing
an idols temple.
It must have been with some relief that she learned
on arrival on March 30, 1820, that the kapu system had
been abolished. The ship was greeted at Kawaihae Harbor
by men who wore girdles and women who wore a slight
piece of cloth wrapped round them from the hips downward,
who swam or paddled out in their canoes. During the
trip, the band of missionaries had been instructed in
the Hawaiian language by two Hawaiian converts, Hopu
and Honolii, so when a woman gave Lucy a banana,
she said, Wahine, (woman). The reply came: Wahine maikai,
(woman good-looking). Undoubtedly, she was one of few
white women who had ever been seen in Hawaii at
The Thurstons first home was not much better
than the crowded cabin aboard the Thaddeus. Lucy wrote,
It was a thatched hut, with one room, having two windows
made simply by cutting away the thatch, leaving the
bare poles. At that time, she viewed living on the hot,
dry Kona Coast, void of greenery, as a prospect of raw
The missionaries all led busy lives, and the wives
worked from dawn to well after dark. Their first and
perhaps most monumental task was recording the Hawaiian
language so that the scripture could be translated and
Hawaiians could be taught to read Hawaiian and English.
Missionaries and their wives were involved in transcribing
books, establishing a printing press, building churches
and houses. In addition, the women cared for their families
and the sick, tended gardens, and held sewing circles
never interrupting the frequent church services.
The Thurstons stayed in Kailua-Kona for seven months,
then lived in the missionary compound in Honolulu where
Lucy bore two daughters, Persis and Lucy, before returning
to the Big Island in 1823. During this time, the Thurstons
had been accepted by the alii and were visited
by the king and queen, Liholiho and Kamamalu, often.
Initially, Liholiho attempted to learn English, but
he gave up his efforts, noted Lucy, for the pleasures
of the cup. He encouraged his seven-year-old brother
and other favored subjects to learn, however.
While the Thurstons were in Honolulu, Liholiho visited
the missionary houses, inspected the well, the cookhouse
and all the living quarters, rolling with glee on a
On their return to Kailua-Kona, they were joined by
Artemis and Elisabeth Bishop, which assuaged much of
Lucys loneliness. In time, her son Asa, was born.
Within a few years at a Friday Female Meeting, the two
ladies taught 1,500 native women the scriptures and
civilized deportment. By the end of 1830, 2,600 women
attended the weekly classes.
Some segments of the population whalers, sailors, and
entrepreneurs were not always happy with the restrictions
the missionaries sought to enforce. In the mid-1830s
Lucy wrote of sailing away to Honolulu to attend a General
Meeting, when she looked back and saw flames ascending
to the heavens. We had little doubt but one of our dwelling
houses was laid in ashes; but in two or three weeks
after, we learned that it was our church the work of
an incendiary not yet discovered. It was said by a white
man then on the spot, that there had never been such
a mourning among the people since the death of Kamehameha.
It however, only hastened the work of starting a permanent
stone building, which is now nearly completed. The belfry,
spire and vane give quite an American look to our village.
Mokuaikaua Church, completed in January, 1837
amid joyous rejoicing, was built of black stone from
an abandoned heiau mortared with white coral.
The years brought sorrow, as well. Lucy was devastated
when she learned of the unexpected deaths of Liholiho
and Kamamalu from measles during their trip to London
in 1824. Then Elizabeth Bishop died of an unknown and
extremely painful disease.
The Thurstons fourth child was born on a schooner
bound for the annual mission meeting on Oahu in
1831. Lucy was seasick and had an arduous recovery,
though not as difficult as after the birth of her fifth
child, a son, Thomas, when she was temporarily paralyzed
from a difficult labor. In 1840, Lucy took a three-year
hiatus to get the children settled in schools in New
England, while Asa stayed behind with his parishioners.
In New England, daughter Lucy was confined to bed with
an inflammation of the lungs. When she died her mother
was grief stricken. She wrote, I retired and was alone
with God. A simple thought passed my mind. I will
try to bear whatever he has laid upon me.
When she returned, her husbands flock had grown
from 600 to 1,800 church members. She wrote, Those who
had lived in our family knelt around me, and wept aloud,
bathing my hands with their tears. For several weeks,
there was a continued series of calls, the kind-hearted
natives coming by schools and by districts to welcome
During a stint of illness, Lucy mistakenly took strychnine
instead of quinine, which brought her near death. When
she had recovered enough, she returned to the U.S. for
treatment, coming back to Hawaii in 1851. The
following year, a Honolulu doctor diagnosed her with
breast cancer. Because of her earlier bout with paralysis,
her Honolulu doctor performed a mastectomy without the
use of chloroform, as he thought the pain killer might
endanger her survival. Though she was nearly sixty years
old and often suffered from ill health, she was destined
to live another 21 years. Her son Asa died years before
she did of an aneurysm at the age of 32. Her husband,
after laboring for 40 years with the foreign mission
service, retired, and the Thurstons moved to Honolulu
to live with daughter Mary. Asa suffered a series of
strokes which caused him to lose his memory, but not
his love of prayer. He died March 11, 1868.
Lucy Thurstons last years were spent in Honolulu,
but before she died of a heart disorder in 1876, just
before her 81st birthday, she wrote eloquently to a
granddaughter who was about to become a bride: (In marriage),
it is very beautiful to have two lives mingle and flow
into one, producing a union of hearts. May you, in being
introduced to a new name, to new friends and to a new
field of action, become the light of your husbands
house, the center of home, that sacred spot of love
and harmony, of comfort, quiet and ease, that wealth
alone cannot give, nor poverty take away. Lucy Thurstons
light shown far beyond family boundaries and continues
to inspire visitors to Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona,
which was her home and her husbands parish for
so many years.
Selected writings and portions of Lucy Thurstons
journals quoted in this article were published in a
book called The Life and Times of Lucy G. Thurston,
S.C. Andrews, Bookseller and publisher, 1882, Ann Arbor,
may submit editorial comments to any of our stories
by sending an email to email@example.com.
We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback
to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest."
Thank you so much for this well written summary of Lucy
Thurston. As a long time member of Mokuaikaua Church
and resident historian, I was thrilled to have written
a drama on the life and times of Lucy Goodale Thurston.
It made a wonderful drama and sometimes comedy, tragedy
and musical all in one. We can truthfully say here in
Mokuaikaua Church, "We love Lucy!".
God bless and keep up the good work!
appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or
reprinting of these stories without the expressed written
consent of the author is prohibited.