American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor in 1808, would become one of the largest businesses in the country at the start of the 19th century.
Astor planned the post to grow into a permanent settlement, with plans to develop a large trade ring that included New York, the Pacific Coast, Russian Alaska, Hawaiʻi and China. The furs collected in the northwest and Alaska, would be shipped to China and exchanged for porcelain, silk and other cloth, and spices that would be brought back, via Hawaii to New York.
Initially, Astor’s operation in the Columbia River Valley of Oregon was under a subsidiary called the Pacific Fur Company and his Great Lakes efforts were under another subsidiary – the South West Company.
Astor began this ambitious venture to compete with the two great fur-trading companies in Canada – the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company.
As early as 1811, Hudson’s Bay Company had already hired twelve Hawaiians on three year contracts to work for them in the Pacific Northwest. That year John Jacob Astor built Fort Astoria, it was later sold to the North West Company.
However, the War of 1812 destroyed both companies. Five years later, in 1817, Congress passed an act which excluded foreign traders from US territory, making the American Fur Company the biggest in the Great Lakes region.
The Illinois Brigade was one of several trading expeditions sent out annually, between about 1816 and 1827, by the American Fur Company from its headquarters at Mackinac, at the confluence of Lakes Michigan and Huron, in Michigan Territory.
The brigade, usually numbering ten or twelve native canoes, as well as shallow-draft, flat-bottomed boats (bateau,) loaded with trade goods, made its way down Lake Michigan and through the Chicago portage and Des Plaines River to the Illinois River.
There it divided into small parties that spent the winter bartering with the Indians for furs. In the spring the brigade reassembled and returned by water to Mackinac. In 1828 the American Fur Company sold its Illinois interests to Gurdon S Hubbard, the brigade’s commander. (Gale Group)
Wait … this is about another Illinois Brigade – they’re from this area (around Chicago,) but rather than canoes familiar to that region, this Illinois Brigade paddles Hawaiian outrigger canoes.
Among the more than 260 canoe clubs that have participated in the Molokai Hoe are crews from the Hawaiian islands of Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, Maui, Molokai, Lānaʻi and Kauai; and, from several parts of California, from the states of Oregon, Arkansas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia, and from several areas across Canada.
In the Pacific, clubs from several coasts of Australia have participated; and from New Zealand, New Caledonia, Japan, Hong Kong, the Kingdom of Tonga, Johnston Island; many from Tahiti and other islands of French Polynesia; and from Europe, crews from England, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary have raced across the Molokai Channel. (Molokai Canoe Race)
Folks from the Chicago area got their start when Don Alberta, then a 51-year old pilot for American Airlines, and avid canoeist, was vacationing in Hawaii when he met Herman Clark (whose father Herman was a guard for the Bears in the 1950s.)
Clark invited him to paddle with him and afterwards challenged Alberta to get up a team and race. That he did, finishing 14th in 1981 and 10th in 1984, all the while using an old practice boat. (Chicago Tribune)
Then, in 1985 at Bankoh Molokai Hoe 34, on Sunday, October 13, 1985, 48 canoes, 13-koa, 35 fiberglass started the race, all finished.
The Illinois Brigade was the first team from a landlocked part of the world to win the Molokai Hoe, which began in 1952 and covers just over 40 miles from Molokai to Oʻahu. (Chicago Tribune)
First, in the fiberglass division was the Illinois Brigade-1 (Chicago) (Serge Corbin, Joe Johnson, Jay Mittman, Bruce Barton, Al Rudquist, Kurt Doberstein, Ed Crozier, Tim Triebold, Mike Fries) in the time of 5:33:04. (Molokai Canoe Race)
“That blew their minds,” says Alberta, explaining that teams far more accustomed to the water conditions couldn‘t keep pace. “They mystified the Hawaiians,” said restaurateur Nick Nickolas. (Chicago Tribune)
The Molokai Hoe has become one of the longest-running annual team sporting events in Hawai‘i (second only to football.) The first-ever contest, held on October 12, 1952, happened with just three competing koa wood outrigger canoes of six men each.
Canoes launch from the Hale o Lono Harbor off the west side of Molokai and travel approximately 41 miles across the Kaiwi Channel to finish at Dukes Beach at Fort DeRussy and Hilton Hawaiian Village. (This year’s race is today, October 9, 2016.)
The channel is said to be among one of the most treacherous spans of ocean in the world, with the current record time for the passage being under 5 hours. The Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association organizes the annual event.
The Molokai Hoe perpetuates one of Hawai‘i’s and Polynesia’s most important and historic cultural traditions, while honoring outrigger canoe paddlers around the world. (Molokai Hoe)