Friday, July 6, 2012

Clarissa Chapman Armstrong (May 15, 1805- July 20, 1891) One of first missionaries in Hawaii

Clarissa Chapman Armstrong

 Clarissa Chapman Armstrong  was born in Russell Hampden County, Massachusetts to a family of Puritan descent. Her brother Reuben Chapman was the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

In 1831, she married Dr. Richard Armstrong who boarded his young bride on the whaling ship the Averick and sailed to Hawaii. Clarissa’s journals show a rough trip around the Horn, with a pleasant stop in Rio de Janeiro. Clarissa was often to sick to leave her room, which was below deck in steerage. She later learned that she was pregnant for much of the voyage. The couple finally set foot in Hawaii 172 grueling days later.

During her stop in Rio de Janeiro, she enjoyed fine fruit and other delectables, but also witnessed slavery for the first time in her life. Years later she wrote the following:

“It was indeed a paradise, but the trail of the serpent was there. On an open road I saw a long train of black men, miserably clad, chained together…From that day my sympathies went out to the poor slaves everywhere, but little did I think that I should live to rear a son who lead Freedman to victory in the great contest which in future years should come in my native country.”

The couple spent a year in Molokai, Marquesas and Maui before being transferred to the central mission in Honolulu where Richard Armstrong became the spiritual advisor to King Kamehameha II. Armstrong viewed the natives as “naked, cannibalistic and warlike” and was appalled by the nakedness of the women, men and children. Eight years later he was made the minister of public instruction, a post he held until his death in 1860. The couple were among the first missionaries to permanently establish a church in Hawaii.  

When Richard encountered Chief Hape, who refused to accept the Christian God, Hape suggested that he swap Clarissa for one of his wives. Diplomatically, Armstrong refused, but as a compromise offered to name his first son Hape.

Clarissa taught the natives the English alphabet, led Bible studies, administered medical treatment, showed the women how to braid mats out of pine and even taught some of the men carpentry. She developed the trust of the native Hawaiians by learning their language. 

Clarissa Armstrong's gravestone in Plot 21, Lot 50

In 1860, her husband was thrown from a horse and died a few weeks later. Her husband had made provisions to ensure that Clarissa could stay in the stone house that they had built. She continued to lodge strangers, relieve the afflicted and minister to visitors.

Clarissa’s son Samuel Chapman Armstrong is known for establishing the Hampton Institute, which is best known for training black teachers in the South after the Civil War.

Clarissa Armstrong died on a visit to San Francisco to see her daughter. Stepping out of a carriage she slipped and hit her back on the iron step. She lived in excruciating mental and physical pain for about a year before dying at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.

Her gravestone has her name and two simple inscriptions: “Aloha” on the backside and “She hath done what she could” on the front. Her husband is buried at the Kawaiahao Church Cemetery in Honolulu.

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