Address: 114 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT
Photo: Amos Doolittle, Plan of New Haven, 1824, New Haven Museum
What was New Haven like 200 years ago? According to Anne Newport Royall, who visited in the early 1820s, “…the streets are wide, straight and cross at right angles, each adorned with two rows of lofty elms of uncommon beauty…but its chief ornament is a great square called the green in the centre of the city…” The New Haven Museum offers a glimpse of the Elm City as it was when a group of missionaries sailed from New Haven for the Sandwich Islands in a new exhibition, “Point of Departure: New Haven 1822,” which will be on view through May 6, 2023.
Using maritime documents, newspaper articles, journals, engravings, drawings (including several never before exhibited or reproduced), paintings, and books, “Point of Departure” guest curator Sandra Markham captures a portrait of the city as it would have been seen by the voyagers prior to their treacherous journey around the far end of South America to reach the North Pacific.
The 14 travelers—the Second Company of Protestant missionaries assembled by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions—had planned to sail from Boston but the voyage was delayed. A member of the company heard that the whaling ship Thames was set to sail from New Haven, and quickly made arrangements with her owners to take the company to the islands now known as Hawai‘i.
“This exhibition offers a narrow slice of time and place in a city that has been dramatically transformed in the past 200 years,” says Markham. “It’s difficult to visualize what New Haven looked like in the time before photography, and there is so little physical evidence left to see today. I relied on contemporary writers’ descriptions of the city and the events of November 1822, then essentially created a ‘scrapbook’ of their clippings to tell the story of how New Haven rallied around a band of missionaries who—by quirk of fate—came to town for a few days to prepare for a dangerous journey that would change their lives forever.”
New Haven was an active port in 1822. One image on view—“A S.E. View of the City of New-Haven” from the masthead of the New-Haven Chronicle of July 4, 1786—shows warehouses, businesses, and homes clustered on the harbor. East Rock and the steeples of churches on the green stood out as local landmarks. Engravings from the 1820s by local artists John Warner Barber and Amos Doolittle reinforce what visitors and residents would have experienced, as does an 1824 city plan by Doolittle. The Google Street View of its time, Doolittle’s map features elevations of each building that show what the missionaries would have seen along the unpaved streets of New Haven.
The exhibition features five views of New Haven never before exhibited or reproduced. Drawn by Anthony St. John Baker, a British diplomat who visited in 1821 and 1825, the works from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library are extraordinary documentation of the city as seen through the eyes of a tourist.
While in New Haven, the missionaries likely gathered items they knew they would not be able to acquire for years to come, Markham says. In the “Connecticut Journal,” on November 12, 1822, an article noting the upcoming voyage includes “a list of the articles most wanted… Butter, Cheese, Ham, Smoked Beef, Dried Apples…Tea and Coffee, Bedding, Cotton and linen clothing, Hats and Shoes, useful Books…Tin ware Peas, Beans, Eggs, Garden Seeds, and Money.” Clearly, city residents responded. As Rev. Charles Stewart wrote to Rev. Ashbel Green from the Thames on November 20th, “The inhabitants of New Haven were extremely kind and liberal, in providing stores; and we have everything our health and comfort require.”
On November 19, 1822, the company’s administrator boarded the vessel with a “boat load of stores, medicines & baggage of missionaries” at Tomlinson’s wharf, which lay east of the Long Wharf, along Water Street at the foot of Brewery Street. Then, as now, some of the company’s baggage did not arrive in New Haven until after the members had boarded the ship, which led to a delay in the company’s reported departure.
The Second Company of missionaries came primarily from New England, and included a mix of professionals: ordained ministers, licensed preachers, teachers, a medical doctor, and an administrator/superintendent. Most were married couples, some wed just days before sailing. Though none were from New Haven, seven were Connecticut natives.
The group would join fellow-missionaries already in Hawai‘i, whose arrival and settlement had been sanctioned by the ali‘i, the hereditary rulers of the islands. Their mission was focused on ministerial and medical support of the mission on Oahu, the spread of the Christian gospel through opening a mission station at the whaling port of Lahaina on Maui, and the education of the islands’ residents.
For a century and a half afterward, New Haven citizens recalled the departure of the Second Company for the Sandwich Islands, attesting to the impact the event had on the city and its residents—a remarkable thing considering that none of the passengers and only some of the crew members were from the area. Churches and Christian thought took center stage in New Haven in 1822. The press heralded the arrival of the missionaries and wrote about them for months—even years—after they left.
It took 158 days—nearly six months—for the Thames to reach the Sandwich Islands. Four of the missionaries remained in the islands for the rest of their lives; the others returned to the states after a few years of service. The only member of the Second Company to live in New Haven was Clarissa Richards, who settled in a house at the northeast corner of George and Howe streets in 1853. Her marble monument in Evergreen Cemetery also records the lives of four of her eight children, all born in Hawai‘i.
For information on what took place after the Second Company of New England Protestant Missionaries left New Haven in 1822, visit https://www.missionhouses.org.