Kamehameha’s Attempts to Conquer Kaua’i

During this era of western discovery, King Kamehameha I was attempting to gain control of the Island of Hawaiʻi and eventually unify the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. In 1784 Kamehameha began a war of conquest, and with his superior use of modern weapons and western advisors, he subdued all other chiefdoms, with the exception of Kaua‘i, by 1795.

Kaua‘i and Niʻihau were ruled by King Kaumualiʻi. He was born in 1780 at the sacred royal Birthstone at Holoholokū Heiau in Wailua.

When English Captain George Vancouver visited Waimea, Kaua‘i in 1792, he met the young Kaumuali‘i, who was twelve years old at the time. Arriving at Waimea Bay on March 9, 1792, Vancouver was impressed by Kaumuali‘i’s friendliness and intelligence.

In February of 1796, when William Robert Broughton arrived at Waimea, Kaua‘i on the Providence, Kaumuali‘i and rival Keawe were fighting to control Kaua‘i. Keawe had apparently gained control in the Waimea region, and he boarded the Providence, but hurried to shore when he saw the approaching fleet of Kaumuali‘i, who then spent the night aboard the ship.

King Kamehameha I launched his first invasion attempt on Kaua‘i in April of 1796, having already conquered the other Hawaiian Islands, and having fought his last major battle at Nu‘uanu on O‘ahu in 1795. Kaua‘i’s opposing factions were extremely vulnerable as they had been weakened by fighting each other.

About one-fourth of the way across the ocean channel between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, a storm thwarted Kamehameha’s warriors when many of their canoes were swamped in the rough seas and stormy winds, and then were forced to turn back. Some of the advance troops made it to Kaua‘i and were killed when they reached shore. Kaua‘i remained unconquered.

In 1804, King Kamehameha I moved his capital from Lahaina, Maui to Honolulu on O‘ahu, and continued planning an attack on Kaua‘i. Kamehameha’s forces for this second invasion attempt included about 7,000 Hawaiians along with about 50 foreigners (Europeans). Kamehameha (Art by Herb Kane)

Kamehameha’s troops were armed with muskets, as well as eight cannons, 40 swivel guns, and other Western weaponry. Kamehameha’s massive fleet of double-hulled canoes was accompanied by 21 armed schooners.

Kamehameha’s second attempt was thwarted again when an epidemic, thought to be typhoid or dysentery, swept through the population, killing thousands of native Hawaiians. The sickness delayed for a second time Kamehameha’s goal of conquering Kaua‘i.

In a renewed effort for a large-scale attack on Kaua‘i, Kamehameha began assembling a formidable armada of sailing ships in Waikīkī, using foreigners to construct the vessels.

The invasion never took place. In the face of the threat of a further invasion, in 1810, Kaumuali‘i decided to peacefully unite with Kamehameha and join the rest of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.

The agreement with Kaumualiʻi marked the end of war and thoughts of war across the archipelago.

After King Kamehameha I died in 1819, Kaumuali‘i pledged his allegiance to Liholiho, Kamehameha’s son and successor. In 1821, Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) anchored his royal ship Ha‘aheo o Hawai‘i (Pride of Hawai‘i) in Waimea Bay, and invited Kaumuali‘i aboard. After boarding the ship, Kaumuali‘i was taken prisoner and the ship sailed for O‘ahu.

On O‘ahu, the powerful former queen Ka‘ahumanu, married Kaumuali‘i to ensure the monarchy’s control over Kaua‘i. Kaumuali‘i passed away on O‘ahu in 1824, ceding the island to the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi upon his death.

Before Captain James Cook made contact with Hawai‘i in 1778, the islands were isolated from most other parts of the world. Thereafter traders discovered large forests of sandalwood and began an export trade with the Orient. Whaling vessels soon made Hawaiʻi a favored provisioning center.  Then, sugar covered the landscape – these segments of Hawaiʻi’s socio-economic timeline follow.