Name: Nathaniel Bright Emerson
Birth: 1 JUL 1839 in Waialua, Oahu, HI
Death: 16 JUL 1915 in at sea
Education: Williams College 1865
Change Date: 1 MAY 2005
Nathaniel Bright Emerson was born at Waialua, Oahu, on July 1, 1839. He was the son of the Rev. John S. and Ursula Sophia Newell Emerson, who came to
Hawaii with the Fifth Company of Missionaries, May 17, 1832. The family home was at Waialua where his father was pastor of the native church.
After completing his early education at Punahou, Nathaniel went to Williams College, graduating in 1865, in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His college career was interrupted by the
Civil War, and he enlisted in the First Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and was wounded twice at Fredericksburg and once at Chancellorsville.
The latter wound healed in time for him to be at Gettysburg where an exploding shell tore off the back of his cap but left him otherwise untouched. Although
his enlistment expired before the Richmond campaign, the regiment remained and he was in all the battles from Rapidan to Richmond.
Returning to Williams at the end of the war, he took his degree in 1865 and then studied medicine at Harvard and at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in
New York from which he graduated in 1869. This was followed by work at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. In New York Dr. Emerson was associated
with Dr. Willard Parker, the eminent surgeon, as student and assistant. For several years he was also clinical assistant to Dr. Seguin, professor of nervous
diseases at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Emerson remained in New York until November, 1878, when, at the invitation of S.G. Wilder, Minister of the Interior for the Kingdom of Hawaii and
president of the Board of Health, he returned to Honolulu to become general inspector of "lepers and leper stations". This took him to Kalaupapa, but the
greater part of his time was spent in Honolulu in examining suspects and treating patients at the Kakaako Branch Hospital. In 1880 a petition signed by 175
lepers was brought before the Legislative Assembly requesting that the doctor be retained as medical superintendent at Kalaupapa. However, in the pursuit of his
duties he also made some enemies. In 1888 Representative Kalaukoa presented a petition to the Assembly dealing with the treatment of lepers, one section of
which called for prohibiting Dr. Emerson from practicing in the Kingdom. On another occasion a native with a loaded gun threatened to shoot the doctor unless
he were given permission to visit his wife at Kalaupapa. Fortunately, he was disarmed by bystanders before he could do any harm.
On January 22, 1885, in Honolulu Dr. Emerson married Dr. Sarah E. Pierce, also a physician. One son, Arthur W., was born to the Emersons.
On December 1, 1880, the doctor was appointed vaccinating officer for Oahu and was in charge of the newly opened government dispensary until November,
1881. From September, 1887, through December, 1889, Dr. Emerson was president of the Board of Health. Again in 1896 he served as a member of the Board
of Health and for a few months was acting president in the absence of Mr. Smith. In April, 1894, he became prison physician, a position he held until his death.
Dr. Emerson was an able historian and writer of Hawaiian mythology. One of his notable efforts was the translation into English of David Malo's great work on
Hawaiian lore and customs. There were peculiar difficulties in the translation which made it necessary to first make a clarification of the Hawaiian text. In 1909
the Bureau of American Ethnology published his book, "Unwritten Literature of Hawaii", and his last work, "Pele and Hiiaka", was published in 1915. Some
seven years were spent in researching and writing this latter book. He also authored numerous papers and articles dealing with Hawaii.
Dr. Emerson died July 16, 1915, at the age of 76, while on a sea voyage.
The doctor's involvement in the civic and cultural affairs of the community was truly amazing. He belonged to the George W. DeLong Post of the G.A.R. and
served as surgeon of the group for many years. He was a member of the Royal Agricultural Society, the Y.M.C.A., the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society
(president 1891), the Hawaiian Historical Society ( president in 1898, 1900, 1902, 1903, and 1904), the Social Science Club, the Honolulu Library Association
(serving on the Board of Trustees for a number of years), was a charter member of the Polynesian Society, a trustee of Oahu College for a number of years, a
member of Central Union Church, the Harvard Club and the University Club. He was a member of the Hawaiian Medical Association, the American
Neurologists' Association, and served on the Lunacy Commission.
He was one of the oldest members of the Myrtle Boat Club, and , when it was located near the present Immigration Station, he used to swim from the Club
across the channel and back daily. He belonged to the Sharpshooters and on more than one occasion took top honors. He also had an outstanding collection of sea
Father: John Smith Emerson b: 28 FEB 1800 in Chester, Rockingham, NH
Mother: Ursula Sophia Newell b: 27 SEP 1806 in Nelson, Cheshire, NH
Sarah E. Pierce b: 1855
22 JAN 1885
in Honolulu, HI