John Meek (Nov. 24, 1791 – Jan. 29, 1875) came to Hawaii from Massachusetts in 1809 along with his brother Captain Thomas Meek, who was engaged in the Northwest trade.
“A few year later he himself became captain, and continued in the same trade for many years. In 1830 or ’31, he became a resident of this port, occasionally making voyages to the Northwest Coast, China and other ports.” (Hawaiian Gazette, February 3, 1875)
“He sailed from this port in cant capacity on a number of voyages to China and the coast of Mexico, but has been a permanent resident of this Island for the past fifty years. The late John J. Astor thought so highly of Captain Meek that he built a ship specially for him.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 30, 1875)
“For more than twenty years he held a commission as pilot of this harbor, and for the past few years was also harbor master.” (Hawaiian Gazette, February 3, 1875)
“‘Vessels approaching Honolulu and desiring a Pilot, will set their national ensign and pilot signal, on which he will go on immediately.’ The great number of ships coming in from Lahaina, and intending to lie off and on, or to come to anchor without employing a pilot, renders attention to the above requirement of the Harbor Laws necessary.”
“The undersigned will give prompt attendance on all vessels that require his services, but he wishes it to be understood that he will not go off without being signalized as required in the above quoted law, a compliance with which will be necessary to justify
any future complaint against him for want of attention to duty.” (John Meek; Polynesian, July 6, 1844)
“He was the firm friend and often advisor of the chiefs and successive Kings of these Islands, from the days of the first Kamehameha to the present time”.
“He was the last surviving pioneer of the Order of Free Masons in the Pacific, having been one of the ten who were instituted as “Lodge le Progres de l’Oceanie,” No. 124, by Captain Le Tellier, in 1843.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 30, 1875)
“He engaged extensively in the grazing business, and took especial pains to introduce improved breeds of cattle and horses into the country. Combined with the plain and bluff manner of the true sailor, Capt. John Meek was noted for his probity of character, and a genial kindness of disposition.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 30, 1875)
“America is the home of the turkey …. In 1815 Queen Ka‘ahumanu went aboard a trading schooner and saw turkeys Capt. John Meek had obtained in Chile.”
“Never had she seen such large birds before. Upon going ashore she told the king. The king went to the vessel and asked for the birds. Upon refusal he seized the turkeys and went ashore.”
“The birds later escaped. On the slopes of the island’s volcanoes and even in the United States national park wild turkeys are fairly numerous, believed to be descendants of those brought to the islands by Captain Meek.” (Smithfield Times, February 25, 1937)
Meek is also credited with bringing the first documented mango into the islands in 1824. He had given some seedlings to Don Francisco de Marín, advisor to Kamehameha I; Marín is most often credited with planting the first mango tree in Hawai‘i soil, near what is now the corner of Vineyard Boulevard and River Street.
The fruit it bore became the progenitor of the “Hawaiian” mango – a strain that was dubbed “Manini” for the nickname Hawaiians gave Marín. The Manini is also known as the Common mango because, as its name suggests, it’s seen throughout the Islands. It’s a medium-size, juicy fruit with a large seed and skin that turns from light green to rosy-yellow as it ripens. (Lo; Hana Hou)
Meek was a defendant in one of the first landmark cases dealing with the rights of native tenants. (Oni v. Meek) In 1858, Oni, a tenant of the ahupua’a of Honouliuli, O’ahu, filed suit against John Meek, who had a lease over the entire ahupuaʻa. Oni brought suit when some of his horses, which had been pastured on Meek’s land, were impounded and sold.
Oni claimed that he had a right to pasture his horses on the land division as one of his traditional tenant rights (by custom and by language in the Kuleana Act.)
Oni notes, “We are hoaʻāina. We live on the land and grow our crops, and in return we work for the konohiki a few days a week. We call these labor days. The rest of the week, we have the right to use the lands for certain things, like gathering firewood, fishing, and pasturing animals. It’s our custom, our tradition.”
“I take care of the land on labor days, so I can use the land to pasture my horses. Mr. Meek uses the Chief’s land like we do. We all take care of things together, so we should share the land, just like before.” (Judiciary History Center)
On September 22, 1858 the Police Court of Honolulu rendered a judgment for Oni. Meek was ordered to pay $80.00 for two horses and $4.00 in court costs. At the request of the defendant (Meek,) the case was appealed to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court.
Oni was the first Hawaiʻi Supreme Court case to discuss “the rights common people to go to the mountains, and the seas attached to their own particular land exclusively” in the 1850 Kuleana Act.
The Supreme Court noted, “the claim of a right of pasturage, put forward by the plaintiff, is made to rest upon far broader grounds than that just mentioned, which fact renders this case one of great importance, not only to the large landed proprietors throughout the Kingdom, but to thousands of the common people.”
“It is contended on behalf of the plaintiff that he, as a hoaʻāina of Honouliuli, has a right to pasture his animals on the kula land of that ahupua‘a, upon one or both of two grounds; first, by custom; or secondly, by statute law.”
“It appears by the evidence that horses were first introduced on the ahupua‘a of Honouliuli about the year 1833; that within ten years afterwards they had become numerous ; and that the horses belonging to the hoaʻāinas were allowed to pasture upon the kula land, in common with those of the konohiki.”
The Supreme Court was concerned with the right of a private property owner to use the land as he individually wished without having to share its use. The court said “the custom contended for is so unreasonable, so uncertain, and so repugnant to the spirit of the present laws, that it ought not to be sustained by judicial authority.”
The court also said “…it is perfectly clear that, if the plaintiff (Oni) is a hoaʻāina, holding his land by virtue of a fee simple award from the Land Commission, he has no pretense for claiming a right of pasturage by custom.” (Judicial History Center)
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Meek. For over a hundred years, the Oni v Meek case appeared to foreclose claims based on custom. (MacKenzie) The last fifty years of his life he was a resident of Honolulu and died January 29, 1875. (Kamakau)