In 1784 Kamehameha I began a war of conquest, and, by 1795, with his superior use of modern weapons and western advisors, he subdued all other chiefdoms, with the exception of Kaua‘i.
Kaua‘i and Niʻihau were ruled by King Kaumuali‘i. He was born in 1780 at the sacred royal Birthstone at Holoholokū Heiau in Wailua.
King Kamehameha I launched his first invasion attempt on Kaua‘i in April of 1796, having already conquered the other Hawaiian Islands, and having fought his last major battle at Nu‘uanu on O‘ahu in 1795.
Kaua‘i’s opposing factions (Kaumuali‘i versus Keawe) were extremely vulnerable as they had been weakened by fighting each other (Keawe died and Kaumuali‘i was, ultimately, ruler of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.)
About one-fourth of the way across the ocean channel between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, a storm thwarted Kamehameha’s warriors when many of their canoes were swamped in the rough seas and stormy winds, and then were forced to turn back.
Some of the advance troops made it to Kaua‘i and were killed when they reached shore. Kaua‘i remained unconquered by Kamehameha and Kaumuali‘i ruled.
In 1804, King Kamehameha I moved his capital from Lahaina, Maui to Honolulu on O‘ahu, and continued planning an attack on Kaua‘i. Kamehameha’s forces for this second invasion attempt included about 7,000 Hawaiians along with about 50 foreigners (Europeans).
Kamehameha’s troops were armed with muskets, as well as eight cannons, 40 swivel guns, and other Western weaponry. Kamehameha’s massive fleet of double-hulled canoes was accompanied by 21 armed schooners.
Kamehameha’s second attempt was thwarted, again, when an epidemic, thought to be typhoid or dysentery, swept through the population, killing thousands. The sickness delayed for a second time Kamehameha’s goal of conquering Kaua‘i.
In a renewed effort for a large-scale attack on Kaua‘i, Kamehameha began assembling a formidable armada of sailing ships in Waikīkī, using foreigners to construct the vessels.
The invasion never took place. In the face of the threat of a further invasion, in 1810, Kaumuali‘i decided to peacefully unite with Kamehameha and join the rest of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
Kaumuali‘i still retained his title and responsibilities as the head of Kaua‘i, but ceded Kauaʻi and Ni‘ihau to Kamehameha and the Hawaiian Islands were unified under a single leader.
The agreement with Kaumuali‘i marked the end of war and thoughts of war across the archipelago. Kaumuali’i returned to Kaua’i still serving as the paramount chief.
Although Kaumuali‘i had ceded Kaua‘i to Kamehameha I in 1810, he generally maintained de facto independence and control of the island following his agreement with Kamehameha.
After King Kamehameha I died in 1819, Kaumuali‘i pledged his allegiance to Liholiho, Kamehameha’s son and successor. In 1821, Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) anchored his royal ship Ha‘aheo o Hawai‘i (Pride of Hawai‘i) in Waimea Bay, and invited Kaumuali‘i aboard.
After boarding the ship Kaumuali‘i was effectively taken as a prisoner and the ship sailed for O‘ahu. There, Ka‘ahumanu (Kamehameha’s widow) married him – some suggest it was based on romance, others suggest it was an act of diplomacy.
Kaumuali‘i passed away on O‘ahu in 1824, effectively ceding the island to the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi upon his death.
Hiram Bingham was on a preaching tour of the island of Kaua‘i in 1824, shortly before King Kaumuali‘i died. Kaumuali‘i had been living on Oahu for three years. Bingham spoke to him just before coming to Kaua‘i.
“We found Kaumuali‘i seated at his desk, writing a letter of business. We were forcible and pleasantly struck with the dignity and gravity, courteousness, freedom and affection with which he rose and gave us his hand, his hearty aloha, and friendly parting smile, so much like a cultivated Christian brother.”
When the king died, Bingham said a gloom fell over Kaua‘i.
The image is the Mahiole (feather helmet) reportedly to be the gift from Kamehameha I to King Kaumualiʻi for agreeing to peaceful settlement; Kamehameha is said to have given Kaumuali‘i the mahiole, malo and some ‘ahu‘ula (feather capes.)