By Kauʻi Sai-Dudoit

“…the 28th of November was the day that the Hawaiian Kingdom gained its independence from the other power of the nations of Britain and France. On that day in the year 1843, the great powers of Britain and France joined together to discuss the bestowing of independence on this Nation, and the two of them agreed to this and we gained this independence…we are overjoyed, and can boast that we are amongst the few Independent Nations under the sun. There are many islands like us, who live peacefully under the powers over them, but Hawaiʻi lives clearly without any power placed above its head. Therefore, the commemoration by the Hawaiian hearts from the East to the West of these islands on this day, is not a small thing, but it is important, and we know by heart the foundational words of our Kingdom. “E mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono.” The gaining of this Independence, was not by the point of a sword or the mouth of a gun, but was gotten peacefully…”

Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. Buke V, Helu 48, Aoao 3. Dekemaba 1, 1866.

Every internationally recognized country celebrates their Independence Day and the heroes who contributed to its consummation. Hawaiʻi is no exception. For the first fifty years, Hawaiʻi celebrated the momentous event of its independence in grand fashion with horse races, mele, parades, feasts, speeches and church gatherings. Merchant shops and government businesses were closed and, on occasion, there would be twenty-one gun salutes from Pūʻōwaina and Honolulu Harbor – all in celebration of this national holiday.

Photo: Timoteo Haʻalilio
Timoteo Haʻalilio – Photo: Courtesy Hawaii State Archives

This year marks the 176th year of Hawaiian independence, and while we traverse our way through this complicated history, let us understand and appreciate the triumphs of that day and the heroes worthy of celebration. There are three men whose dedicated efforts culminated in the success of this endeavor, and although all three deserve our gratitude and aloha, one man stands out for his unwavering dedication and ultimate sacrifice for his king, country and people: Timoteo Kamalehua Haʻalilio. The following summarizes of some of the events that led to Lā Kūʻokoʻa and the efforts of Timoteo Haʻalilio.

By the middle of the 19th century, gunboat diplomacy by foreign nations was a mounting threat in Hawaiian waters. To address this, in April 1842 Kamehameha III commissioned three joint Ministers Plenipotentiary: Timoteo Haʻalilio, William Richards, and Sir George Simpson. Their task was to gain recognition of Hawaiian independence, which at the time was a near impossible undertaking, as no non-European nation had ever achieved this feat.

Sir George Simpson, a British subject, was the Governor-in-Chief of the Hudson’s Bay Company and a man of great influence and standing internationally. He agreed to join the effort because he supported the idea of Hawaiian independence. Upon receiving the commission, Sir George left Hawaiʻi for England, via Alaska and Siberia, with plans to meet up with Haʻalilio and Richards in Europe.

Rev. William Richards arrived in Hawaiʻi with the second company of missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) on April 24, 1823. In July 1838, he resigned from the ABCFM to become translator to King Kamehameha III. In 1839, Richards interpreted Wayland’s Political Economy by integrating Hawaiian practice to create the Hawaiian counterpart, No Ke Kalaiaina, and worked with the king and chiefs to write the 1839 Declaration of Rights and, in 1840, the first constitution of Hawaiʻi. After accompanying Timoteo Haʻalilio on their successful fourteen-month mission around the globe to secure recognition of Hawaiian independence, Richards was appointed to the king’s Privy Council, became a Hawaiian subject and faithfully served the Hawaiian kingdom until his death in 1847. To understand the sentiments of the Hawaiian people towards this man, his final resting place is in Lahaina at Waineʻe Cemetary next to Keöpūolani, Kaumualiʻi, Nahiʻenaʻena and other high-ranking aliʻi.

Photo: Haʻalilio & Richards
Haʻalilio & Richards – Photo: Courtesy

The third Minister, Timoteo Haʻalilio, was a native-born son who dedicated his life to the building and progress of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Born in 1808 to Eseka Kipa and Koʻeleʻele, his father died when he was young and his mother remarried Chief Haʻaloʻu, Governor of Molokaʻi. In 1816, Haʻalilio was taken by Kamehameha Paiʻea as a companion to the young Kauikeaouli, and the two forged a bond that would last throughout their adult lives. In 1823, Haʻalilio and Kauikeaouli were instructed in reading and writing by Hiram Bingham. On June 7, 1826, at the age of 18, Haʻalilio married Hana Hupa in a ceremony conducted by Rev. Levi Chamberlain as recorded in his journal. Haʻalilio soon became Kauikeaouli’s personal secretary and would serve on the House of Nobles. Then, in 1836, the two became members of the first Hawaiian Historical Society under the tutelage of Rev. Sheldon Dibble of Lahainaluna Seminary, and their work was published in 1836 as Ka Mooolelo Hawaii [sic].

We are afforded a glimpse of Haʻalilio’s character, when in July of 1839, a French ship, L’Artemise, captained by Cyrille-Pierre-Theodore Laplace arrived in Hawaiʻi with instructions to enter into diplomatic relations with the Hawaiian government regarding the unfair treatment of Roman Catholics. Within hours of his arrival, he sent an ultimatum to the Hawaiian chiefs:

“His Majesty the King of the French having commanded me to come to Honolulu in order to put an end either by force or by persuasion to the ill-treatment of which the French are the victims at the Sandwich Islands, I hasten first to employ the latter means as being more in harmony with the noble and liberal political system pursued by France towards weaker nations…”

Laplace granted a reprieve of five days, to allow the king to return from Lahaina but demanded in the meantime a hostage to dissuade hostilities to his ship and crew. In his journal he writes, “Within minutes a young chief presented himself. The king’s secretary and one of his favorites [Haalilio] was a handsome young man of frank, pleasant countenance and good manners; he wore European dress and spoke English quite well. He took but little time to express delight at being on board ship; in return, everyone in his new quarters welcomed him warmly…[he] seemed warm-hearted, extroverted, and capable of taking our part when mediating between his sovereign and ourselves (as I later learned he in fact did.)” Hawaiian Journal of History, vol. 32, 1998 M. Birkett. The French Perspective on the Laplace Affair.

Anglo-French Proclamation recognizing Hawaiʻiʻs independence – Photo: Courtesy

Haʻalilio, along with Richards, helped to craft the 1839 Declaration and the 1840 Constitution. In 1841, Haʻalilio was the acting governor of Oʻahu and in 1842, was appointed head of the Kingdom’s Treasury, along with Gerritt P. Judd and John Papa ʻĪʻī, an indication of the confidence the king and other aliʻi held in Haʻalilio. All of these efforts were part of a strategic plan by Kamehameha III to address the myriad strains burdening the tiny kingdom, which led to the king’s appointment of the three envoys in 1842.

Years ago, I came across a short passage by an observer of the instance when Kamehameha III made his request of Haʻalilio, and Haʻalilio’s response. He said, “Please don’t ask this of me, ask me anything but not this.” Kamehameha III replied, “There is no one I trust more with the welfare of our country than you.” With that, Haʻalilio accepted the commission, in spite of his initial reluctance.

Preparations were made and on July 18, 1842, Haʻalilio and Richards boarded the schooner Shaw in Lahaina, bound for Mazatlan, Mexico. In a letter to G.P. Judd, printed in Ka Nonanona newspaper he writes that they arrived in Mazatlan on October 29, 1842 and says that they traversed that land in peace although the physical exhaustion was great. They were drenched by rain and snow in the mountains, valleys and forests of Mexico, having forded rivers that lie beneath the mountains during the day and night. They endured hunger mounted on the backs of mules, yet he writes that they endured unharmed because God watches over them, and he sends his love to all including his wife, Hana. Ka Nonanona newspaper. January 17, 1843

On November 2, they booked passage aboard the man-o-war, Falmouth, headed to New Orleans, and by December made their way to Washington, D.C., where they met with Daniel Webster, the U.S. Secretary of State who stated in a letter dated December 19, 1842:

“…the U.S., therefore, are more interested in the fate of the Islands, and their government, than any other nation can be; and this consideration induces the President to be quite willing to declare, as the sense of the government of the U.S., that the government of the Sandwich Islands ought to be respected; that no power ought either to take possession of the Islands as a conquest, or for the purpose of colonization; and that no power out to seek for any undue control over existing government, or any exclusive privileges or preferences in matters of commerce.”

The envoys spent January visiting and being hosted by friends as reported in the New York Herald from the Boston Carrier newspaper on January 24, 1843:

“The Sandwich island chief, Haʻalilio, now on a visit to this part of our country, in company with Rev. Mr. Richards, has been treated with attention by many of our citizens, and has made a very favorable impression by his general appearance and address. He speaks English tolerably well, is a great observer of men and things, and evidently possesses a cultivated mind.”

Shortly thereafter it was reported in the French newspaper, Le Globe, that: “Last Wednesday, Haʻalilio embarked in New York for New Haven, aboard the steam boat Globe, together with the Reverand [sic] Richards, who serves him as companion and interpreter on his diplomatic voyage. When the time came for lunch, one of the employees gave to the reverand [sic] two admission tickets, one for himself and one for his servant. Mr. Richards explained that the alleged servant was not less than one of the highest and most powerful lords of the Sandwich kingdom, and the ambassador to the government of the United States. The employee, after having examined Haʻalilio from head to foot, replied that he does not know anything about diplomacy, but that he knows how to distinguish white from black, and that in consequence, Haʻalilio, being of very dark copper colour, would have lunch at the table of the servants, or he would not have lunch at all. This decision was appealed before the captain Stone, who refused to alter it. Thus the reverand [sic], not wanting to separate himself from his illustrious companion, went to take part with him at the lunch of the servants.” Translation by Lorenz Gonshor

Undaunted by the encounter of racism in the United States, and satisfied that the United States was a willing party to their request, the two men booked passage on February 3, 1843, onboard the Caledonia from Boston to Liverpool, England once Haʻalilio recovered from a serious illness.

While Haʻalilio and Richards were enroute on their mission to Great Britain, Lord George Paulet landed in Hawaiʻi and occupied the kingdom for five months. He immediately set up the British Commission to adjudicate all matters pertaining to lands of British subjects and foreigners.

Completely unaware of Paulet’s occupation, the two men continued their diplomatic negotiations with Great Britain, France and Belgium. On June 1, 1843, while in France, Haʻalilio sent a letter to Le Globe in response to an article they printed stating that Hawaiʻi was now under the British crown. Haʻalilio wrote, “These islands are civilized, Christian and independent. Their independence was recognised by the United States on the 19th of December 1842, and by the British Government on the first of April last. We have also a positive verbal promise of the same action acknowledgement by the French Government. Is it possible that a British Officer can have seized the islands on the 8th of March and the British Government acknowledged their independence barely three weeks after?”

Coat of Arms
Hawaiian Kingdom Coat of Arms – Photo: Courtesy

Haʻalilio and Richards returned to London to deal with the Paulet Affair, and in October of 1843, commissioned the College of Heraldry to create the kingdom’s Royal Coat of Arms.

At the conclusion of their negotiations, Great Britain and France signed a proclamation recognizing Hawaiʻi’s independence on November 28, 1843.

Belgium followed suit on March 27, 1844, by way of a letter. While continuing their negotiations, Haʻalilio again became deathly ill while in Belgium, which required a few months of recuperation before he was able to continue, after which the two men sailed back to the United States on May 23, 1844.

During the summer of 1844, pursuing his interest to better the governance of Hawaiʻi, Haʻalilio spent his time traveling throughout the eastern United States, and Ontario and Quebec in Canada. In The Polynesian newspaper, March 29, 1845, William Richards wrote: “While in Europe, as well as in the U.S.A., he [Haʻalilio] made it a special business to visit and examine all objects of public interest which claim the attention of the traveler. The various manufacturing establishments, the museums, the hospitals, the prisons, the great works of architecture, the ancient palaces and cathedrals, the bridges, dockyards, and mausoleums of the dead, – all received his attention, and produced an influence on his mind which it was most interesting to witness”.

In October of 1844, while in Massachusetts, Haʻalilio was diagnosed with a serious illness (possibly tuberculosis) at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors advised him to remain for a year or more to try and regain his health, but Haʻalilio had been gone from home for far too long, and asked Richards to take him home to Hawaiʻi. One week after leaving Massachusetts, on December 3, 1844, this Hawaiian patriot drew his last breath on his final journey to his beloved Hawaiʻi.

Photo: Haʻalelea Memorial

In an article dated March 23, 1845 in Thrum’s Annuals, Haʻalilio is remembered: “This morning a large ship was seen off the harbor, with her flag half-masted. It proved to be the “Montreal,” Captain Snow, from Boston. Mr. Richards came on shore alone, or unaccompanied by Haʻalilio, and we were soon informed that his corpse was on board, the noble spirit that animated it had long been fled to join the pleasures of another and better world. It has been a day of grief and sadness. Aloha ino ia Haʻalilio. On March 26th, the last earthly honors have been paid to Haʻalilio. The services have been solemn and impressive. The town has an aspect of mourning since the arrival of the remains. The flags have been at half-mast…At noon, the stores were voluntarily closed by the merchants as a token of respect to Haʻalilio, and at three P.M. the people being assembled, the procession was formed, a very large number of foreigners, coming to pay the last sad tribute to him on whom so many hopes were centered…After arriving at the chapel, Mr. Armstrong pronounced a very beautiful and impressive eulogy on the deceased, alluding to his infancy; his being a companion from boyhood to His Majesty; his high office of trust; his fulfillment of it, and his death as a Christian. From the church the procession re-formed and marched to the tomb where he was deposited under a salute, to rest till he shall be called before Him who is King of King’s [sic].”

Measured by any standard, and in any era, Haʻalilio Kamalehua Haʻalilio’s life defines resolve, sacrifice, and most of all, patriotism. He is a national treasure, a trusted friend of Hawaiʻi, a diplomat and a celebrated hero, yet most of us have never heard of him. I urge you to take the time to learn of this man: to know his name, to honor his memory and to teach your children and grandchildren about him. Let’s bring Haʻalilio back into our national consciousness. During the month of November, visit Kealopiko in the South Shore Market. View and take a picture with the display of Timoteo Haʻalilio, pick up a poʻe aloha ʻāina card made by Dr. Ron Williams Jr., and don a t-shirt bearing his name. A hiki i ke aloha ʻāina hope loa! Aloha Lā Kūʻokoʻa iā kākou a pau!