Today we picture the Hawaiian Islands as a premier tropical vacation destination. Nearly 200 years ago, that same idyllic island landscape boasted a revival, out of which grew the largest Protestant congregation in the world of that time.

Before 1820, the Hawaiian Islands had never encountered widespread Christianity. But that was about to change. As the Second Great Awakening traveled around the United States, it also spread outside its borders, sparking the New England missionary companies that arrived in the Sandwich Islands, which today are called Hawaii, in the 1820s and 1830s. Hiram Bingham led the inaugural mission’s team that arrived in 1820. Fellow New Englander Titus Coan, who landed in Hawaii in 1834, built on the foundation that Bingham’s generation had established, his work catalyzing the Great Revival of 1836–1840. The effect of this movement proved so significant that within a generation, the ruler of Hawaii declared his kingdom a Christian nation.

A New England Upbringing

Titus Coan was born in 1801 to pious parents, into a family of seven children during at an outbreak of revivals in New England known today as the Second Great Awakening. The son of a Connecticut farmer, Coan grew up working alongside his father, before serving in the militia after the War of 1812.

Upon his return home from the military, Coan attended revival meetings led by evangelist Asahel Nettleton, who was his cousin. Coan later wrote about the experience, “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.”

After moving to Western New York to join four of his brothers, Coan took a teaching job and in 1826, met ...

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