Within ten years after Captain Cook’s 1778 contact with Hawai‘i, the islands became a favorite port of call in the trade with China. The fur traders and merchant ships crossing the Pacific needed to replenish food supplies and water.
The maritime fur trade focused on acquiring furs of sea otters, seals and other animals from the Pacific Northwest Coast and Alaska. The furs were mostly sold in China in exchange for tea, silks, porcelain and other Chinese goods, which were then sold in Europe and the United States.
Needing supplies in their journey, the traders soon realized they could economically barter for provisions in Hawai‘i; a triangular trade network emerged linking the Pacific Northwest coast, China and the Hawaiian Islands to Britain and the United States (especially New England).
After acquiring the “Louisiana Purchase” in 1803, under the directive of President Thomas Jefferson, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the “Corps of Discovery Expedition” (1804–1806), was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific coast undertaken by the United States.
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. That year John Jacob Astor built Fort Astoria, it was later sold to the North West Company.
Comfortable with the service from the Hawaiians, in 1817, North West sent a ship “to bring as many of the Sandwich Islanders to the Columbia river as we could conveniently accommodate.” (Corney)
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 – “Kanaka” is the word for “person” in the Native Hawaiian language.
Historians suggest “that young Hawaiian males left Hawaiʻi as workers on whaling ships and traveled to China, Europe, Mexico, and the US mainland. In addition, many ventured into the Pacific Northwest territory, worked in the fur trade, and ended up settling in those areas.” (pbs-org)
Sandwich Islanders (Hawaiians) came to Oregon Country as seamen. Many remained in Oregon to work under contract as laborers, servants and craftsmen.
The growing population of Hawaiian into the Oregon Country resulted in growing concerns.
Then, in 1845, the Oregon legislature addressed a bill designed to reduce the flow – it was called the Sandwich Islander Tax.
It was an attempt to raise revenue by taxing employers of these Islanders, and it reflects the notion that they will not become permanent residents of Oregon.
A transcript of original drafting of the bill notes, “An Act concerning the introduction of Sandwich Islanders or natives from any of the adjoining islands.”
“Sec 1 Be it enacted by the house of Representatives of Oregon Territory as follows – That all persons who shall hereafter introduce into Oregon Territory any Sandwich Islanders or natives from any of the neighboring Islands for a term of Service shall pay a tax of five dollars for each person so introduced;”
“Sec 2 Each and every person in this Territory shall pay a tax of three dollar per annum for each and every Sandwich Islander or any native from a neighbouring Island that they keep in their service for a term of years’”
“Sec 3 The revenue arising from said tax shall be assessed and collected as other Taxes are assessed and collected, and paid into the Territorial Treasury the same time the other Territorial Revenue is paid in.”
While introduced, the bill never passed.
“The bill to tax Sandwich Islanders, was read a third time, and indefinitely postponed.” (December 18, 1845; Oregon Archives)
The intent was later disclosed, “For the taxation of the Sandwich Islanders, employed almost exclusively as servants and laborers, by the HB Company, and intended merely to annoy and embarass the gentlemen in charge of the said company.” (Oregon Historical Quarterly, 1909)
However, on October 15, 1862, Oregon Governor Addison C Gibbs approved the law that had passed the House of Representations (October 8, 1862) and Senate (October 13, 1862) that stated:
“That each and every negro, Chinaman, kanaka and mulatto (“mixed” or “biracial,”) residing within the limits of this state, shall pay an annual poll tax of five dollars, for the use of the county in which such negro, Chinaman, kanaka and mulatto may reside.”
“That every such negro, Chinaman, kanaka and mulatto, shall, between the first day of January and the first day of March, of each year, pay to the county treasurer of the county in which he may reside, the sum of five dollars, and thereupon said treasurer shall make out and deliver to such person a receipt”.
“When such negro, Chinaman, kanaka and mulatto shall fail and neglect to pay the tax required by section second of this act, then it shall be the duty of the sheriff of the county wherein such tax payer may reside or be found, to immediately collect such tax, with the additional sum of one dollar, and mileage, which additional sum and mileage shall go to the sheriff, as his fees; the balance shall be paid into the county treasury, and the sheriff is required to make return to the county treasurer of the taxes collected under the provisions of this act, on the first Monday of June, and every three months thereafter.”
“Should such negro, Chinaman, kanaka or mulatto, fail to pay the tax required by section second of this act, and should the sheriff be unable to collect the same, or make the same out of property belonging to such tax payers, then it is made the duty of the sheriff to arrest such negro, Chinaman, kanaka or mulatto, and put him at work on the public highways, under the direction of the road supervisor …”
“… such taxpayers shall be required to work one day on such highways, for every half-dollar of such tax due and unpaid, and in addition thereto, shall be allowed his board, which shall be paid by the county in which such labor is performed, and the sheriff shall be allowed by the county court a reasonable sum for his service.”
The image shows the draft of the original ‘Sandwich Islander Tax Bill.’