“There is a gentleman still living at Honolulu whose boast is that he was the father of the project to annex Hawaii to the American Union.”
“It may, therefore, be perfectly permissible to mention here that the Pearl Harbor scheme of 1873 is declared with good reason to have originated with him …”
“Dr. John S. McGrew, – and was then openly advocated by him as a preliminary to the obliteration of the native government by the annexation of the whole group to the United States.” (Lili‘uokalani)
Let’s look back …
John Strayer McGrew was born at Lancaster, Ohio, on December 23, 1825. He moved at an early age with his family to Cincinnati where his father, Robert McGrew, founded the ‘Cincinnati Enquirer.’ He attended the public schools of Cincinnati.
At the age of fifteen young McGrew entered Oxford College, where he graduated, then entered the Ohio Medical College, in which be qualified as a physician and surgeon. His MD was earned in 1847.
During the Civil War, Dr McGrew was among the first to volunteer. He served as a surgeon with the 83rd Ohio Regiment and was later promoted to staff surgeon of the US Volunteers.
At the close of the war, Dr. McGrew married Pauline Gillet at Washington, D.C. This was a second marriage for both parties. Mrs McGrew had a son, Henri Goulden, whom Dr McGrew adopted and who later became a doctor and practiced in Honolulu.
Following their wedding, the McGrews started on a world tour which brought them to Hawaiʻi on March 6, 1867, aboard the ‘AA Eldrich.’
Enchanted with the Islands, they abandoned their tour and settled in Honolulu. By April, McGrew had established an office over Dr. Edward Hoffmann’s drug store at the corner of Kaʻahumanu and Merchant streets. In 1869, he was appointed by the US Consul medical officer of the US Marine Hospital, a position he held for a number of years.
Dr and Mrs McGrew were widely known for their hospitality and entertained distinguished guests from all parts of the world. It was estimated that it cost Dr. McGrew $10,000 a year to keep open house for his guests.
His home, which was originally built by Dr. Robert Wood in 1840, stood on the former site of the Alexander Young Hotel on Bishop and Hotel streets (now Bishop Square) and was a Honolulu landmark and social center of the city.
McGrew was a member of the commission which worked with Generals Alexander and Schofield in making a survey in 1873 for an American naval base at Pearl Harbor, as provided for by the Reciprocity Treaty. He assisted in making plans for the coaling station and lived to see a portion of the harbor improvements completed.
His business interests, which were many, included leasing the Hawaiian Hotel for a time, being a shareholder in the Mutual Telephone Company and serving as vice-president of the People’s Ice and Refrigeration Company. In 1900, he limited his medical practice so that he could devote more time to his extensive real estate holdings.
‘Annexation’ McGrew, he was called by King Kalākaua, who, although opposed to Dr McGrew’s political program, expressed his admiration for the doctor’s sincerity and honesty of purpose.
McGrew was an earnest advocate of annexation long before the Hawaiian monarchy was destroyed by revolution, and not for an instant did he waver from his purpose.
“Three things were embodied in Dr. McGrew’s life here, which, apart from his strong personality, or perhaps because of it, made him a man of mark.”
“He was the most vigilant and hospitable American in Honolulu, especially toward his countrymen. Americans who came here with a claim to consideration found it at his hands; and he was the personal host of visiting admirals and generals.”
“He also kept the medical profession at a high standard; he may be said to have sustained its honorable ethics with as firm a hand as he did the patriotism of the little American community of which he was the inspiring center.”
“Then Dr. McGrew was first, last and all the time an advocate of the United States, and from this object neither royal blandishments nor social or political opposition could swerve him. After the revolution of ’93 he became editor-in-chief of the new annexation paper, the Star.” (Mid-Pacific Magazine, 1912)
When annexation finally became an accomplished fact in 1898, five years after the revolution, Dr McGrew was hailed as “The Father of Annexation,” just as Judge Sanford B. Dole, president of the Republic of Hawaii and first governor of the American Territory, became known in later years as “The Grand Old Man of Hawai‘i.”
“The idea of annexation did not originate with him; but if there is one man to whom it should be assigned, that man is Dr JS McGrew. Twenty years before Mr Stevens ever saw Hawaii, Dr McGrew stated in the strongest terms to me, as he did to about every person who would talk on the subject, that these islands should be, and would be, a part of the United States.” (Plamer)
“The Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi was formed on April 30, 1900 by supporters of the queen in the wake of a plague quarantine in Honolulu. The meeting brought together five men: John H Wilson, son of Marshal of the Kingdom Charles B. Wilson; John S. McGrew, a doctor and supporter of Kalākaua …”
“… Charles J. McCarthy, a saloon owner and former Honolulu Rifle; David Kawānanakoa, prince of the House of Kawānanakoa; and Delbert Evener Metzger, an engineer from Kauai”. (Democratic Revolution)
The godfather of the Democratic party in Hawai‘i was acknowledged to be John S McGrew, a haole medical doctor, who had brought his political allegiance with him to the monarchy of King Kalākaua. (Krauss)
On October 9, 1911, McGrew fell and fractured his right hip; he died from the injuries on November 18, 1911. (Lots of information here is from Nellist, Democratic Revolution and Mid-Pacific Magazine.)
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Laura Stolk says
Can you please list your sources for: Robert McGrew being the founder of the Cincinnati Enquirer and the father of John Strayer McGrew? Thanks.
Peter T Young says