Island History

Besides the kauka lapa‘au (Hawaiian healers) who must have lived among the early Polynesian and first Native Hawaiian people centuries before the arrival of the first Europeans, the first known resident physician on Kaua‘i was the Rev. Dr. Thomas Lafon, who came to these shores in one of the missionary waves in the 1830s.

Prior to volunteering for missionary service in Hawai‘i with the 32-member Eighth Company of American Congregational missionaries, Virginia-born Thomas Lafon (1801-1876) had earned his doctorate degree at Transylvania University in 1827, and had been ordained at Marion College, Missouri, in 1835. 

Accompanying him on his mission to Hawai‘i was his wife of exactly one month, Sophia Louisa Parker, of New Bedford, Mass.

The Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Lafon eventually were assigned to the Koloa Mission in October of 1837, where he would become the first college-graduated physician to make Kaua‘i his home.

Lafon became the first of Hawai‘i’s many sugar-plantation doctors, tending to the medical needs of nearby Ladd & Company’s Hawaiian laborers and their families, roughly 100 men, women, and children.

Lafon’s duties at the Koloa Mission, according to Hank Soboleski’s book “History Makers of Kauai Volume Two,” also encompassed those of minister and teacher, and he began cultivating sugarcane for the benefit of the mission on 20 acres west of ‘Oma‘o Stream, with plans to have the cane ground and processed into sugar at the Ladd & Company mill.

In 1839, the Kaua‘i Presbytery ordered Lafon to minister at the large church Governor Kaikioewa had built in Lihu‘e sometime between 1835 and 1838.

The church lot, which included Kaikioewa’s home, occupied the area of the present Lihu‘e post office, Bank of Hawaii and the old Lihue Plantation Store, with small fields of indigenous cane planted by Kaikioewa’s laborers surrounding it.

All the while, Lafon continued his work in treating the sick, ministering to his 52-member church, and teaching at a large school he and his wife had built in Lihu‘e, which attracted students from as far as five miles away.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lafon, died at Newark, N.J., on March 20, 1876.

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