By Bernard A. Drew|Our Berkshires: Elevating education in Hawaii

Our Berkshires

GREAT BARRINGTON — Edward Griffin Beckwith (1826-1909) visited the Sandwich Islands, aka Hawaii, not for climate, beach or volcanic reasons, but for educational ones.

He became principal of Royal School in Honolulu in 1854. The son of Deacon Erastus and Martha Wilcox Beckwith of Great Barrington, he attended Williams College and became principal of Westfield Normal School in 1852. He taught at Royal School in Hawaii in 1853, and the next year became principal. His brother, George, joined him as a teacher at the college.

One of Beckwith's students while at Royal School was Mary Ann Kiliwehi Ka'auwai (1840-1873), daughter of Kuini Liliha, a high chiefess and governor of Oaho, and Ha'alou. She also became a Hawaiian high chiefess and lady-in-waiting of the Kingdom of Hawaii. With her husband, William Hoapili Ka'auwai, she in 1865-1866 traveled with Queen Emma of Hawaii to Europe, rounding the globe via New Zealand upon her return. Kiliwehi's classmates at Royal School included future Hawaii kings David Kal kaua and Liliuokalani and Princess Victoria Kam malu. Beckwith left Royal School in 1859 to become president of Oahu College for three years.

Unique college

Rob Hoogs of Monterey provided me with a historical sketch written by Frank A. Hosmer, one-time principal of Great Barrington High School and president of Oahu College from 1890 to 1900. Hosmer explained the school had begun in 1841 under the direction of the Rev. Daniel Dole. It became a college with Beckwith's appointment.

"Students were fitted for college and carried through the freshman and sophomore years," Hosmer said, "but gradually it became recognized that after a thorough training at Punahou, a course in an American university is of the highest value in acquiring that breadth of mind which comes not alone from lines of study but also from new scenes and associations. Oahu College, therefore, occupies a unique position, falling short of the American college course and yet offering considerably more than the American academy or high school."

Beckwith recalled Punahou School (known as Oahu College from 1853 to 1934, when it reverted to its original name) during its jubilee celebration in June 1891: "It was a very happy school, happy pupils, happy faces, joyous voices, no gloom, all gladness, none of those little ones `creeping like snails unwilling to school,' of whom the great dramatist tells us. ... I have never found a school that seems to me so full of the sunshine of happy and loving hearts as this old school of Punahou. "

Beckwith was ordained in 1857. He left Hawaii in 1859 for health reasons and accepted the pastorate churches in Sacramento and San Francisco. Then he became principal of Oakland College School in California from 1867 to 1870. Then it was church service again in Connecticut and San Francisco before returning to Honolulu. His last calling was a parish in Paia, Maui, 1894 to 1905.

Beckwith was married to Caroline Armstrong Porter (1832-1905). One of 10 children of Pennsylvania native and pioneering Sandwich Island missionary Richard Armstrong (1805-1860) and his wife Clarissa Chapman (1805-1891), she was born in Honolulu and died in Maui. One of her brothers was Gen. Samuel Armstrong, founder of Hampton Institute. The Samuel Chapman Armstrong Collection at Williams College Archives & Special Collections includes a folder of correspondence between Caroline and Samuel.

Mrs. Beckwith was an invalid. Two of their five children lived to adulthood. He lived quietly in Maui and died there in 1909."

He was a man of great personal attraction and devoted religious spirit," the San Francisco Call said.

The work of missionaries, the iron fist of the Dole pineapple interests and American colonialism in Hawaii are controversial; Hosmer, as Beckwith, saw a very positive side. "Hawaii is much better off under American protection," he said in a talk in East Hampton in 1911 (reported in the Hawaiian Star for Feb. 13, 1911). "It is not true that the `white man is driving the Hawaiian off the earth.' They would be lost now if it were not for the restraining influence of American missionaries, though the natives, like small boys, resent restraint."

Longfellow's work

In my previous column, I referred to the wrong three-name poet, as Madeleine Victor-Pieczarka of Great Barrington noted by letter: "Bernard Drew has given credit to the wrong poet in his column about William Putnam, deconstructionist. `The Old Clock on the Stairs' was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about the clock on the stairs in the Pittsfield home of his wife, Fanny Appleton, not Oliver Wendell Holmes. Longfellow honeymooned there and was a frequent visitor to the Berkshires. He actually purchased land in Stockbridge in the hopes of building a home there. I once lived in the home on Crofut Street that had the repurposed staircase from the Appleton home. The urban legend has it that Longfellow was worshiped in his day. The Plunkett family who last resided in the East Street manse would recall people knocking on their door just to get a glimpse of the famous clock on the staircase. They nicknamed the Longfellow groupies `clockers.'"

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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