John Joseph Halstead was born on October 30, 1808 in a notable New York City family of the early Colonial days. His father had intended him for a physician, but young Halstead was unable to overcome his natural repugnance to handling cadavers.
He gave up his medical studies and went to sea in a whaler. Returning from his first whaling voyage he fell in love, but chose to go on another whaling voyage before marrying.
A whaling voyage in those days took all of three years, and on his return he found his betrothed betrayed him for another man. Halstead left New York for a voyage to the “off-shore whaling grounds” in the South Pacific Ocean off the South American coast.
In the year 1840 John Joseph Halstead sailed to Hawaii on a whaling ship bringing with him from New York carpentry and cabinet-makings skills. He set up a shop in Lāhainā.
With his Germanic influence in making furniture in the Empire style Halstead seems to have worked exclusively with koa, a wood native to Hawai‘i.
In many of his large pieces he mixed light and dark wood for dramatic effect. Few of these objects survive today. This is mainly due to devastating attacks by termites which are extremely active and destructive in the Hawaiian Islands. (Martin)
It was said to be the first man to put up a frame house in Lāhainā. He married ‘Uwaikikilani, a granddaughter of Isaac Davis (who helped Kamehameha in his conquest.)
He and his family moved over to Kalepolepo, along the Kihei shoreline, and shortly thereafter built a new house for himself. (Wilcox)
It was a large Pennsylvania Dutch style house made entirely of koa, built next to the south wall of Ko‘ie‘ie Loko I‘a (fishpond) (also called Kalepolepo Fishpond.)
Halstead’s three story house/store was nicknamed the ‘Koa House.’ With the mullet-filled fishpond, the Koa House became a popular retreat for Hawaiian royalty such as Kamehameha III, IV, V and Lunalilo. (Starr)
He opened a trading station on the lower floor. Whalers came ashore to buy fresh produce that was brought in by the farmers via the Kalepolepo Road.
The western trading interests at Kalepolepo between 1850 and 1860 were focused on the whaling and maritime trading industries, and co-existed with the continued traditional activities that focused on fishing and maintaining the ponds.
He promoted the Irish potato industry in Kula, which even then was a thriving industry for provisioning whale ships in their seasonal voyages after whales.
During the Irish potato boom of those days any native farmer with an acre or two of potatoes would sell his crop, and as soon as he received payment in fifty-dollar gold pieces he would hurry off to the nearest store to buy a silk dress for his wife or a broadcloth suit for himself.
Kula produce was also shipped out by Halstead to California during the gold rush era. During this period, Hobron’s interisland schooner, Maria, made regular stops (about every 10 days) at Kalepolepo, on its route between Honolulu, Lāhainā, Makee’s Landing (Makena) and Kawaihae.
During the 1850s Kalepolepo was not so barren looking a place. Coconut trees and kou trees grew beside pools of clear water, along the banks of which grew the taro and the ape (a giant plant which grows nowhere else on earth to-day), and was the scene of the labors of David Malo. (Wilcox)
From the 1840s to 1860s a small whaling station was maintained at Kalepolepo. During the winter and spring months schools of whales would come to stay or calf in the quiet waters of Ma‘alaea Bay.
Whale boats manned by native crews officered by experienced whalers would go out to battle with the big mammals, and if successful would return towing the carcass in to be cut up and tried for oil.
Once, a big whale came in close ashore on a Sunday. The temptation proved too much for the whalers, and Halstead himself went out, harpooned the whale – in defiance of the strict Sunday laws.
Halstead was summoned to court. His bail was fixed at $25, which was paid (the whale fetched thousands of dollars in oil and whalebone.)
In 1876, Halstead closed his store and moved to ʻUlupalakua, where he died eleven years later, May 3, 1887. (Wilcox) (NPS) (Lots of information here is from NPS and Wilcox.)