“’We are fortunate; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ These were her last words. She did not say anything until the day she left, then she said clearly: Aloha, three times, and her body’s work was done.” (Kuokoa, March 6, 1880)
Let’s look back …
Lydia Panioikawai Hunt French (Panio) was born in Waikele, Ewa, on the 15th of July, 1817. She married her husband, Mr. William French (Mika Palani) in 1836 at Kailua, Hawai‘i. Governor Kuakini was the one who married them.
William French arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1819 and settled in Honolulu. He became a leading trader, providing hides and tallow, and provisioning the whaling ships that called in Honolulu. Financial success during the next decade made French known as “the merchant prince.”
It “was with this husband who she lived in aloha with until death separated them. The two of them had three children—a daughter that is still living, and a mother that is admired along with her husband and four children—and twin sons, one who has died, and one who is living in China.” (Kuokoa, March 6, 1880)
French had property on the Island of Hawaiʻi, with a main headquarters there at Kawaihae, shipping cattle, hides and tallow to Honolulu; he hired John Palmer Parker (later founder of Parker Ranch) as his bookkeeper, cattle hunter and in other capacities. (Wellmon)
When French made claims before the Land Commission regarding one of the properties (identified as “slaughter-house premises” that he bought from Governor Kuakini in 1838,) testimony supporting his claim noted it was “a place for a beautiful house which Mr French would not sell for money. … It was enclosed by a stone wall. There were two natives occupying houses on his land.” (Land Commission Testimony)
The 2.8-acre property is in an area of Waimea known as Pu‘uloa; French built a couple houses on it, the property was bounded by Waikoloa Stream and became Parker’s home while he worked for French. (In addition, in 1840, this is where French built his original home in Waimea. (Bergin))
At Pu‘uloa, Parker ran one of French’s stores, which was nothing more than a thatched hut. Although this store was less grandiose than the other one at Kawaihae, it became the center of the cattle business on the Waimea plain.
French, like other merchants in the Islands at the time, grew concerned about decisions and laws that started to be made that affected their ability to trade. These changes also affected French citizens, especially the French Catholics.
On July 21, 1838, the French minister of the navy dispatched orders to Captain Cyrille-Pierre-Theodore Laplace, who at the time was already en route to the Pacific on a voyage of circumnavigation. Laplace received these orders, along with supporting documents, at Port Jackson, Australia, in March 1839.
The plight of French Catholics in Hawai‘i being distressingly similar to that of French Catholics in Tahiti, these orders read: “… What the English Methodists are doing in Tahiti, American Calvinist missionaries are doing in the Sandwich Islands.”
“They have incited the king of these islands, or rather those who govern in his name, to actions that apply to all foreigners of the Catholic faith – all designated, intentionally, as ‘Frenchmen.’”
“They found themselves prohibited from practicing their religion, then ignominiously banished from the Island … You will exact, if necessary with all the force that you command, complete reparation for the wrongs that they have committed and you will not leave those shores until you have left an indelible impression.”
In addition to the religious persecution, “Our wines, brandies, fabrics, and luxury goods find ready purchasers in Honolulu as well as in Russian, British, and Mexican settlements; but these articles are imported by American merchants (or replaced by substitutes of American manufacture).”
“French wines and brandies are subject to excessively high duties, on the grounds that bringing them into the Sandwich Islands would be harmful to the morals of the native population. American rum, on the other hand, is brought in—whether legally or illegally, I do not know—and consumed in prodigious quantities.” (Laplace; Birkett)
Captain Laplace and his fifty-two-gun frigate L’Artemise arrived in the Hawai‘i in July 1839. Laplace was the first Frenchman to visit the Islands with specific instructions from Paris to enter into official diplomatic relations with the Hawaiian government.
“It was my task to end this prohibition so detrimental to our commercial interests. I succeeded in doing so through a convention with the king of the Islands where he agreed that in the future French wines and brandies would be subject to no more than a 6 percent ad valorem duty when imported under the French flag.”
“The American missionaries raged and fumed at me, claiming that I was anti-Christian. They brought down on me all the curses of New and Old World Bible societies, to whom they depicted me as championing drunkenness among their converts …”
“… as if the way in which they were running things allowed these poor people to earn enough to buy Champagne, Bordeaux, or even Cognac brandy. Despite these diatribes, as unjust as they were treacherous, I carried my project to completion.” (Laplace; Birkett)
Here’s a portrayal of Panio by Danielle Zalopany during a presentation at Mission Houses– she gives some background on the family, as well as the ‘Laplace Affair.’
William French died at Kawaihae on November 25, 1851. “Many who have made their fortunes in these Islands have owed their rise in the world to the patronage of Mr French.” (Polynesian, December 6, 1851)
“On the 24th of February past (1880,) Panio left this life, at the home of her daughter in Ka‘akopua, after being in pain for several weeks. In her sickness, her great patience was made clear, along with her unwavering faith in the goodness of the Lord, her Redeemer, and her Savior; and she was there until the victorious hour upon her body.” (Kuokoa, March 6, 1880)