This is part five of an eight part series, by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, exploring the Hawaiian history of Fort Vancouver.
Part 5: Religion & Education
The Hudson’s Bay Company was from the start concerned with the religious and moral values of its employees and the Indians with whom it traded. The Company’s “Regulations for Promoting Morality and Religious Improvement” specified that divine service be publicly read once or twice every Sunday at all Establishments....at which every man, woman and child resident, will be required to attend, together with any of the Indians who may be at hand, and whom it may be proper to invite for the purpose of moral and religious improvement of the servants, and more effectual civilization and instruction of the families, and of the Indians.
Women and children were to be furnished with “regular and useful occupation as is suited to their age and capacities, and best calculated to suppress vicious and promote virtuous habits.” The employee was to address and encourage his wife and children to use his language, be it French or English, and to “devote part of his leisure hours to teach the children their A.B.C., catechism,” in order to promote education.
With the growth of a school age population, formal schooling was provided at Fort Vancouver and environs for the children, starting with the arrival of a teacher in late 1832 and continuing, with some lapses, until at least 1845. A succession of teachers, including a clerk, a voyageur, and a clerk’s wife, taught classes, first in the dining hall and later in a school room erected in the stockade.
At various times, classes included a day school for children and an evening school for boys and young men, ten of whom were also being boarded in the school room inside the stockade in 1837. At maximum attendance, the school had “about sixty scholars, one third being Girls.” A visitor in 1836 recorded that pupils included not only the traders’ and laborers’ children but also Indian children.
As for religious instruction, McLoughlin instituted two services every Sunday. One was Church of England which he conducted for the first few years, and the other was a Catholic service for the French Canadians, conducted by a French Canadian employee who could read.
For two years, 1835-1837 the Company provided an Anglican chaplain for the Fort, Herbert Beaver, who in a very short time antagonized almost everyone. His frequent quarrels with McLaughlin led to his early departure which was a relief to all. One of Beaver’s chief complaints was that services had to be held in the dining hall which was also the schoolroom, and that he had to live in a servant’s house.
Most of the French-Canadian metis were Catholic and McLoughlin expressly asked Beaver not to interfere with the instruction of the children of the Roman Catholic servants. In spite of this, Beaver “commenced a course of religious instruction based on the catechism of the Church of England” and attacked the “fur trade marriages” of Company servants, including six such marriages between Hawaiians and Indian women.
Protestant missions established after 1835 also depended on Kanaka labor, some recruited directly from Honolulu, to build the missions and work on mission farms. The missionaries relied on Fort Vancouver for some of their supplies. A number of Kanakas were loaned by the HBC to work temporarily for the missions, and visiting missionaries occasionally would hold Sunday services at the Fort.
Catholic missionaries visited the village in1838, making note of the Catholic residents and taking steps to formalize their marriages to Indian women. The priests resided at the post for only a few weeks or a month at a time and it wasn’t until 1843 that a full-time cleric was stationed at Fort Vancouver. In 1846, a church and parsonage [St. James Church] were built towards the northwest corner of the village.
In 1845, Dr. McLoughlin asked the Hudson’s Bay Company to send to the Fort an Hawaiian who was educated, trustworthy and able to “read the scriptures and assemble his people for public worship.” McLoughlin was concerned about the drinking, gambling, fighting, and other “corruptions” among the Hawaiians in Kanaka Village. William R. Kaulehelehe, soon known as Kanaka William, and his wife Mary S. Kani met with a mixed reception. Sunday was the only free day available for gardening, carpentry, or recreation which the inhabitants of the village were reluctant to give up. Others hoped that Kanaka William would address some of their complaints about the HBC.
The Hawaiians have repeatedly and daily asked me to see about their trouble of being repeatedly abused by the white people without any cause. They thought I had come as an officer to settle their difficulties. I said no, I did not come to do those things. I had no instructions from the King and ministers of the government in Hawaii to do those things. All that I have come for was the word of God and school.
By the 1850s, Kanaka William was not listed as a minister on the HBC records, but as a teacher. He established a small church within the stockade—the only Hawaiian to live within the compound. Kanaka William returned briefly to Hawaii in 1850, returning to Fort Vancouver when he discovered his family’s land had been taken for a sugar plantation. He remained in his church after the Hudson’s Bay Company relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, and was there until the U.S. Army burned the stockade in 1860.
Part 5 - Religion and Education
To learn more about the connection between Fort Vancouver and the Hawaiian Islands, click on one of the links below to connect to the next section of the eight part series written by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, historians specializing in Hawaiian history.