In 1790, two Western ships, Simon Metcalf (captaining the Eleanora) and his son Thomas Metcalf (captaining the Fair American) were trading in Hawaiian waters.
The Eleanora arrived in the islands first; after a brief confrontation with local chief Kameʻeiamoku in Kohala, she sailed to the neighboring island of Maui to trade along the coast.
Kame‘eiamoku vowed revenge on whatever ship next came his way. By coincidence, the Fair American was the next ship to visit the territory of chief Kameʻeiamoku, who was eager for revenge. Isaac Davis was a crew member of the Fair American.
On March 16, 1790, the Fair American was attacked by Kameʻeiamoku’s warriors at Puako, near Kawaihae, Hawaii. The schooner was manned by only four sailors, plus its relatively inexperienced captain. It was easily captured by the Hawaiians (Davis was spared.)
Unaware of the events and fate of the Fair American, the Eleanora returned from Maui and arrived at the Big Island; Captain Simon Metcalf sent John Young ashore to see the country.
That evening, as Young attempted to return to his ship, Kamehameha’s forces detained him (Kamehameha had placed a kapu on anyone going on the ship.)
Young was captured and Metcalf, unaware, was puzzled why Young did not return. Metcalf waited two days for Young to return, firing guns in hope that the sound would guide Young back and sending a letter to foreigners ashore.
Finally, sensing danger or becoming frustrated, Metcalf departed and set sail for China (abandoning Young,) not knowing that his son had been killed not far away.
A number of muskets, swords, axes, powder and clothing, as well as a brass cannon, were recovered from the Fair American, which Kamehameha kept as part of his arsenal. Kamehameha made Young and Davis his advisors. (Rechtman)
Kamehameha gave the name ‘Lopaka’ to the powerful pū kuniahi (cannon) that was captured from the British ship Fair American.
Later described as “ka puʻuhonua o ko Kamehameha aoao” (the sanctuary of Kamehameha’s side), Lopaka would gain fame at the decisive battles of Kapaniwai on Maui and Paʻauhau on Oʻahu. (Bishop Museum)
The famous cannon, Lopaka, was dragged and set up at a place called Kawelowelo, and from there it was fired into the ‘Iao Valley, and turned to fire at the cliffs where the Maui people were attempting to flee.
The thundering sound of the Lopaka cannon caused absolute terror amongst the Maui warriors, and some of them met their death by the weapons of the foreigners. They were slaughtered below the pali.
While the Lopaka cannon was being fired by John Young, Maui warriors gathered together some men and sprang to seize the Lopaka cannon.
That cannon fell into the hands of Keoua’s men (for a time,) and John Young ran for his life arriving before Isaac Davis at the place now called Honoka‘a.
At this place a very hot battle was fought between the two sides. If John Young had not run, he would have died at the hands of Ka‘ie‘iea, Keoua’s fearless warrior. (Desha) But the damage had been done.
Had they fought face-to-face and hand-to-hand, as the custom was, they would have been equally matched. But the defensive was drawn up in a narrow pass in ʻIao, and the offensive advanced.
Kamehameha’s warriors pursued them and slew the vanquished as they scrambled up the cliffs. The battle was called “Clawed off the cliff” (Kaʻuwaʻupali) and “The damming of the waters.”
During the fight Kalanikupule and other chiefs escaped to Oʻahu; others went over the pass in ʻIao Valley into Olowalu, then they sailed to Molokai. (Kamakau)
Because of their knowledge of European warfare, Young and Davis are said to have trained Kamehameha and his men in the use of muskets and cannons. In addition, both Young and Davis fought alongside Kamehameha in his many battles.
Kamehameha appointed John Young as Governor of Kamehameha’s home island, Hawai‘i Island, and gave him a seat next to himself in the ruling council of chiefs. In 1819, Young was one of the few present at the death of Kamehameha I.
Davis became a respected translator and military advisor for Kamehameha. Davis brought western military knowledge to Hawai‘i and played a big role during Hawaii’s first contacts with the European powers. His skill in gunnery, as well as Lopaka from the Fair American, helped Kamehameha win many battles.
Davis had the King’s “most perfect confidence” and he attended to Kamehameha’s needs on all travels of business or pleasure – and ventured with him during times of war. Davis earned Kamehameha’s “greatest respect and the highest degree of esteem and regard.”
When Captain George Vancouver visited Hawai‘i Island in 1793, he observed that both Young and Davis “are in his (Kamehameha’s) most perfect confidence, attend him in all his excursions of business or pleasure, or expeditions of war or enterprise; and are in the habit of daily experiencing from him the greatest respect, and the highest degree of esteem and regard.”
Reportedly, Lopaka was lashed to a sled and pulled by ropes; in more difficult terrain, it was removed from its carriage and slung from long poles. (The image shows Lopaka, John Young and Isaac Davis at ʻIao, as drawn by Brook Parker.)