Humehume was born on Kauai in about 1797. His father, King Kaumuali’i, suggested he be called George (after King George of England.) (Warne) Kaumuali‘i decided to send his son to America, at least, in part, to receive a formal education.
George was about six years old when he boarded the Hazard that ultimately sailed into Providence, Rhode Island on June 30, 1805 after a year-and-a-half at sea. Over the next few years he made his way to Worcester, Massachusetts and other parts of New England.
On October 23, 1819, the Thaddeus carried the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries to Hawai‘i. There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM in this first company. With them were four Hawaiian, including Humehume. They arrived in Kailua-Kona on April 4, 1820. On May 3, 1820, Humehume returned to Kauai.
King Kaumuali‘i died on May 26, 1824; Humehume was sick, too. “When I was at Oahu, I never expected to see Kauai again. The old woman gave me a dose; and I had the same sickness that my father had. … The old gentleman was poisoned, just the same as I was. I must have got it at Lahaina, where I ate once or twice with Ka‘ahumanu.”
“I have been up almost every night since I returned from the windward. Four nights ago, I and another chief sent out to meet a party from Waimea, who were coming to take us. I met them, and drove them back.” (Humehume; Bingham)
Humehume reached O’ahu only to learn that his father’s body was already on its way to Lāhainā for burial. He had missed the funeral in Honolulu and now would arrive too late for the final service on Maui even if he left immediately.
In Lāhainā, Humehume ate with the kuhina nui, Ka‘ahumanu, and other dignitaries, who most likely told him that Kaumuali‘i had spoken about his will shortly before his death.
According to them, the islands of Kauai and Ni‘ihau – including all lands, ships, fortifications, munitions, and property – would be transferred to the commander-in-chief Kalanimōku for him to administer until Liholiho returned from England. (Warne)
Tension mounted throughout the islands following Kaumuali‘i’s death. Kauai was especially tumultuous: people indulged in various forms of excess and lawlessness, which were considered displays of intense grief. These acts often signified the beginning of periods of great upheaval and were common following the death of a chief, especially for one as beloved as Kaumuali‘i. (Warne)
Kalanimōku sailed to Kauai to proclaim the will of the dead chief and settle government affairs and land disputes. At Waimea Kalanimōku examined the fort. He then called a council of all the chiefs and announced to them that it was determined to give the governorship of Kauai and Ni‘ihau to Kalanimōku nephew, Kahalaiʻa Luanuʻu.
“(T)hose of the chiefs who hold land, they are well off; the commoner who holds property is fortunate; the chief or commoner who has no portion is unfortunate. The lands shall continue as they now stand. Our son, Kahalaiʻa, shall be ruler over you.” (Kalanimōku; Kamakau)
A blind chief of Waipouli in Puna, named Kiʻaimakani, said, ‘That is not right; the land should be put together and re-divided because we have a new ruler,’ but Kalanimōku would not consent to this. On Friday most of the chiefs gathered at Nihoa, one of Kaʻahumanu’s houses at Papaʻenaʻena, and urged the redistribution of the land, but Kalanimōku again refused. (Kamakau)
Kahalaiʻa accordingly sailed to Kauai as governor together with several chiefs. “The day after his arrival, he examined the state of the fort, which mounted about fifty guns, larger and smaller, and furnished a guard with muskets, bayonets, and swords, and put them in motion on different parts of the walls.” (Bingham)
A general uneasiness spread among Kauai chiefs who feared the loss of their lands and positions of leadership as a result of Kaumuali‘i’s death. The island’s ali‘i split into two factions: those who supported the authority of Liholiho against those who supported the interests of the Kauai chiefs.
As the firstborn son of Kaumuali’i and a recognized high-ranking ali‘i, Humehume may have represented the preservation of an independent Kauai. (Warne)
In the late afternoon of August 7, 1824, the chiefs under command of Kalanimōku relaxed. Kahalai‘a was in charge of Pa‘ula‘ula o Hipo (what many now refer to as the Russian Fort or Fort Elizabeth.) He left a few young warriors to sleep inside the fort but took most of his men across the river. There they planned to spend the night on the sand with his uncle Kalanimōku and his entourage.
Humehume summoned his men to a council of war.
Humehume and the chiefs worked out a plan. They realized that they were unarmed and stood little chance against the larger forces of Liholiho’s army. The ranks of opposing warriors included many with recent battle experience. (Warne)
Humehume knew that Kaumuali‘i had secretly accumulated hundreds of muskets at Pa‘ula‘ula o Hipo, as well as kegs of powder, field cannons and other armament. These were stored in the basement of the armory, in the middle of the fort.
If the Kauai men could enter the fort by stealth, break into the armory, and equip themselves before being discovered, they just might be able to capture the fort-the strongest military position on the island-from the inside. Then they could aim the fort’s cannons on Kalanimōku’s men, camped on the beach below, and force them to retreat or die. (Warne)
On Saturday night the Kauai Chiefs seized their digging sticks and attacked the fort, which they found manned by the men of Hawai‘i with guns.
Sometime after midnight (August 8, 1824) the Kauai men entered the fort undetected. Humehume broke the lock on the armory and went below to hand out muskets and powder to his men.
Then … disaster. The intruders were discovered before the distribution of arms was completed. Instead of responding silently with a bayonet, a cutlass, or a traditional club or spear, one rebel fired his newly acquired rifle. (Warne)
Kahalaiʻa and his men were awakened by the ringing of the bell and the shouts of a woman warrior who cried, ‘Here come the Kauai warriors after the arms! here come the rebels! the men of Hawai‘i still hold the fort! it is not taken for Kauai!’ (Kamakau)
Humehume “entered the magazine, supplied his men with powder and broke open two houses where the arms were deposited and armed part of his men, but …”
“… instead of securing the remainder of the fort, which they might have done with the greatest ease with their bayonets and cutlasses, they commenced firing their muskets …”
“… the contest was doubtful for about half an hour when George’s party retreated for about eight miles, leaving ten men and two women dead in the fort. They carried off a few casks of powder and about 100 muskets.” (Hunnewell; Warne)
Kalanimōku sent the ship, Paʻalua, to Honolulu after reinforcements and Mr. Bingham and Mr. Whitney and their families took passage for fear of the war. (Kamakau)
Humehume and his surviving warriors made a hasty retreat to regroup at Wahiawa. In addition to the muskets, they managed to procure a brass field cannon, probably drawn on its wheels by the retreating men.
In the aftermath of the skirmish, ten of Humehume’s followers lay dead. Three from the opposing army had also been killed, including the chief Ni‘au and the Englishmen Towbridge and Smith, who had shared the misfortune of sleeping at the fort. Kalanimōku had not taken part in the fighting.
The rebels’ aborted attack had left about one-fifth of them dead, but there was no time to waste – a second battle was inevitable. If Humehume had taken control of the fort, he would have been in a much better position to stage a defense.
Now, however, with Kapule and other local chiefs allied against him, additional warriors from O‘ahu and Maui could land unmolested. His only hope was to find sufficient support from the remaining chiefs on Kauai.
Before Kalanimōku’s reinforcements arrived, Humehume decided to try his hand at diplomacy. With a pencil he started a letter to Kalanimōku in Hawaiian. Frustrated at being unable to write clearly in his own language, he turned the paper over and wrote in English.
The message shows him thinking rationally in a desperate situation. His request to let Kauai chiefs settle things among themselves was honorable, not based on a desire for revenge against Ka’ahumanu or for war at any cost.
“Dear Sir: We wish not to hurt any of the people from the windward islands, but those chiefs belonging to Atooi. Therefore I hope you will separate your men from them, and let the Atooi chiefs fight the battle, for we wish not to hurt any oo you from the windward.”
“Our lives have been threatened by Tapule (Kapule,) by Haupu, by Kumakeha and Wahine. These are the chiefs we want to go against. But your people we wish not to trouble. Send me your answer as soon as you can. Yours, &c GPT.” (Humehume; Warne)
He waited in vain for a reply; Kalanimōku was not about to negotiate. Humehume’s situation grew increasingly serious when few if any Kauai chiefs from outlying districts offered to join him. Determined to fight even in the face of impossible odds, his men built a rock barricade as a line of defense for their prized cannon.
According to Kamakau, more than ten ships were dispatched from Oahu and Maui, crammed with warriors and weapons. ‘When the warships anchored at Waimea, Kauai, the Waimea residents said, We thought Hawaii had men to summon, but there are so many they sway en masse.’
The attack began. Hundreds of warriors marched uphill toward the rebels in a curved line, their muskets loaded. Humehume’s cannon fired several times, but the single small-bore field piece could not stop the massive advance.
A fierce gun battle ensued as the warriors reached the top of the ridge. Outnumbered ten to one, the Kauai forces were quickly routed by the overwhelming number of troops they faced. (Warne)
When further resistance was futile, Humehume shouted for his people to flee for their lives. Under a hail of musket balls, he mounted a horse, snatched up his wife and two-year-old daughter, and galloped toward the mountains. Others from Humehume’s group scattered into the forest, and were killed or captured.
Fearing that his wife and child would be killed if they were captured with him, Humehume told Betty that they must not continue on together. After a hasty farewell, he struck out alone on foot into the rugged mountains.
Humehume was eventually captured and imprisoned. The closing year and a half of Humehume’s life were spent in Honolulu under the custody of Kalanimōku, prime minster of the kingdom. A victim of influenza, George died on May 3, 1826, six years to the day of his return to Waimea, Kauai.
His final resting place is not known. (Spoehr) Lots of information here is from Spoehr, Warne, Bingham, Stauder and Damon.) (Imagery shows an artist’s reconstruction of Pa‘ula‘ula o Hipo from work by Alexander Molodin and Peter Mills.)