The history of the Black presence in Hawaiʻi goes back to the early sailors; Blacks were crewmembers of Cook’s second and third Pacific voyages.
There is a “high likelihood” for the presence of Blacks on many of the ships that crossed the Pacific. Free and unfree Blacks had been serving onboard these ships in a variety of capacities.
Between about 1820 and 1880, hundreds of whaling ships annually pulled into (primarily) Honolulu and Lāhainā, and a significant number of Blacks stayed behind in the islands and became permanent residents where they worked as cooks, barbers, tailors, sailors on interisland vessels and members of musical groups.
Discussion of early African-American presence in Hawaiʻi usually starts with Anthony D. Allen. He was born a slave on the German Flats, in New York, in 1774. At about the age of 24, fearing his old master’s widow (Dougal) might sell him and he would have to leave his mother, he arranged for a new slave master and he was bought for $300.
Shortly thereafter, in 1800, he made a flight for freedom from Schenectady, NY, and made his way to Boston. He went to work at sea, sailing with the same sea captain for eight years, seven as steward and one as cook.
Many other African Americans worked in the maritime industry during this period as crew members, pilots, cooks, stewards, stevedores, builders and captains. In the coming decades, Americans with African lineage would account for up to 50 percent of the maritime forces. (Scruggs, HJH)
In 1806, he ran into his former slave master and was almost forced back into slavery. Mr. Coolege, the ship owner on which he worked, agreed to pay the former owner $300; the former owner agreed.
In return, Allen gave Coolege a promissory note to pay him back. In April 1807, Allen paid the note back. He spent the next few years sailing across the globe – Boston, France, Haiti, Havana China, Northwest US and eventually, in 1811, Hawaiʻi.
Called Alani by the Native Hawaiians, Allen served as steward to Kamehameha the Great and he acquired a parcel of about six acres. He married a Hawaiian woman and had three children who survived into adulthood. (HHS)
He “resided at Waikiki, lived as comfortably, and treated us as courteously, as any who had adopted that country before our arrival.” (Hiram Bingham)
John Papa ʻĪʻī, a neighbor of Allen, in his testimony confirming rights to the land, told how Allen acquired his land: “The Allens got this land from an old high Priest – Hewa hewa. … this land was given him in the time of ‘’Kamehameha I’.” (HJH)
By 1820, Allen owned a dozen houses, “within the enclosure were his dwelling, eating and cooking houses, with many more for a numerous train of dependents. There was also a well, a garden containing principally squashes, and in one part, a sheepfold in which was one cow, several sheep, and three hundred goats.” (Sybil Bingham Journal)
Allen’s land held a variety of business enterprises, including animal husbandry, farming, a boarding house, a hospital, a bowling alley and a grog shop. Besides keeping his own animals, Allen boarded cattle for others. Allen may have operated the first commercial dairy in Hawaiʻi.
“Waikīkī” was once a vast marshland whose boundaries encompassed more than 2,000-acres (as compared to its present 500-acres below the Ala Wai Canal we call Waikīkī, today).
Allen’s six-acres and home were about two miles from downtown at Pawaʻa, between what we now call Waikīkī and Mānoa at what is now the corner of Punahou and King Streets. This is where Washington Intermediate School is now situated. (Washington was the first intermediate school built on Oʻahu; it opened in 1926.)
In addition to his farming, Allen provided overnight accommodations – one of the earliest known hotel uses in Waikīkī. Several references note his property as a “resort.” (Hawaiʻi’s first “hotel” may be attributed to Don Francisco de Paula Marin, sometime after 1810 on Marin’s property at Honolulu Harbor.)
Reverend Charles Stewart notes of Allen’s place in his journal, “… it is a favourite resort of the more respectable of the seamen who visit Honoruru. …” With it, he had a popular bowling alley.
He entertained often and made his property available for special occasions. “King (Kauikeaouli – Kamehameha III) had a Grand Dinner at A. D. Allen’s. The company came up at sunset. Music played very late.” (Reynolds – Scruggs, HJH)
He even operated a hospital where ill or injured seamen and sea captains were taken ashore to recuperate; however, it is not clear if he had medical training or who else there did.
It appears that Allen helped oversee the construction and maintenance of one of the first improved roads in Honolulu, probably what today is known as Punahou Street, which becomes Mānoa Road.
In the “… valley of Manoa … this afternoon Mr. Bingham drove me in a wagon to it. There is now a good carriage road … as far as the country house of Kaahumanu … five miles from Honolulu.” (Reynolds, Scruggs, HJH)
Allen, the former slave, died of a stroke on December 31, 1835, leaving behind a considerable fortune to his children.
In tribute to Allen, Reverend John Diell noted, “The last sun of the departed year went down upon the dying bed of another man who has long resided upon the island. He was a colored man, but shared, to a large extent, in the respect of this whole community. …”
“He has been a pattern of industry and perseverance, and of care for the education of his children. … In justice to his memory, and to my own feelings, I must take this opportunity to acknowledge the many expressions of kindness which we received from him from the moment of our arrival.”
The image shows an 1874 map (Waikiki DAGS Reg-797-(portion)) that notes the property owned by Anthony D Allen.