May 31, 2022


The Hawaii Prince’s American Experience

By Leonard Chan

Humehume was a son of King Kaumualiʻi, last independent ruler of the Hawaiian Islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau. He traveled around the world, grew up on the East Coast of America, served in the United States military, and led a failed rebellion on his home island of Kauaʻi.

By the time of Humehume’s birth (c. 1798), Asians and Pacific Islanders had already long traveled the oceans of the world. In fact one of the members of Magellan’s crew on his voyage to circumnavigate (1591-1521) the world was a slave named Enrique who came from Malaysia. Some say that he may have been the first person to travel around the world.

So it was not uncommon for Asians and Pacific Islanders to be members of voyages to all parts of the world. And likewise not surprising that there were Hawaiians like Humehume living in the United States during the early 1800s.

Just how Humehume ended up in New England and being in the US Navy is the focus of this article. This is about Humehume’s American experience.

When Humehume was a boy (perhaps four to six years of age), he was sent off on an American trading ship (called the Hazard) so that he could get an education and perhaps shield him from the internal politics of his father’s kingdom.

Not much is known about Humehume’s mother, but she is thought to have been a commoner and not one of Kaumualiʻi official wives. Perhaps that made it easier for King Kaumualiʻi to part with his son. He was entrusting Humehume to the care of Captain James Rowan, who he met only a few times on previous visits to Hawaii.

Rowan’s motives for taking on the task are questionable. New England traders to the Pacific were highly capitalistic and were known to use questionable tactics in their dealings. Take for example their trading with Spanish ruled California and Baja California. Since the Spanish government did not have trade agreements with the Americans, traders like Rowan would travel up and down the West Coast making trades using smuggler like tactics with the people living there. The American traders were after West Coast animal furs that they could sell in Asia for much more than they were buying them for.

These traders were just beginning to take advantage of the Hawaiians. The native Hawaiian sandalwood would soon be harvested to near extinction in around 30 years and would be the cause of several famines as the Hawaiians were preoccupied with furnishing the traders with this commodity at the expense of tending their own food crops.

When Kaumualiʻi offered to pay Rowan with sandalwood in exchange for the care and education of Humehume, Rowan possibly saw it as another moneymaking opportunity instead of a solemn task of raising the child of a king.

Upon leaving Hawaii, the Hazard continued its planned trade route to San Francisco, then headed south along the West Coast, before eventually heading west to Canton, China, where they would trade furs and sandalwood for silks, china, and other prized Asian commodities.

Once they completed their goal of trading with China, they continued their circumnavigation of the world through the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and back to Rhode Island. Humehume got to see the world before he was even nine.

For a couple of years Rowan attempted to carry out his deal of raising Humehume and providing him an education. However, when Rowan’s money ran out, he turned over these responsibilities to Humehume’s teacher, a man named Samuel Cotting. This change of fortune for Humehume would turn out almost like a Dickens’ novel. He went from living like a prince to being a pauper. Cotting was cruel to Humehume and would not continue to educate him. He lived with this situation for more than six years.

A number of years later when Humehume’s story came out, Cotting would claim that he treated him well and was being unfairly vilified. Humehume responded with a public letter rebutting Cotting’s claim. Here is some of his letter -

To Capt. Cotting

Few days since I have heard that you have made a report that I was treated with the most tenderest and affectionate care. It is contrary to any of what you have reported…

The last winter I lived with you, you treated me shamefully…

You are a dirty low life shameful poor avericious[sic] rascal. You have not only abused me but you have your fellow mortals...

you used me like a dog more than a human being. Yes you put me to all the hardships that any human being could have. You publish in the public papers that you educated me. It is a falsehood, it is an absolute lie, and you are the father of it…

You audacious villain for trying to run down my carrecter[sic]…

I may yet have the opportunity of letting you have a few solid dry knocks before I leave this part of the world.

I your enemy

[signed with a flourish]

In the spring of 1813, Humehume left Cotting. After this time, there is some confusion with his story. Some reports say that he worked on farms until records show that he enlisted in the Navy in 1815 (right after The War of 1812). However, historian Douglas Warne’s research found that Humehume enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in 1813 at Newburyport, Massachusetts. Humehume, used the name George Prince throughout his time in America and even at times after. The military muster rolls show a George Prince in the Marine Corp and by 1815 in the Navy.

To add to the uncertainty, the Boston Recorder (a weekly Congregationalist newspaper) had a November 26, 1816 article on Humehume which reported that he

came to Boston and enlisted in the navy. The first vessel George served was the Enterprise. He was in this vessel in the action with the Boxer, in which he was badly wounded. He was afterwards on board the Guerriere, in the action with the Algerine Frigate...
The same newspaper article includes the text of a letter Humehume wrote to his father, dated Oct. 19, 1816. In this letter, he writes:
... I went to Boston and listed in the U. States servis [sic], and I shipped on board the Brig. Enterprise, in order to go and fight with the Englishmen. After I went on board I went to sea then, and I was about thirty days from land before we met the enemis [sic] that we wear [sic] seeking after. We came to an Action in a few minutes after we hove in sight. We fought with her abought [sic] an hour, and in the mean time, I was wounded in my right side with a boarding pike, which it pained me very much. It was the blessing of God that I was kept from death.

The battle between the Enterprise and Boxer did not involve hand-to-hand combat which would have resulted in Humehume’s described injury.

Warne’s theory is that the article and Humehume’s letter got the details wrong. Humehume was attached to the ship Wasp when he was a Marine. The Wasp did fight a fierce battle, approximately a month after leaving harbor (as Humehume described), with the ship Reindeer that involved hand-to-hand combat. The injured from the Wasp were dropped off in France and the Wasp would go on to sink in the Caribbean, taking all onboard records with it.

Warne did not mention finding any records of Humehume coming back from France and being discharged. Perhaps there were none and the Boston Recorder thought that it would be best to only mention the records that they could immediately find, which were that Humehume served on the Enterprise as the records showed when he was enlisted in the Navy.

Whether Humehume actually saw combat during the War of 1812 hangs on the logical deductions of historian Warne. It is believed that when Humehume was discovered by members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1816, they recruited him to be a student for their startup Foreign Mission School at Cornwall, Connecticut. Since he was a United States veteran, they hoped they could fund raise by promoting him and the school, and by publicizing his war record. The ABCFM had several other Hawaiians in its care and their goal was to send the Hawaiians back to Hawaii, with other missionaries, in an effort to Christianize the islands.

 Whether or not he was being exploited by the ABCFM for his military service, Humehume now found himself finally completing his education and being in the hands of people that cared about his welfare.

Humehume did eventually return to Kauaʻi with the missionaries in 1820. By that time his father, Kaumualiʻi, was no longer king of the island, but rather served the government started by Kamehameha I.

Soon after his father’s death in May of 1824 (possibly by poisoning), Humehume with other Kauai chiefs decided to start a revolt against the government of Kamehameha II. The revolt ended in a massacre of Humehume’s followers and his own arrest and exile. Humehume died not long after of influenza on May 3, 1826.

Amazingly there is a significant amount of information about Humehume’s life, much more than this article covers and much more than most people from his time.

When he returned to Hawaii, he did get married to a well-connected hapa woman (person of mixed ethnic ancestry; Hawaiian and Caucasian in this case) named Elizabeth Peke Davis. Perhaps there was an instant connection since he was raised by westerners and lived among them for most of his life. She probably knew more about Hawaiian culture and language than he did.

Although his story did not have a fairy tale ending, he finally completed his education, had an amazing world adventure, and made it back to Hawaii to see his father.

For further reading, here are the sources for this article -

George Prince Kaumuali'i, the Forgotten Prince by Douglas Warne, for the Honolulu, Hawaiian Historical Society (2002)

George Prince Tamoree: Heir Apparent of Kauai and Niihau by Anne Harding Spoehr, for the Honolulu, Hawaiian Historical Society (1981) 

 George, Prince of Hawaii by Catherine Stauder, for the Honolulu, Hawaiian Historical Society (1972)

Owhyhee's Prodigal by Susan N. Bell, for the Honolulu, Hawaiian Historical Society (1976)  

A Narrative of Five Youth From the Sandwich Islands, Now Receiving an Education In This Country Published by order of the Agents Appointed to Establish a School For Heathen Youth (1816)

Humehume’s Rebellion by Peter Young for Images of Old Hawai’i (2017)  

Wikipedia article on Humehume

The California Sea Otter Trade 1784-1848 by Regent of the University of California (1941). Information about the travels of the Hazard  

Time of the Bells, 1769-1835 by San Diego History Center. More information about the fur trade.  

The Story of `Iliahi: Sandalwood, a Saga of Destruction and Rebirth by Tim Hall for Ke Ola Magazine

Humehume of Kauaʻi: a boy's journey to America, an aliʻi's return home Book by Douglas Warne, with the collaboration of Holly Kilinahe Coleman I haven’t read this yet, but I’d like to get to it.

The Naval War of 1812 by Theodore Roosevelt. Has a detailed description of the battle between the Wasp and Reindeer.