Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)

Chapter I.

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Parentage, Childhood, and Early Years Militia Service Asahel Nettleton Years in Western New York Sickness Home Again Auburn Seminary.

MY father was Gaylord Coan, of Killingworth, Middlesex Co., Connecticut. He was a thoughtful, quiet, and modest farmer, industrious, frugal, and temperate, attending to his own business, living in peace with his neighbors, eschewing evil, honest in dealing, avoiding debts, abhorring extravagance and profligacy, refusing proffered offices, strictly observing the Sabbath, a regular attendant on the services of the sanctuary, a constant reader of the Bible, and always offering morning and evening prayers with the family. He was born Aug. 4, 1768, and died Sept. 24, 1857, in his 90th year.

My mother was Tamza Nettleton, sister of Josiah Nettleton and aunt of Asahel Nettleton, D.D., the distinguished Evangelical preacher. She was the tender, faithful, and laborious mother of seven children, six sons and one daughter. Of these I was the youngest.

While still in the vigor of womanhood, she was cut down Jan. 14, 1818, by typhus fever, aged 58. Her death left the house desolate, and the loss was deeply mourned by all the children.

After this our father married Miss Platt, of Saybrook, by whom he had one daughter, who died at the age of eighteen.

I was born on the first day of February, Sunday morning, 1801, in the town of Killingworth, Conn. My physical constitution was good, my health was perfect, and my childhood happy.

From the age of four to twelve I was sent to the district school, where the boys and girls were drilled in Webster’s spelling book, The American Preceptor, writing, arithmetic (Daball’s), Morse’s geography, Murray’s grammar, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Days and weeks and years went quietly along, with the usual experiences of joyous childhood. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter each had their peculiar charms, their duties and diversions, and I moved along the stream with only now and then a ripple.

Once, when a boy of about seven years, I had a memorable experience. My father was to be absent during the day. and in the morning he said to me, "Titus, go straight to school to-day." When he left, some boys came along and persuaded me to play truant. Off we started, and spent the day in as much pleasure as we could enjoy, with some twinges of guilt and fear. At 4 P.M., the time for the school to close, I managed to fall in with the children who were returning home.

Evening came my father returned. We had supper and prayers. My conscience throbbed a little, and I prepared for bed early. When ready in my night-robe to leap into bed, my father called me to him. I trembled, but obeyed. Sitting quietly in his chair, he laid me, face downward, across his knees, took up a small birch rod and said, "Well, Titus, you are all ready now for the reward of disobedience you did not go to school." He then gave me a few salutary touches with the birch, and I stole off to bed. That was one of the best lessons of my childhood It made a distinct impression upon me which I could not forget. It worked through my skin and my flesh, and went into my heart. I never played truant again.

Yes, I did get one more lesson which cooled my blood and made me thoughtful. A deep mill-pond lay between my home and the school-house. In the winter this pond was often frozen over, and my father warned me not to venture upon the ice on my way to school. One morning when I was nine years old, a mate of my age went with me to school. As we came to the pond we agreed to have a little slide. We went on half-way across the pond, I leading, and Julius following. Coming to the deepest part of the pond, the ice broke suddenly under me and I went under the water, but found no bottom. I rose to the surface in the same place where I went down, and screamed for help. My companion stood aghast and feared to come near. I threw up my hands and caught hold of the ice, but it broke before me. Again and again I struggled to find firm hold, but still the treacherous ice gave way until I nearly despaired of life. At length, however, I came to firmer ice, and clung to it as with a death grasp, calling on Julius for help. The timid boy approached slowly until his hand reached mine; and with his help and God’s mercy I was delivered from a watery grave. But it was mid winter, and I was sadly chilled. To avoid freezing we ran all the way, a half mile, to the school-house, where we found a roaring fire and the master not there. I stood by the fire, turning round and round, and smoking like a spare-rib, until the master came, when I took my seat and shivered until noon. The intermission being one hour, I improved it to dry my clothes, and went home at evening, charging my schoolmate never to tell anyone of this event. He kept his promise until I came to the Hawaiian Islands, and then he told the story. This was another lesson which I report with thanks to the Lord for sparing my life, and as a warning to all children to "Obey their parents in the Lord that their days may be long."

But it is not necessary to enlarge on "the scenes of my childhood," though diversified, and very many of them "dear to my heart."

Nor will I take time to tell all my childhood’s faults; and as for its virtues, I have nothing of which to boast.

When about thirteen I worked with my father on the farm during the summer months, and attended school in the winter. The next year I was a pupil in a select school at the house of my honored and excellent pastor, the Rev. Asa King. In this school I spent two happy winters, while my summers were passed on the farm, or in fishing on Long Island Sound, or for shad in early spring in the Connecticut River.

Not satisfied with my knowledge of English grammar derived from Murray and unskilled teachers, I had private lessons from a teacher fresh from a grammar school in the city of New York, and under his instructions gained a more satisfactory insight into the construction of my mother tongue than from all my winter’s study in what seemed to me dry Murray.

I also read eagerly such worthy books as I was able to buy or borrow; few indeed, compared with the overwhelming flood of literature of the present time. I read history, rhetoric, astronomy, philosophy, logic, and the standard poets. I joined an Academy in East Guilford, now Madison, where I studied with delight geometry trigonometry, surveying, etc., under the instruction of the Principal, an active graduate of Yale College.

At the age of eighteen I was called to teach a school in the town of Saybrook, and from this time onward my winters were occupied in teaching in Saybrook, Killingworth, and Guilford, until I left New England for Western New York.

When the time came for me to enter the militia ranks, according to the laws of the State, I enlisted in a company of light artillery whose regiment had been commanded by Col. Bray during the war of 1812–15 and in which one of my brothers had served in the garrison of my native town during that war.

In this company I was at once chosen sergeant, and in about two years was promoted, receiving first the commission of 2nd Lieut., then that of 1st Lieut.

I had been dazzled, while a boy, with the tales of military and naval exploits, with the flashing of sabers, the waving of plumes, and with the beauty of uniforms. It had been my delight to watch the evolutions of cavalry, artillery, and militia regiments on days of drill and of general review. I had seen the proud war-ships of Britain driving the fishing-boats the sloops, schooners, brigs, barks, ships, all the floating commerce of Long Island Sound, into our rivers, lagoons, bays, creeks, and harbors. I had seen the flashes and heard the thunder of their guns; had been wakened at midnight by the alarm-bells of the town, and the quick fire of the garrison. I had heard of Canada, of Buffalo, of the Northern and Southern Lakes, of the Potomac, of Washington, of New Orleans, and of the peace with its joyful celebrations, and its thunder-notes of gladness rolling over the land.

Afterward, when all this died out, and a more rational, a calmer and purer peace spread over land and sea, there came a change in my military feelings and aspirations.

While absent from my native town, a memorable season of religious interest was awakened among all classes in Killingworth.

The Rev. Asahel Nettleton, whose fame as an evangelical preacher has spread over the land, was invited to return to the place of his birth, to preach the Gospel to his kindred and townsmen. He came, and the "Power of the Highest" came with him. Our pastor, Mr. King, was heart and soul with him. Sinai thundered the law, and Calvary cried pardon to the penitent. "The axe was laid at the root of the trees" and the winnowing fan was seen in the hand of the Eternal. Conversions multiplied. Profanity was hushed. Revelry ceased. "Young men" became "sober-minded." The fiddle and the midnight dance were superseded by the "Village Hymns," the "Songs of Zion," the quiet sanctuary, and the tender, the loving and the happy prayer-meeting. All things be came new. I heard the fame of them, but was absent. In childhood, tender and anxious religious thought had often filled my eyes with tears, and my heart with throbs. I had prayed under the shadows of rocks and lone trees, but no man knew my spiritual wants or met them. I regretted my absence from Killingworth while my kind pastor and own beloved cousin were thus leading thirsty souls to the Fountain of Life. I returned just in time to see 110 of my companions and neighbors stand up in the sanctuary and confess the Lord Jehovah to be their Lord and Saviour, and pledge themselves to love, follow, and obey Him.

I was thoughtful and sober, but passed on much as usual in the ordinary affairs of life.

In the spring of 1826, with a friend and my sister, I left my native home in a private carriage, and went via Middletown, Hartford, Stockbridge, Albany, and Schenectady to Rochester, taking the Erie Canal at Schenectady and leaving our friend to go on in the carriage.

I had then four brothers in Western New York; the oldest, the Rev. George Coan, had received that summer a call from the Presbyterian church at Riga, in Monroe County, to become its pastor. This call he accepted, and at the same time I was engaged to teach the large school near the church. Here I often met excellent pastors of the surrounding churches, whose preaching, religious conversation, and personal friendship awakened afresh the pious longings of my soul. Most of these pastors are now in heaven, and I know of but one who is still living, and now more than fourscore years old. His letters of love still come to me fresh as the dews of Mount Zion.

During this summer of 1826 I often rode by a school-house in a western district of Riga, and through the windows I saw a face that beamed on me like that of an angel. The image was deeply impressed, and is still ineffaceable.

On inquiry, the young lady proved to be Miss Fidelia Church, of Churchville. I often saw her sunlit face in the choir on the Sabbath, for she was a sweet singer, but I did not make her acquaintance for many months.

During the summer of 1827, after the close of my winter-school, I opened a select-school in Riga, and Fidelia applied for admittance. In this I rejoiced greatly, for it gave me a good opportunity to mark the character of her mind, which proved bright and receptive, and to become acquainted with her moral and social characteristics.

I was called again to teach the central school during the winter of 1827-8, and though I had not yet united with the visible Church, I was elected and urged to become superintendent of the Sabbath-school, which I reluctantly accepted under the firm resolve to spend the remainder of my days, not in doubting and inactivity, but in doing what I could to bless my fellow mortals, and to honor God. And in this resolution, which formed an era in my life, I was greatly helped, comforted, and established, so that duty done for Christ was a sweet and joyous pleasure.

On the 2nd day of March, 1828, I was received to the fellowship of the Presbyterian church in Riga, then under the pastoral care of my brother. Although I had now publicly devoted myself to the service of the Master, my profession was not yet chosen.

Soon after this union with the church, I visited Medina, a young and promising village west of Albion, in Orleans County, where one of my brothers was established in mercantile business. As this brother had long urged me to connect myself with him in his business, I went to look into it and to consider his offer. I spent the summer and winter with him.

Here work for the Master opened before me. The town was new, the inhabitants were from different parts, and of various professions and religious opinions. But notwithstanding this, there was much harmony in the village, so that, if a Methodist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, or a Congregational minister came along and was invited to preach, a large portion of the people united harmoniously in listening to the Gospel; and when there was no clergyman, the layman professors kept up Sabbath services in reading sermons, and with exhortation and prayer. I was appointed Sunday-school superintendent, and this with visiting the sick, attending funerals, and assisting the brethren in religious services, opened just such a field of labor as I needed.

As winter approached I was again pressed into school-teaching, spending outside hours with my brother in the store.

Still I had not chosen my life-work. Four paths lay before me. My brother wished me to become his partner in the mercantile business. A good physician in Rochester, and several in other places, advised me to become a physician, offering to teach me free of charge. Some said I was made for a school teacher, and many clergymen and Christian laymen urged me to go into the Gospel ministry.

What should I do? What could I do? The subject pressed heavily upon my mind and heart. I said that teaching is pleasant in youth, but for life it would not satisfy me. As for the medical profession, I was not adapted to it, and I dared not make the trial. But how of the sacred ministry? I felt utterly unfit and unworthy my natural talent, education, piety, were all unequal to the exalted calling. As Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah shrank from the offices of legislator and prophet, so I from being an ambassador of Christ, yet I was willing to work hard as a layman, and even longed to go as a servant among the heathen to help the honored missionaries. Thus my spirit labored under a burden which none but God knew, and to find relief, I decided to be an active and devoted layman; to return to Connecticut, finish up my business there, and then settle down to a mercantile life in Medina.

In April, 1829, I left Medina for the East, and in Bergen met, by agreement, an old and faithful friend, the Rev. H. Halsey, who had been chosen by his Presbytery a representative to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which was to meet in Philadelphia the coming May. With him I agreed to visit Philadelphia, attend the sessions of the General Assembly, and then go on to Connecticut. We took the canal-boat at Rochester, and on the next day I had a shake of ague, followed by a fever. We had no doctor and no medicines, and I kept quiet, thinking to brave it out.

On the next Saturday we reached Syracuse, my ague shakes becoming more positive. We left the boat and went to Onondaga Hollow, spending the Sabbath and Monday with the Principal of an Academy, who was brother-in-law to Mr. Halsey. Here the ague was heavy and I had little comfort.

On Tuesday we went on to Albany, and thence by steamer to New York; my chills and fever growing all the while more and more intense. Here I gave up going to Philadelphia, parting reluctantly with my companion. Taking passage up the Sound, I went to Madison, where I had friends. I was then so prostrated I could go no farther, and was laid at once on a bed of weakness, from which I did not rise for four months. A good physician and kind friends ministered to me daily, but the disease held me fast until I was wasted to a skeleton, so that I could not sit in an easy-chair without fainting while my bed was being made. This was a time for reflection.

When the cold winds of autumn came, the disease relaxed, and I was taken carefully in an easy carriage to my father’s house, only seven miles distant. Here I was ill until the last of October. I then rose through the mercy of God, and was offered the school where my cousin Nettleton and where all my brothers and sisters had been taught their A B C.

During all that winter there was a cheering revival in the town and in my school, and many of my pupils were hopefully born again. This was the best year of my life up to that time. It was the turning point, the day of decision. It was the voice of God to me. I could no longer doubt. I had purposed and the Lord had disappointed. I had chosen, but He had other work for me. I said, Lead me, Saviour. Tell me where to go and what to do, and I will go and do.

On my return to Western New York I had a free consultation with many ministerial friends, and all advised me to pursue a short course of preparatory study, and enter Auburn Theological Seminary.

I had formed a pleasant acquaintance with the Rev. Lewis Cheeseman, while he was pastor of a church in Albion. He then seemed like a young Apollos, fervid, eloquent, and impressive. He had now settled in Byron and was preaching with great power and success. He invited me to study and labor with him, as an interesting work of grace was in progress, not only in Byron, but in Rochester and many other towns of that region.

Accordingly I spent the summer of 1830 in his family, studying and laboring in the revival; sometimes meeting the Rev. Charles Finney.

In the autumn an earnest invitation came to me from the Rev. David Page and the church in Knoxville, to come and labor there. I accepted the invitation, and spent the winter and spring in that place, continuing my classical studies, and assisting the pastor, and conducting evening meetings in surrounding villages. The religious interest was widespread, the meetings were full and solemn, consciences were tender, and many were turned to the Lord.

On the first day of June, 1831, I entered the middle class of Auburn Theological Seminary.

The faculty then consisted of the Rev. Doctors Richards, Perrine, and Mills, all noble men and fine scholars.

Here the months and seasons flowed pleasantly along, and I was very happy in my studies, in the society of the students and in the instructions of the professors. Every Sabbath morning I went with other students to teach the convicts in the Auburn State Prison, numbering seven or eight hundred, and for a year or more I had the office of Superintendent of the prison Sunday-school. This work was very interesting, as I had personal access to every class and to every individual. Many confessed to deeds and purposes of great depravity, and some professed a radical change of heart. About 200 professed conversion. A few of these I afterward met in Rochester and Albany, of gentlemanly bearing, and in citizen’s dress. I did not recognize the men whom I had known in the convict’s garb, until they gave me their names. I was rejoiced to find them members of Sunday-schools and churches, in good business, and happily settled in life.

On the 17th of April, 1833, I was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Cayuga County, at a meeting in Auburn.

I was then invited to preach during the summer vacation in one of the churches in Rochester, while the pastor was absent as a delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

At the close of the vacation, as I was about to return to Auburn, the elders of the church in which I had labored put the following paper into my hands:

ROCHESTER, July 8, 1833.


Dear Sir: In behalf of the First Free Presbyterian Church and Congregation of Rochester, we present you this testimonial of our entire satisfaction of your ministerial labors among us during the absence of our beloved pastor, Rev. Luke Lyons, who was called from us to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

You may rest assured that we shall remember you in our prayers, and may the Lord abundantly reward you for your labors of love among us, guide you by His counsel, and make you eminently useful in promoting the Redeemer’s Kingdom in whatever situation you may be placed.

We are, dear sir, your friends and brethren in Christ our Lord.

(Signed), A. W. RILEY,




It was but a few days after my entrance upon my last term at the Seminary, when a letter from the Rev. Rufus Anderson, Secretary of the A. B. C. F. M., called me to Boston to be ordained, and to sail on a mission of exploration to Patagonia, on which expedition I embarked on the 16th of August, 1833. An account of this trip may be found in my "Adventures in Patagonia."



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