C Brewer & Co, Ltd began at a distant date under a different name, and is a result of the growth through the changes of time and circumstances rather than of any one definite act. (Thrum)
The following are the various names which the firm was known: James Hunnewell, Hunnewell & Peirce, Peirce & Hinckley, Peirce & Brewer, C Brewer & Co, SH Williams & Co, C Brewer 2d, C Brewer & Co Ltd. (The Friend, January 1, 1867)
In its early years, the following are the names of those who have been connected with this firm as partners: James Hunnewell, Thomas Hinckley, Henry A Peirce, Charles Brewer, JFB Marshall, Francis Johnson, William Baker Jr, Stephen H Williams, Benjamin F Snow, Charles Brewer 2d, Sherman Peck, CH Lunt, HAP Carter and I Bartlett. (The Friend, January 1, 1867)
If an exact date and a single act are to be assigned, it was on Monday, December 8, 1817, when James Hunnewell, officer of the brig Bordeaux Packet, agreed with Andrew Blanchard, master, to remain at Honolulu after the sale of the vessel. (Thrum)
He would dispose of the balance of her cargo and invest and forward the proceeds. This was the beginning of the long business career of Hunnewell connected with the Islands, and his first act in settling there. (Thrum)
Hunnewell first came to the Islands aboard the ‘Packet’ in October 1816. He agreed to stay (December 8, 1817) and traded his boat and cargo for sandalwood, “We were the only traders on shore at Honolulu that had any goods to sell.” There was no currency at the time, so they generally traded for sandalwood. (Hunnewell, The Friend)
At first, business was generally in small transactions and by barter. American goods of nearly all sorts were received and sold on consignment. (Thrum)
After trading sandalwood in China and then back to the northeast, Hunnewell returned to the Islands in 1820 on the ‘Thaddeus,’ “This was the memorable voyage when we carried out the first missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands.” He stayed … “it was urged by some of the chiefs that knew me on my previous voyage that I should remain instead of a stranger to trade with them.” (Hunnewell)
Later, in 1825, he negotiated with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, “to take the missionary packet out, free from any charge whatever on (his) part for sailing and navigating the vessel – provided the Board would pay and feed the crew, and allow (him) to carry out in the schooner to the amount (in bulk) of some forty to fifty barrels”. (Hunnewell)
Then in 1826, with a stock of merchandise, he then purchased the premises of John Gowen (to which he added some land by exchange in 1830.) “As soon as I secured this place, I landed my cargo, and commenced retailing it…” (Hunnewell)
In October, 1828, Captain Marcus T Peirce, an old and intimate friend of Hunnewell’s, arrived in the brig Griffin from the north-west coast. He gave up the command of his vessel to Captain MW Green, he preferring to return home.
In doing so, he requested that Hunnewell to take charge of his younger brother, Henry A Peirce, who had been a clerk with him. Young Peirce first worked for $25 per month and board until September, 1830; after that he was given a share in the profits.
Hunnewell decided to return home on the continent (November 20, 1830) and left Peirce in charge; Hunnewell thought he would come back to the Islands, but never did. Hunnewell decided to remain at home, and Peirce accepted his offer to loan him funds enough to enable him to carry on the business himself and take the establishment at an appraised value.
“The name … James Hunnewell was early associated with the commercial interests of these Islands, and his long and useful life was marked by such constant goodwill to my kingdom, that I shall always cherish his memory with sincere regard.” (Kamehameha V to Hunnewell’s son; Thrum)
Peirce took Hinckley as a partner; but Hinckley retired due to his health. Next, Charles Brewer arrived (on his third voyage to the Islands,) just before Hunnewell left for home. (Hunnewell, The Friend) For a while, Brewer commanded Peirce’s vessels on their voyages to China and the Russian possessions.
In December, 1835, a co-partnership was formed by Peirce and Brewer. Under this partnership, the firm of Peirce & Brewer conducted a general merchandise and commission business at Honolulu. (Peirce)
“Mr. Peirce had been absent from home twelve years, and was anxious to go back and visit his family. He made me an offer to join him as a partner in business, which offer I accepted, and in one month from that time, Mr. Peirce left Honolulu for Boston, where he remained a year or more, returning by the way of Mexico and South America.” (Brewer)
“When I was received as a partner in business with Mr. Henry A. Peirce, I continued the firm name of Peirce & Brewer until Mr. Peirce retired, in 1843. I then continued the business as C Brewer & Co., with my nephew C Brewer, 2d, until the year 1845.” (Brewer)
That year, there was a merger with the firm of Marshall & Johnson (established in 1841 by James B. Marshall and Francis Johnson.) Brewer returned to Boston. “We arrived in Boston on March 26, 1849, and from that time, my sea life may be said to have ended.” (Brewer)
This association ended in 1847 and the business was taken over by SH Williams & Co, composed of Stephen H Williams, James B Marshall, William Baker Jr, and, a year later, Benjamin F Snow.
It was not until 1859 that the firm again and finally resumed the name of C Brewer & Co, when in September of that year, Charles Brewer II, a nephew of Captain Brewer, engaged in partnership with Sherman Peck and took over the business. (Nellist)
The second Brewer retired in the summer of 1861, but the business was continued under the Brewer name. At about this time the sugar industry was making its first strides and C Brewer & Co became agent for a plantation at Makawao, Maui.
In 1863, it had acquired holdings in Wailuku plantation, in 1866 Brewer became agent for Waiheʻe plantation. In 1869 a son of Charles Brewer, John D Brewer, and IB Peterson were admitted as partners. A man who was destined to make C Brewer & Co. famous, Peter Cushman Jones, was admitted to partnership on Jan. 1, 1871.
C. Brewer & Co., Ltd., was incorporated on Feb. 7, 1883, with Peter Cushman Jones as president and manager; absorption of William G Irwin & Co. by C. Brewer & Co., Ltd., followed E. Faxon Bishop’s elevation to the presidency. (Nellist)
The Brewer company grew, as did a handful of others – primarily in businesses associated with the booming economy. Since the early/mid-1800s, until relatively recently, five major companies emerged and dominated the state’s economic framework. Their common trait: they were founded in agriculture – sugar and pineapple.
They became known as the Big 5: Amfac – starting as Hackfeld & Company (1849;) Alexander & Baldwin (1870;) Theo H. Davies (1845;) Castle & Cooke (1851) and C Brewer (1826.)
The decline in agricultural mono-cropping and a changing economy to the visitor industry, Brewer and the others lost their dominance. Longtime Brewer Chair, JWA ‘Doc’ Buyers, bought out the company and moved its headquarters to Hilo (2001.) The company, at the time Hawaiʻi’s oldest continuously operating company, dissolved in 2006.
A lasting legacy of the company is the C Brewer Building, constructed in 1930, the last and smallest of the ‘Big Five’ home office buildings to be built in downtown Honolulu.