Alexander Adams was born December 27, 1780; he left Scotland in 1792 to begin a life of working on the sea. This eventually led him to Hawaiʻi, where he arrived in 1811 on the American trading ship the ‘Albatross’ from Boston.
He became an intimate friend and confidential advisor to King Kamehameha I, who entrusted to him the command of the king’s sandalwood fleet. He became the first regular pilot for the port of Honolulu, a position he held for 30-years.
Adams is credited with helping to design the Hawaiian flag – a new flag for Hawaiʻi was needed to avoid confusion by American vessels (prior to that time, Hawaiian vessels flew the British Union Jack.)
“The Hawaiian flag was designed for King Kamehameha I, in the year 1816. As the King desired to send a vessel to China to sell a cargo of sandal-wood, he in company with John Young, Isaac Davis and Alexander Adams … made this flag for the ship, which was a war vessel, called the Forrester, carrying 16 guns, and was owned by Kamehameha I.” (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, January 1, 1862)
On March 7, 1817, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi sent Adams to China to sell the sandalwood. When he sailed to China, it was the first vessel under the flag of Hawaiʻi.
To enter the Chinese harbor, the ship was heavily taxed in port charges. Upon returning October 5, 1817, at Hilo and hearing of the amount Adams had to pay, King Kamehameha decided Hawaiʻi should also generate revenue from port charges. This was the origin of harbor dues in the islands.
Kamehameha awarded Adams control of over 2,000-acres in the Niu Valley (much of which is still under the control on his descendants.)
Adams stood on the shore with John Young at Kailua-Kona when the first American Christian missionaries anchored off shore in 1820. He helped convince the King to allow the missionaries to come ashore and take up residence in Hawaiʻi.
When the HMS Blonde arrived in 1825, Adams helped the Scottish naturalist (James Macrae) distribute some plants he thought would be commercially successful in the tropical climate.
In 1828, Queen Kaʻahumanu gave Adams over 290-acres of land in Kalihi Valley (on the island of Oʻahu) in connection with and in gratitude for his services. The area was called Apili.
After 30 years of piloting, Adams retired in 1853, grew fruit on his land in Kalihi Valley, and was great host to visitors. He also had a home on what was named Adams Lane (in 1850,) a small lane in downtown Honolulu off of Hotel Street named after him (near the Hawaiian Telephone company building.)
Adams married three times, his first was to Sarah “Sally” Davis, daughter of Isaac Davis; two of his wives were the Harbottle sisters (Sarah Harbottle and Charlotte Harbottle,) who were reared by Queen Kaʻahumanu and were favorites at court. According to his personal account, he was the father of 15 children, eight of whom were by his third wife.
The estate in Niu Valley was held by his granddaughter Mary Lucas, who started subdividing it in the 1950s. The area created by the filling of Kupapa Fishpond is now the site of numerous oceanfront homes.
Old Niu Fishpond (Kupapa Fishpond) is part of a tract of 2,446 acres that was once a summer home of Kamehameha I and which later claimed by Alexander Adams under Claim No. 802 filed Feb. 14, 1848, with the land commission at the time of the Great Māhele.
The claim states: “From the testimony of Governor Kekūanāoʻa … it appears that the claimant was created lord of konohiki of this land, in the time of Kamehameha I, and that he has exercised the konohikiship of the same without dispute ever since the year of Our Lord 1822.”
It further appears that the claimant obtained his rights in this land, in the same way that he obtained his rights in the land comprised in the Claim No. 801 (in Downtown Honolulu,) namely in remuneration for services rendered the king as sea captain or sailing master.”
Adams died October 17, 1871. He is buried next to his friend and fellow Scotsman Andrew Auld in the Oʻahu Cemetery. Their common tombstone contains the following inscription in the Scots dialect: “Twa croanies frae the land of heather; Are sleepin’ here in death th’gether.”