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Since prehistory, Polynesians have been seafaring people whose origins cannot be completely traced. In anonymity and out of Asia, the ancestors of the Hawaiians began millennia ago to work their way across the vast, trackless Pacific.

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Tahitian Sailing Vessels, 18th Century
CCI Archives

Generally believed to be the first inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands, the Polynesians migrated throughout the Pacific in sailing canoes.

The Polynesian migrations most likely began from the islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, spreading east, south and north, covering millions of square miles of ocean. Some historians claim that sometime around the fourth or fifth century A.D., the first planned migrations came from the Marquesas. For five centuries the Marquesans settled and lived peacefully on the new land of Hawaii.

Around 1,200 A.D., the Tahitians arrived and subjugated the settled islanders. Tahitian customs, legends, and language became the Hawaiian way of life.

Traditional Hawaiian society — before contact with the outside world — was characterized by a complex religious, governmental and cultural system that reflected the harmonious relationship early Hawaiians had with the natural world. Like all societies, the Hawaiians had a set of rules or laws (kapu) to help guide their people. The Kapu System outlined actions that were appropriate and inappropriate for people of different ranks. For example, in the case of conservation, an alii (chief) could forbid people from eating or using certain plants, animals, or other resources. These restrictions could be for certain people and for certain times of the year. With the aid of kapu, the scarce island resources were protected from over-exploitation.

September 9, 1848, Californian

The Gold Fever Abroad.

At the date of departure of the last vessels from the Sandwich Islands and Oregon, the all absorbing topic was the gold mines of California. Two vessels, crowded with passengers, have already arrived from the former place, and others may be daily expected; and from the latter place, one vessel has arrived and three more are on their way.

In the Polynesian of July 15th, only three columns are devoted to "that which was at first regarded as dubious "but" has lately been confirmed, and all the restless spirits which the little Kingdom of Hawaii had collected from the four quarters of the world were on the qui vive for a start." By the operation of a law recently promulgated in the Sandwich Islands, no foreign resident can leave the kingdom without obtaining a passport and giving public notice by advertisement and handbills of his intention so to leave.

The Polynesian says:

"There has been a perfect rush upon our office for notices of intention to depart the kingdom during the past week. The mania has invaded our sanctum our imp is in arms and from present appearances, it is doubtful whether we shall be able to retain enough of the members of the 'art preservative of all arts,' to present our readers with a further record of events. Our printers think picking up type nothing compared to picking up gold; but they are sensible fellows, and we entertain hopes of pacifying them.

Honolulu 1850.
Honolulu Harbor 1850
Peter Hurd

"The little city of Honolulu has probably never before witnessed such an excitement as the gold fever has created. Probably not less than 200 will leave for California in the course of two months, if passages can be procured. There will many mechanics and good citizens, doubtless, leave; but at the same time we shall rid the community of some whose presence is not particularly desirable. 'It's an ill wind that blows no good.' If we suffer the lost of some good citizens, we .-hall also get rid of many bad ones. We doubt not many will better their worldly condition; but it is impossible to foretell the final result.

Gold mines have never yet made a country prosperous or its inhabitants happy. The love of it arouses all the baser passions of man's nature, and we fear the gold regions of California will be the theatre of tragic events the scene of bloodshed and strife. The sun never yet shone upon a more motley crowd than will be assembled there. We hope for the sake of humanity, peace and order will be preserved, but we confess We tremble for the result upon the morals of the people and the peace of the country. In the confusion which must prevail there for the next twelve months, the law will be powerless rights will be disregarded reason dethroned and brute force will reign triumphant To the love of gold will be added the maddening influence of the intoxicating bowl. It is idle to speculate upon the result; time alone can show whether these discoveries will prove a blessing or a curse to the inhabitants of California."

As to the fears the editor of the Polynesian expresses, that "the gold region of California will be the theatre of tragic events, the scene of bloodshed and strife," we can assure him that they are perfectly groundless, though very natural at that distance. We can state from personal experience (and we take pleasure in doing so,) that, for number of people gathered together at one place, we never saw a more orderly and generally temperate population than may be found at either of the principal "diggings." The rights of individuals have never, to our knowledge, been infringed in single instance, and this, too, in a region where the only law was public opinion, and among men engaged in a pursuit which of all others, is most exciting that of gold-hunting.

We know of but one instance where decorum was outraged this was in the person of a negro, who insulted a white woman. The offender was promptly seized and a guard placed over him with loaded rifles with orders to shoot him if he attempted to escape. A court was formed, a jury impanelled and sworn, and the culprit brought before them and tried with all the order and regularity which might be supposed to characterise a regularly constituted court. Witnesses were examined, the defence heard, the jury charged, and a verdict returned of guilty. The prisoner was then sentenced to receive thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, which sentence was executed by the self-appointed sheriff with great apparent gusto. Three days provisions were given to the negro, with the warning that if he was seen again within three miles of the "diggins," a rifle ball would be the penalty. All this might sound rather strange to "ears polite," but when the circumstances are taken into consideration, it will be conceded that it was the voice of the people, in the absence of their regularly authorized agents, and, us a celebrated politician once remarked, the "second sober thought of the people is always right and never wrong."

That "gold mines have never yet made a country prosperous or its people happy," we readily admit, and the experiment with regard to California is in process of being tried. So far, we believe it has appeared that those of our citizens who have been successful in the gold mines, are very competent to bear prosperity nothing "tragic" or of a nature calculated to make us "tremble" has yet transpired, and we can assure our friend of the Polynesian, that he may with perfect safety trust himself amongst the "motley crowd" at the California gold mines.

January 10, 1849, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

From the Sandwich Islands

By the arrival of the French frigate Poursevante, Admiral Tremelin, we have received advices from Honolulu to the 6th inst. The news is of importance, but we have only room for a summary of the strange events which have lately transpired there. M. Dillon, the French consul, has for some time been at loggerheads with the government upon the subject of Catholic rights and brandy.

About the 15th of August, the Poursevante and a war steamer arrived, when M. Dillon made certain demands upon the government, threatening them with "great guns," in case of non-compliance. The demands, as near as we can learn, were, 1st, a reduction of duties on brandies and liquors of one-half, and the return of one-half of all such duties as have been collected since 1846; 2d, the same rights to Catholics and their schools as are granted to Protestants; 3d. the repeal of a law which compels whaleships, importing liquor for sale, to pay port charges; 4, the remission of a fine imposed upon some captain of a whaleship. There were some minor demands relative to "redress" and "satisfaction" for indignities and insults offered to the "grand republic." These demands were made, and three days allowed for the government to comply or refuse. The King being absent, the Admiral waited until his return, when tie government refusing to comply with the demands, the French troops landed and took possession of the fort.

No resistance being offered, the gallant fellows spiked and threw from the ramparts the guns of the fort, destroyed the ammunition and public stores and took all the Hawaiian vessels that were in port. The Hawaiian flag was lowered, and the French hoisted, After the quiet possession of the fort for three days, the French abandoned it, and retired on board their vessels.

The King's yacht, Kamehameha III, was manned with Frenchmen, and dispatched, it is supposed, to Valparaiso, the steamer sailed for Tahiti, and the Poursevante with M. Dillon and family, sailed for this place, where she arrived Tuesday evening. M. Dillon and family have taken passage for Panama in the steamer Oregon, from which place he goes to France, via New York. The British Consul General and the American Consul protested against the against the action of the French forces. The British Consul General offered his service as mediator, but was refused. It is uncertain what the result of all this will be; but the general impression is that M. Dillon has exceeded his powers, and that his acts will be denounced by his government. This belief is strengthened by his sudden departure, and his anxiety to be the first to represent the matter to his own government.

Saturday, September 10, 1858, New York Daily Times, New York, New York


Dates from the Sandwich Islands are to the 16th of July. Dramatic entertainments are given regularly at the Hawaiian Theatre. Messrs. Bing Ram, Simpson, Ranlowe and Mrs. Ray, are mentioned as part of the company. There are two volunteer companies in Honolulu: The First Hawaiian Guard and a Cavalry Corps. A lot was sold on Britannia Street for a church for $21,0000. The population of the Islands is supposed to be 84,165. Deaths during the past year, 4,320. Birth, 1,422 or nearly three deaths to a birth. The measles and whooping couch are supposed to have taken off 10,000 in 1847 and '48, and it is thought the small-pox will now take off 5,000 more. The natives are fast falling away. The fearful ravages of the small-pox have created great alarm in Honolulu; 1,670 cases have been reported, and 573 deaths. It is expected that the whaling fleet will not dare to touch at that place in the Fall. The report of the Board of Health, however, states the disease is diminishing in the city proper, though extending into the country. A great meeting of the foreign residents in favor of the dismissal of Messrs. G.P. Juno and Richard Armstrong, Ministers of Finance and Public Instruction, was to be held on the 20th of July.

April 12, 1897, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, USA

Only Natural Outpost for Defense of foe Pacific Coast
In the Hands of a Foreign Power Would Afford Means of Incalculable Injury to the United States -- Wise Advice of Admirals Walker and Porter and General Schofield -- The Present Attitude of Japan.

John W. Foster, ex-Secretary of State, delivered an address on Friday evening, March 26th, before the American Geographical Society, at its annual meeting in Washington. Mr. Foster is probably the best-informed American to-day on the subject of Hawaiian affairs, the history, politics, business situation and present needs and prospects of the islands. He spoke with the authority and knowledge of the trained diplomat, and the light he shed on Hawaiian affairs was such as to illuminate and put into their proper relations the Facts in regard to them. From the very full report of the address in the New York "Tribune" we quote the following:


The present Republican Government, which came into power on the overthrow of tlie monarchy, has been in existence for four years, and has been marked by great ability, careful attention to the interests of the people, and by thorough integrity. There seems to be a consensus of opinion on the islands that the monarchy can never be restored. The wretched history of its rulers and the incapacity of the native race to govern, however well educated, their instability of character and susceptibility to temptation, forbid such a step. The families of the old/chiefs have become extinct, and there is nothing out of which to found a dynasty. Had there existed a lingering hope of restoration, the ex-Queen would not have made her voluntary and absolute renunciation of the crown and sworn allegiance to the Republic. But the Government of President Dole does not regard itself as permanent, for by its Constitution it declares its purpose to go out of existence as soon as the Unlted States shall see fit to annex the islands.

In the changed relations existing in the Pacific Ocean, it is plain to the observant statesman that Hawaii cannot much longer maintain itself as an independent nation. Aside from the temptation which it offers to the nations contending for supremacy in the Pacific, it possesses within itself the elements which threaten the loss of its independence. The amiable and peaceful Hawaiians and thrifty Portuguese, whose fatherland is so far away, cause no fear to the present rulers. But the Asiatics, whose countries are so near, are a source of great anxiety. The Chinese and Japanese now number about 40 per cent of the population, and are already more than half of the male inhabitants, and the Japanese have doubled their number in the last six years, and they continue to come in increasing numbers. The supporters of the present Government would put a stop to this immigration but for the powerful influence of the sugar planters, and they look to annexation to the United States as the only way to accomplish this end. These Asiatic elements are already beginning to assert themselves. Minister Willis, in 1894, transmitted to the Secretary of State a report of a meeting in Honolulu of 3,000 Chinese to protest against some pending legislation, and in the resolutions they declare: "We shall be satisfied with nothing that accords to our race a lesser degree of consideration and justice than residents of other nationalities enjoy." If during the pending of the Geary bill in Congress a meeting of 20,000 Chinese had been held in San Francisco demanding the treatment of the most favored nation, it would not have been half so significant.

Admiral Walker, who was in command of our navy in those waters in 1904, in Official reports, after referring to the large and rapidly increasing number of Japanese in the islands, says: "They are inclined to be turbulent they stand together as a solid body, and their leaders are said to have political ambitions, and propose to claim for their free men the right to vote under the conditions with which that right is granted to other foreigners. They are a brave people, with military instincts, and would fight if aroused to violence": and he significantly adds that the United States naotighly familiar with the political condition.! of the Pacific, in a letter > a Congressional OOnunfttSS' in \siv; wrote: "It does not require a prophet to foresee see that those islands in the near future will be either American or Japanese" ...


Upon this weighty advice the redprocity treaty was approved by Congress, and a provision was inserted granting to the United States the use of Pearl Harbor as a naval and colaing station, and stipulating that no similar privilege or franchise should be granted to any other Power... From the time that California became a part of the United States our Government and its public men, political, military and naval, up to the last administration, have maintained a uniform and consistent position respecting Hawaii. They have always held that our paramount position on the Pacific Coast of North America made it a political necessity that these islands should not pass into the hands or under the control of any foreign nation, and when the subject has been discussed it has been held that whenever the opportune time arrived they should be annexed to the United States. I should be glad to support this statement by the declarations of Presidents Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Pieree, Johnson, Grant and Harrison, and of Secretaries of State Webster, Calhoun. Buchanan, Clayton, Marcy, Seward, Fish, Frelinghuysen and Blame... The official visit of General Schofield, the late Commander of the army, has been referred to. In his report already cited he says: "The Hawaiian Islands constitute the only natural outpost to the defence of the Pacific Coast. In the possession of a foreign naval Power they would afford the means of incalculable injury to the United States. We must secure forever the desired control over those islands or let it pass into other hands"; and he adds that the financial interests of the United States are insignificant when compared to the importance of such a military and naval station to national security and welfare." Admiral Porter in a report already cited used this language: "European commerce, customs, enterprise and ideas of Government are making rapid strides all over that vast ocean (Pacific), a theater on which nature seems to have intended the United States should exercise the principal control." If the Hawaiian Islands were occupied by the British or other Power, he says, "they could launch forth their ships of war upon us with perfect impunity..."


Captain Mahan of our navy, the recognized authority both in Europe and America on naval warfare and strategy, has recently discussed this question at length, especially in relation to the wonderful development of the Pacific referred to at the opening of this lecture, and expressed in the strongest terms the reasons Why the control of these islands by the United States is a military necessity. He says in part:

"To any one viewing a map that shows the full extent of the Pacific Ocean, with its shores on either side, two circumstances will he strikingly and immediately apparent. He will see at a glance that the Sandwich Islands stand by themselves in a state of comparative isolation, amid a vast expanse of sea; and, again, that they form the center of a large circle, whose radius is approximately, and very closely, the distance from Honolulu to San Francisco. From San Francisco to Honolulu, 2.KMI miles easy steaming distance, is substantially the same as from Honolulu to the Gilbert, Marshall. Samoan, Society and Marquesas groups (the nearest inhabited islands), all under European control, except Samoa, in which we have a part intluence. * * * Too much stress cannot be laid upon the immense disadvantages to us of any maritime enemy having a coaling station well within 2,500 miles of every point of our coast line from Puget Sound to Mexico. Were there many others available we might find it difficult to exclude from all. There is, however, but the one. Shut out from the Sandwich Islands as a coal base, an enemy is thrown back tor supplies of fuel to distances of 3,500 or 4,000 miles s or between 7,000 and 8,000 going and coming -- and impediment to sustained maritime operrations well-nigh prohibitive. It is rarely thai so important a factor in the attack or defense of a coast line of a sea frontier is concentrated in a single position, and the circumstances renders it doubly imperative upon us to secure it, if we righteously can."

... We acquired the great Louisiana territory by purchase from a monarch who had not only a questionable right to its transfer, but who had usurped power by a revolution and held it by force of arms. In the case of Florida our title came to us from a sovereign who was ruling in defiance of the constitution and against the will of the people... We acquired California and all that vast region from Mexico through a treaty made with authorises who had only a few months before seized the Government by means of a pronunciamento, and in a little while by similar means were driven from power.


But in addition to the fact that the regularly constituted Government of Hawaii is seeking annexation to the United States, we have a strong equitable claim to the islands. The people of the United States contributed millions of dollars to bring the inhabitants out of a wretched state of barbarism and servitude and to secure them a place among the civilized peoples of the earth. Americans gave them a written language, organized their schools, taught their Kings the principles of government, for more than half a century were the real administrators of public affairs, and until the rulers demonstrated their utter incapacity were the firmest supporters of the native Government. The United States has, by means of the reciprocity treaty, brought life and prosperity to the islands and enabled the merchants and planters to grow rich at our expense. It is to-day virtually an American colony. The paramount influence is American.

In no part of the United States is there more intense loyalty shown to our country or its institutions: During our Cvil War Hawaii contributed much more than its quota of Americans to maintain the Union. Every year the Fourth of July is celebrated with much enthusiasm by a public meeting in Honolulu. On Decoration Day the post of the Grand Army of the Republic repairs to the cemetery to keep green the memory of the soldiers who lie buried there. Thanksgiving Day is annually observed with even more solemnity than in the native land. The Americans of Hawaii are loyal and patriotic sons of the fatherland, and it would be a cruel and undeserved fate to abandon them to the rule of some foreign Power. Four times in its past history a foreign flag other than that of the United States has floated over the islands first the Russian, then the French, afterward the British, and again the French. Any one of these Powers would gladly assume sovereignty again, and to them is to be added as a menace the rising Power of Japan...

To my mind annexation presents no political or administrative difficulties. During the discussion four years ago it was suggested by certain writers of standing in the legal profession that there was no authority given in the Constitution of the United States to annex territory not contiguous. When the purchase of Louisiana was first suggested Mr. Jefferson, a strict constructionist, thought it could not be accomplished except by an amendment to the Constitution, but when the opportune moment arrived he heartily approved the treaty, and nothing further was heard of the constitutional amendment. The objection now advanced does not seem to have had any weight With the Executive or with Congress when Alaska was acquired, nor will it with enlightened statesmen to-day.

The islands should be admitted, not as a State, but as a part of the territory of the United States, to be organized in such manner as Congress in its wisdom may determine. We have already three forms of territorial government under authority of Congress in the District of Columbia, in the Territories and in Alaska.

...We must either annex the islands or leave them free to make such other alliance as they may choose or as destiny may determine. As a rule I do not believe in the extension of our territory beyond our present ocean limits. I think we should develop within our own domain a great English-speaking nation, controlled by the principles marked out for us by the fathers of the Republic. But it Is precisely because I want to see a great and powerful nation much greater and more powerful than the one we now have on this continent that I hail the opportunity now offered of securing this outpost of our Pacific frontier, and thus protecting for all time our future mighty commerce and rapidly growing interests on that coast from the encroachments of the great Powers striving for ascendancy in that quarter of the globe.

May 18, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA

Fate of Thirteen Ships From Honolulu Causes Anxiety.
May Have Been Captured by the Spaniards on Their Way to New York.
Loss of the Vessels and Cargoes Would Fall Entirely Upon the Underwriters.
Special Dispatch to The Call.

VANCOUVER, B. C, May 17. The Australian steamship Paroo, which arrived here to-day with sixty passengers for the Klondike, brings news from Honolulu that grave fears are entertained, owing to the war, for a sugar fleet which left there three weeks ago. The Paroo left the islands on May 7, and big ship-owners and underwriters were then anxiously awaiting news of the fleet. The thirteen vessels composing it are dandy American clipper ships, and they have an aggregate cargo of nearly 50,000 tons. The vessels cost on an average $100,000 each, and should Spain capture them, as is feared, the loss would be in the neighborhood of $5,000,000. The Hawaiian firms would not be great sufferers from the capture of the sugar cargoes, as they are insured for their full value.

The brunt of the enormous loss which would be incurred would fall on the underwriters. The fleet, it is stated, was last sighted around the Horn, proceeding up the Atlantic coast to New York, its destination. It is composed of the following vessels:

  • Nuuanu, carrying 1710 tons;
  • Tillie E. Starbuck, 5206;
  • Adam W. Spies, 1834;
  • W. F. Babcock, 3426:
  • S. P. Hitchcock, 3543;
  • H. B. Hyde, 4034;
  • Iroquois, 3350;
  • George Stebon, 2800;
  • Kenilworth, 3900;
  • Luzon, 2000;
  • A. J. Fuller, 4850;
  • George Curtis, 4000;
  • Ayrian, 4338.

The Nuuanu carries the Hawaiian flag, which should prove a protection. It is reported along the coast that the Luzon, fearing capture, put in somewhere south of Los Angeles. It is rather a singular coincidence, and one that superstitious underwriters laid stress on in Honolulu, that the sugar fleet consists of thirteen vessels. All except one fly the American flag, and nearly all left together. Passengers say the war excitement is intense on the islands.

June 19, 1898, San Francisco Call, San Francisco

Does Not Fear Spanish Ships

Honolulu, June 9 (via Victoria, B. C. June 18) -- The American ship, A. J. Fuller, Captain Nichols, sailed for New York on the 2d. It carries a cargo of sugar valued at more than $200,000. It will call at Delaware Breakwater for orders. The danger of Spanish cruisers in the Atlantic daunts neither captain nor owners.

July 31, 1898, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, USA

Reasons Why the Ship Kenilworth Was Lost
Captain Baker Had Trouble With His Men Before Leaving Hawaii.
Had Them in Jail

SAN FRANCISCO, July 30. That there was foul play in the loss of the full-rigged American ship Kenilworth and Captain John G. Baker, First officer A. B. Piper and Cabin Boy Hobson on the high seas is plainly suggested by a story of a mutinous crew related by a man who saw the sugar-laden ship at Hilo, Hawaii, the night before she sailed for New York.

H. M. Thompson, who arrived here Thursday in the schooner Campbell, was a shore merchant in Hilo, and a close friend of Captain Baker. In view of his knowledge of the Kenilworth's crew he is strongly of the opinion that Captain Baker, his mate and cabin boy, met with foul play at the hands of the crew.

"When the Kenilworth came into Hilo," he said, "Captain Baker remarked to me, as I met him on the wharf: 'I have a stinking crew this time; had trouble with them all the way out from New York.'

"I knew Captain Baker well. It was a mixed crew that he had shipped In New York in a hurry. They refused to work at the time they were at Hilo. They complained that the food was not good enough. Captain Baker took the ringleaders to jail. There were twelve of them.

Some of the imprisoned men had openly remarked that they would fix the captain when they got out to sea. They hated him and the first mate. I heard no complaint on their part about the second mate. I don't know whether he stood in with the men or not.

"I told Captain Baker of the remarks I had heard, for I thought he ought to be warned. They had said: 'We will do the captain and mate up; settle with them when we get out to sea.'

"Captain Baker replied: 'Well, I'll attend to them myself when I get out."

"It was about the 1st of June when the Kenilworth sailed from Hilo. She was loaded only with sugar, which is not combustible. She had 50,000 bags, valued at $200,000."

For more than thirty years Captaln Baker had been in command of different ships and was a mariner of remarkable success.

The Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Island)

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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