A great-granddaughter of Kamehameha, a grand-niece to Kamehameha II and III, and a half-sister of Kamehameha IV and V, Ruth Keʻelikōlani was born in Pohukaina, O‘ahu on February 9, 1826.
Ruth’s heritage was controversial. She was the poʻolua (“two heads”) child of Kāhalaiʻa and Kekūanāoʻa. (Johnson)
Her mother, Pauahi, was said to be carrying the child of Kāhalaiʻa when she married Kekūanāoʻa. Kekūanāoʻa claimed Keʻelikōlani as his own in court, and the matter was officially settled, though it would be debated again in later years, even by her own half-brother, Lot. (Nogelmeier)
After Pauahi’s death, Kekūanāoʻa married Kīna‘u, and they became the parents of Lot Kapuāiwa, Alexander Liholiho, and Victoria Kamāmalu, making Keʻelikōlani a half-sister to these three.
Her mother, Pauahi, died while giving birth to Keʻelikōlani, who was then cared for by Kamehameha’s wife, Ka‘ahumanu, who herself died six years later. The Princess was then sent to live with her father, Kekūanāoʻa, and her stepmother, Kīnaʻu.
At the age of sixteen, Keʻelikōlani married William Pitt Leleiōhoku. While serving as governor of Hawai‘i Island, Leleiōhoku died, only twenty-two years old. They had two children, only one of whom – William Pitt Kīnaʻu – survived childhood. Tragically, he died at the age of seventeen in an accident on Hawai‘i.
Keʻelikōlani’s second husband was the part-Hawaiian Isaac Young Davis, grandson of Isaac Davis (a Welsh advisor to King Kamehameha I.)
In 1862, they had a son, Keolaokalani (‘The Life of the Heavenly One.’) (No one knew then that Keolaokalani would be the last baby born into the Kamehameha line.) Keʻelikōlani gave him as a hānai to Bernice Pauahi.
Lot (Kamehameha V,) forced Ruth to renounce all ties with Keolaokalani as her heir. (But six months was all the time Pauahi would have with her son. He died on August 29, 1862.)
Then Lot insisted that she adopt William Pitt Leleiōhoku II, King Kalākaua’s youngest brother and heir apparent. She did; however, Leleiōhoku predeceased Ruth.
Determined to uphold the honor of her ancestors, she retained many traditional religious practices. Although she learned English among other subjects at the missionary-run Chief’s Children’s School, she was a staunch supporter of the Hawaiian language and traditional cultural practices.
Able to speak and write English, she chose not to. Trained in the Christian religion, she held fast to practices and beliefs that were considered pagan, including her patronage of chanters and hula dancers. (Nogelmeier)
When Madame Pele threatened the town of Hilo with a lava flow in 1881, the people asked Keʻelikōlani to intercede. The Hawaiian-language newspaper Ko Hawai‘i Pae Aina published a letter with the heading “Ka Pele ai Honua ma Hilo” (Pele, devourer of land at Hilo) that describes the immediate danger, “Hapalua Mile ka Mamao mai ke Koana aku” (the distance from town being only one half mile). Ke‘elikōlani offered traditional oli (chants) and hoʻokupu (tribute) to Pele and later reportedly camped at the foot of the flow. The flow stopped just short of town. (Bishop Museum)
She was a member of the Privy Council (1847,) the House of Nobles (1855-1857) and served as Governor of the island of Hawaiʻi (1855-1874.)
She was godmother to Princess Kaʻiulani. At Kaʻiulani’s baptism, Ruth gifted 10-acres of her land in Waikīkī where Kaʻiulani’s father Archibald Cleghorn built the ʻĀinahau Estate.
Keʻelikōlani was respected as one of considerable rank, and as time passed, she was said to be “Ka Pua Alii Kiekie pili ponoi o ko Kamehameha Hale – the highest-ranking descendant of Kamehameha’s line … ke Alii kahiko aku i ko na Alii e ae a pau – the chiefess with the most historic lineage of all”. (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 1883 – Nogelmeier)
Throughout her life she was regularly addressed by all as Ka Mea Kiʻekiʻe – Highness. Foreigners knew her as “Princess Ruth.”
By the time King Kalākaua was elected, Keʻelikōlani was the richest woman in the kingdom, having inherited the estates of her parents and siblings.
Despite owning Huliheʻe Palace, a Western-style house in Kailua-Kona, she chose to live in a large, traditional grass home on the grounds of that oceanfront property.
She later chose to build Keōua Hale, a large, ornate mansion on her land in Honolulu. Keōua Hale was a Victorian-style mansion, and the most expansive residence of the time; it was larger than ʻIolani Palace.
The house was completed in 1883; however, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani never lived in the palace. She became ill immediately after the house warming and birthday luau.
Her doctors recommended that she return to Huliheʻe, her Kailua-Kona residence, where they believed she would more quickly regain her health. She died in 1883 at Haleʻōlelo at her large native-style home (thatch house) on the grounds of Huliheʻe Palace in Kailua, Hawaiʻi.
At her death, Keʻelikōlani’s will stated that she “give and bequeath forever to my beloved younger sister (cousin), Bernice Pauahi Bishop, all of my property, the real property and personal property from Hawaiʻi to Kauaʻi, all of said property to be hers.” (about 353,000 acres)
This established the land-base endowment for Pauahi’s subsequent formation of Kamehameha Schools at her death. Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop passed away a year later.
The image shows Keʻelikōlani in 1877; in addition, I have added related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.