From mystery to Hawai'i history
By Joel Tannenbaum
Special to The Advertiser
By Joel Tannenbaum
When Albert Francis "Juddie" Judd III died in March at the age of 96, a long-held deal came due.
Judd, a direct descendant of the original settler-missionary Judds, held ownership of the private papers of Gerrit P. Judd and his sons, spanning from the 1820s until the end of the 19th century.
Upon his death they officially became the property of the Bishop Museum, where they had been stored and kept under extremely restricted access since 1922.
The Judd papers were, and to some extent still are, shrouded in mystery.
Many know the story of Juddie's great-grandfather, Gerrit P. Judd, the Massachusetts doctor and missionary who came to Hawai'i to spread Christianity but stayed on as an adviser to the Hawaiian Kingdom and trusted confidant of the royal family, particularly Kamehameha III.
Like many of Hawai'i's old-money set, the Judds went from missionaries to landed gentry within one generation. Unlike many of their counterparts, the Judds' historical legacy still has a shine to it, mainly because of Gerrit Judd's role in reinstating the monarchy in 1843, after a British naval captain took over Honolulu Harbor and attempted to depose the government.
According to many, Judd was not just an adviser but the de facto prime minister of the Kingdom of Hawai'i during this era, which included the 1848 Mahele, the radical land redistribution scheme that dispossessed many Native Hawaiians from their homes and opened the door to plantation agriculture.
But there are a whole lot of things about Gerrit P. Judd and his sons that we don't know, and that we're about to find out.
TIGHTLY GUARDED COLLECTION
In 1908, Gerrit Judd's grandson, Albert Francis Judd II, joined the board of trustees of Kamehameha Schools, which at the time also governed Bishop Museum. In the 1920s, he began placing items from the personal papers of his father and grandfather in the museum.
By 1936, the complete "Judd papers" were left there in four steel cabinets. Albert Judd II's wife, Madeline Hartwell Judd, passed away in 1941, leaving the collection to their son Albert Francis Judd III. Juddie never inspected the contents personally, but maintained tight control over it, vetting anyone — researcher or museum employee — who wanted access.
In 1966, according to Bishop Museum records, then director Dr. Roland Force wrote to curator of collections E.H. Bryan Jr. asking how the museum had come into possession of the cabinets.
Bryan replied that he thought this was the result of a private agreement between Albert Judd II under the museum's 1930s leadership:
"It was my understanding that these files contained material concerning the Judd family and were to be left alone until after the deaths of the persons concerned," wrote Bryan in 1966. "Who these persons were and how long that should be was never mentioned to me. In fact, I was as much as told that these files were none of the business of the Curator of Collections and that I was to leave them strictly alone."
In 1975, Albert Judd III signed a deed of gift, establishing that the papers would remain in the museum, but would be under his control until his death.
In the 1980s, Judd's sister, Dorothy Judd, donated funds to stem the deterioration of the documents, allowing vetted museum employees and volunteers to slowly begin sorting the documents and storing them in acid-free folders and boxes.
For DeSoto Brown, 52, the collection manager for Bishop Museum's archives, this arrangement posed some unique problems.
"The staff of Bishop Museum has learned that agreements like that are too cumbersome and too difficult and not to the museum's benefit and not to the patron's benefit to do things that way," says Brown, who has worked at the museum since 1969, first as a volunteer, and, since 1987, as a full-time archivist.
In March, when the museum came into full possession of the documents, museum staff, led by Brown, stepped up work cataloging and preserving the thousands of documents — official government papers, personal correspondence, newspaper clippings, contracts, among many other things.
On a recent weekday, library technician Anoi Aga, 26, and archives technician Leah Caldiera, 26, were in the Carter Room, assisting Brown in locating documents. The narrow room, lined with high shelves filled with the 92 grey boxes holding the Judd papers, is kept at a chilly 63 degrees.
OPEN TO INTERPRETATION
It's one thing to catalog a collection, and another to open it to the public. To incorporate the knowledge within that collection into the tapestry of Hawaiian history is a vastly larger task, and that's where the public comes in.
Bishop Museum's archives are unusual in that only a minority of their users are academics in the strictest sense. Most people who show up in the archives are kama'aina with genealogical questions, or simply a curiosity about the islands on which they live. In fact, according to an annual survey the library and archives conduct, the majority of archive users identify themselves as Native Hawaiian.
Little by little, it is the archives' patrons who will assess the Judd papers and rewrite Hawaiian history accordingly.
"It's wonderful to have this," says Brown. "I don't want that to sound ghoulish or like I took pleasure in Juddie's death, but on the other hand, that transition does bring that material out for people to see. ... And that's what we're here to do. Those of us that work here, our lives are dedicated to that."
If the Judd material does indeed yield controversial information, does that pose a problem for Bishop Museum, tied as closely as it is to the nexus of old missionary families that comprise Hawai'i's social and economic elite?
Not according to Brown. "The fact is, the material exists. The fact is, it is available to the public. Therefore, people may write their own interpretations," he says. "If someone finds material in the Judd collection that changes things dramatically, that's reality."
While some missionary families have gradually been unmasked as frauds, incompetents or racists, Gerrit Judd and his sons have, thus far, retained respectability in historical memory, as selfless intermediaries between Kamehameha III and the imperial powers of the day. The opening up to the public of the Judd papers may either strengthen that impression or fatally damage it.
If the zealousness with which Albert Francis Judd III guarded the collection is any indication, surprises await.
The archives are open to the public from noon until 4 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday. The archives' staff is waiting.
"There are going to be many, many important pieces in the Judd collection that researchers will have to look for," says Brown. "And we welcome people coming in to do that, because that's how the word gets out. That's how new information comes."
Kealani Cook, 29, a native of Waimea on the Big Island who is studying for a Ph.D. in history at the University of Michigan, agrees. "Between the recent efforts to translate, catalog and analyze the Hawaiian-language newspaper archives, and the Judd papers," Cook says, "we may witness a significant rewriting of mid-19th century Hawaiian political, social and cultural history in the next 10 years."
The documents, besides the information they contain, are historical artifacts in and of themselves. Brown points to secret instructions signed by Kamehameha III in 1849, empowering Gerrit P. Judd to negotiate for foreign protection in the event of an emergency.
"If you want to say it (this secret document) has the mana of the people, it could be said to have that," he says.
Key missionary family's private documents could recast story of the Hawaiian Kingdom as Bishop Museum opens files to public