Hawaiians in our History

Published in the North County Times, 20 September, 1998, p. B-4

The Islands of Hawaii were a popular destination for some of us who vacationed this summer. I wonder how many who visited Hawaii's historic places noticed a connection with the early history of our area? Of course, in those days, even the name was different, for Hawaii was known as the Sandwich Islands, inhabited primarily by Polynesian natives, often called Kanakas (their word for man). The link with our area had to do with profits. New World animal skins were traded for Chinese goods, which sold in home ports for more than enough to cover costs.

Spain's colonies had a long established relationship with China, trading beautifully furred otter skins for the mercury they needed to refine gold. San Diego was the first Spanish California port in which the skills of local Native Americans were utilized to hunt otter. Soon after the American revolution, merchant ships from Boston began an illegal trade along Spain's California coast. To facilitate getting their contraband otter skins to China, New England shipping firms established branch offices in the Sandwich Islands/Hawaii, where there developed a small colony of American businessmen and their families.

After Mexico won her independence from Spain (1821), the new government in Mexico City legalized trade, and soon ships of all nations were coming to San Diego bay after stopping in Monterey where they paid a fee in order to do business in Mexican territory. By then, otters had been hunted nearly to extinction, and most trade was in hides, the skins of cattle which had been raised by three generations of Indian cowboys affiliated with the missions. The ship on which ex-Harvard student, William Henry Dana, arrived was part retail store, with items which those who held the hides were willing to take in trade.. His book (Two Years Before the Mast) has descriptions of our coast, from Dana Point to San Diego. Part of the time Dana worked at the great barns (called hide houses) on Point Loma, where seamen lived while curing the hides for shipment. He tells about the international community of workers living there. The largest groups were from Italy and from Hawaii. So today, some residents of Hawaii are descendents of men who sailed the coast during our land's Spanish and Mexican time periods.

William Gale, captain of the pioneer ship in the hide trade with Boston, brought the first Hawaiian child to our area. He had been sailing between Boston, the Sandwich Islands and the California coast for eleven years, when, in 1822, he brought his five year old daughter, Anita, to live with Pio Pico's recently widowed mother. Pio was then 22, Andres was 12, and the younger Pico sisters ranged in age from four through 16. Fifteen years later, the weddings of both Ysidora Pico and Anita Gale were held in the church at the San Luis Rey Mission. Ysidora married Juan Forster, an Englishman who had become a Mexican citizen, and Anita married John Warner, an American overland trader who stayed and became a resident. He later became a naturalized Mexican citizen, which qualified him for a land grant. Captain Phelps, whose trading ship sometimes carried passengers, wrote in his journal a few years later, that he had entertained Mrs. Forster and Mrs. Warner, a Sandwich Island lady, and their children at dinner. The two families often used the route along the San Luis Rey river, visiting between their homes on the Santa Margarita Ranch and Warner's Ranch (today's Warner Springs).

Victoria Magee, who later homesteaded in Fallbrook and taught school here, first taught in Old Town San Diego, where two of her pupils were the part Hawaiian Warner children. Victoria herself had a Hawaiian connection, when her cousin married William H. Davis, nicknamed "Kanaka Davis," who had been born and raised in Honolulu. Davis' grandfather, a New England merchant/resident, had been the governor of Oahu under Kamehameha the First. Davis and Victoria's father and her uncle were founders and original stockholders in New Town San Diego. Nine-year-old Victoria probably attended the 1850 party thrown by her cousin, Maria Davis, to celebrate the completion of the new U.S. Army supply building in New Town.

A modern connection with Hawaii has to do with Native American history. I had read that local Luiseno (their real name is Puyumkowitchum, meaning the Western people) had a maritime tradition. This was confirmed when the remains of a wooden boat were discovered during the excavations for I-5 on Camp Pendleton. The Spring edition of News from Native California carried an article on the resurgence of indigenous marine culture among coastal Indians, which includes Luiseno. It seems that, a decade ago, Native Hawaiians, in rediscovering their seagoing heritage, wanted to use traditional materials and methods to build a voyaging canoe. When they found that there were no large koa trees left on the islands to make their craft, they traveled to the Tlingit Nation of Alaska, which graciously permitted them to harvest giant spruce trees. Then, five years ago, a festive gathering of First Nations canoe people was held in Washington State. From there, Hawaiians paddled their spruce boat to Juneau Alaska to thank the Tlingit people, while another journeyed down the coast to San Diego, visiting other former maritime groups, and teaching them the old ways of boat making. One day perhaps we shall see people of our own Luiseno Nation reestablishing their maritime heritage as the Hawaiians have done.

from materials in the Document Room of the new Museum of Fallbrook History at 260 Rocky Crest Road

Copyright © 1998 by Fallbrook Historical Society
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Comments and feedback: Elizabeth Yamaguchi
Last update: 1 October 1998.