The Acquisitions Table: Francis Lawton, Letter, 1845

Cuffe Lawton (b. 1789) was a free black man who was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His son, Francis Lawton (1822-1885) was born in New Bedford  and became a whale man, who eventually rose to the rank of mate and traveled to Hawaii. By the 1850s Francis was married to Isabella Lawton, with whom he had three children, and was working as a dry goods merchant in Newport, Rhode Island.

In this 1845 letter to his father from Lahaina, Hawaii, Francis discusses his dislike for his whaling ship’s captain, writing:

“As for our Capt. He is actually the worst man I ever saw there is scarcely a single crime that he is not guilty of and we have a very good reason for saying that. He has sailed in a certain class of vessels [probably slavers] which shall now be nameless. By his own confessions he says that if the English were to catch him . . . his time would be short.”

Later in the letter, he also discusses Native Hawaiians and the ineffectiveness of missionaries on the Sandwich Islands:

I suppose that you have heard a great deal about the Sandwich Isles about their learning enterprise talents and happiness why one to read their papers would think that he was reading the description of some Fairyland but I must say that they are the most miserable set of Islanders that I ever saw. When Cook discovered them the population was estimated to be about 800,000 now they scarcely number 160,000 and of that number about 300 are white and 4 or 500 half breeds. Now I should think that was a great decrease in the short space of 67 years perhaps you will inquire the reason for this decrease. . .. I ask them and they will tell you it is the white man’s curse it is the Rum and fire arms and Poison and a hundred of loathsome diseases that Christian nations bring among them. But it is the same wherever the white man goes there is a curse follows him where the print of his cursed footsteps are seen there you will see nations dying off by hundreds and thousands. We were at the island of Nooheva about 18 months ago and there it was the same they were dying off there some 20 and 30 in a day they mostly young persons

. . .

As for the missionaries I hardly know what to say of them. Were I to tell you the truth you would not believe me. There fore I shall merely say that they have not done so much good as what they might.

2 thoughts on “The Acquisitions Table: Francis Lawton, Letter, 1845”

  1. Fascinating. A young black woman from Little Compton named Sabina Gray married William Wilson Lawton If Newport sometime between 1809 and 1817 and had two little boys with him by 1820. I wonder if you have any more details that may connect Francis to William. William was a mariner. He died between 1730 and 1740.

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