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Kamehameha the Great

Ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1795-1819


Kamehameha I

Kamehameha I

Hawaii State Archives

Note - This is the third in a series of articles that were written in 1998 about the life of Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great. The first two articles in the series were written by Bob Olson, our former Local Guide to Hawaii Island (the Big Island), where Kamehameha was born in or around 1758. The first two articles covered the early years of Kamehameha's life, his rise to power on the Big Island following the arrival and subsequent death of Captain James Cook, and his subsequent conquest of the islands of Maui, Moloka'i and Oahu. This third in the series was written when I was the Guide to Hawaiian Culture, History and Language prior to 1999 when that site was merged with this, our Hawaii Travel site. Unfortunately, the first two articles are no longer available online.

Kamehameha Casts His Eyes on Kauai and Ni'ihau

Following his conquest of Oahu in the Battle of Nu'uanu, Kamehameha the Great remained on Oahu, preparing to acquire possession of Kauai and Ni'ihau. However, poor weather in the spring of 1796 prevented his invasion plans and a rebellion on the Big Island of Hawaii mandated his return to his home island.

Realizing the danger of leaving the chiefs of Oahu behind, he was advised to take them with him on his return to the Island of Hawaii, and leave commoners behind whom he trusted to oversee the island. The revolt on Hawaii was led by Namakeha, the brother of Kaiana, a chief of Kauai. The final battle of Kamehameha's life occurred near Hilo, on the Island of Hawaii in January 1797 in which Namakeha was captured and sacrificed.

For the next six years, Kamehameha remained on the Island of Hawaii. These were years of peace, yet Kamehameha continued to plan his invasion of Kauai, constructing ships that could withstand the harsh currents of the channel between Oahu and Kauai. With the help of his trusted foreign advisers, Kamehameha was able to construct several modern warships and modern arms, including cannons.

In 1802, the fleet left the Island of Hawaii and after a year's stop on Maui, proceeded to Oahu in 1803, preparing for the invasion of Kauai. A terrible disease, the precise nature of which has never been established, but most likely cholera or typhoid fever, struck Oahu, resulting in the deaths of many chiefs and soldiers. Kamehameha was also stricken with the disease, but survived. However, the invasion of Kauai was again postponed.

For much of the next eight years of his reign, Kamehameha continued his plans to conquer Kauai, purchasing numerous foreign ships. Kauai, however, was never to be conquered. The island was brought into the Kingdom, through a negotiated agreement brought about by a face-to-face meeting between the reigning ruler of Kauai, Kaumualii and Kamehameha on Oahu in 1810.

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