As early as 1811, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) had already hired twelve Hawaiians on three year contracts to work for them in the Pacific Northwest. By 1824, HBC employed thirty-five Hawaiians west of the Rocky Mountains.
“On 21 January 1829 the Hudson’s Bay Company schooner Cadboro, Aemilius Simpson master, arrived at Honolulu from Fort
Vancouver with a small shipment of spars and sawn lumber.” (Spoehr)
The earliest location of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s store appears to have been on the Ewa, or north side of Nu‘uanu street, adjoining the ‘Blonde’ lot (Boki’s bar) cornering on King, premises that became well known as ‘Aienui’ – great debt.
“On 23 October 1833 the Governor and Committee in London appointed George Pelly the Company agent in Honolulu. … George Pelly arrived in Honolulu from England in August 1834. His instructions from London outlined his duties, paramount of which were the sale of Company produce from the Northwest Coast …”
“… provisioning of Company vessels passing through Honolulu, and providing freight for Company vessels homeward bound to England.” (Spoehr) Between 1829 and 1859, the Hudson’s Bay Company was a leading merchant house in Hawai‘i.
“The ships of the Company engaged in the North-west trade appear to have made Honolulu a port of call en route from London early in its career here, leaving such freight and miscellaneous merchandise as found a ready market, and occasionally so on the homeward voyage.” (Thrum)
Historians suggest “that young Hawaiian males left Hawai’i as workers on whaling ships and traveled to China, Europe, Mexico, and the U.S. mainland. In addition, many ventured into the Pacific Northwest territory, worked in the fur trade, and ended up settling in those areas.” (pbs-org)
The number of Hawaiians working as contract laborers for the Hudson’s Bay Company steadily grew. The large number of Hawaiian workers in the village at Fort Vancouver led to the name “Kanaka Town” in the early 1850s.
In an agreement between Kekaunaoa (Governor of Oahu and father of Kamehameha IV & V) and Pelly (agent for Hudson’s Bay Company in Honolulu), notes,
“Kekuanaoa allows Mr. Pelly to take sixty men to the Columbia River, to dwell there three years and at the end of the said term of three years Mr. Pelly agrees to return them to the island of Oahu.”
“And if it shall appear that any of the men have died it is well; but if they have deserted by reason of ill-treatment, or remain for any other cause, then Mr. Pelly will pay twenty dollars for each man [who may be deficient].” (NPS)
The agreement illustrates the common practice for HBC, that drew workers from the Islands and elsewhere. “Delaware and Iriquois Indians mingled with men of the South Seas in its employ, and with Canadian yoyageurs and Scotch factor served out their lot, even if it meant, as it sometimes did, death in the wilderness.” (Blue)
The Islands “furnished valuable recruits to the explorers and traders who followed in Cook’s wake, and to the whalers who followed them.” (Blue)
As the year 1859 started, Pacific whaling entered its decline, the Agency’s competition in the importation of goods increased. Janion Green and Co. (forerunner of Theo H. Davies), Hackfeld and Co. (forerunner of Amfac,) C Brewer, and Castle and Cooke (the beginnings of the Big Five) were established firms.
The Honolulu market was overstocked with goods, and trade was slow. In 1859, HBC decided to close its Hawaiʻi operations; a couple years later, they were gone.
“In the summer of 1865 some Hawaiian fishermen and their “wahine,” who had sailed the placid Pacific in search of new realms for their nomad spirits, arrived in San Francisco bay only to discover that the cool fogs bred dire distress in lungs used to none but the fervid breezes of a tropic sea …”
“… so on they kept until, after a day and night of clear weather, they reached Vernon, a busy farming community on the banks of the Feather river.” (The San Francisco Call – March 26, 1911)
“It was here that San Mahalone and his companions built their huts and that today their children and grandchildren are peopling this colony this begun over 40-years ago …”
“… preserving their individuality and accumulating properties and competencies on the fertile lands of Sutter county.” (The San Francisco Call – March 26, 1911)
“Hawaiians also migrated to Yolo County, California to participate in the Gold Rush and created their own Kanaka Village. There is evidence that Hawaiians settled across California in the late-1800s and even intermarried with Native Americans. “
“Many scholars speculate that Hawaiians migrated to the mainland in order to gain more economic opportunity and to flee from the dramatic Westernization that was changing the face of Hawai’i.” (pbs-org)