Oliver Holmes was born November 2, 1777 in Kingston, Plymouth, Massachusetts; his parents were Simeon Holmes and Mercy Weston. Oliver is a direct descendant of John Alden, reportedly the first man to step off the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock (and signor of the Mayflower Compact.)
Holmes left New Bedford to trade in the Pacific and arrived in the Islands on the Margaret in 1793 and became one of the first dozen foreigners (and one of the first Americans) to live in Hawaiʻi.
Oliver Holmes lived on the island of Oʻahu. After the victory of Kamehameha on Oʻahu (1795,) Holmes married Mahi Kalanihoʻoulumokuikekai, daughter of a high chief of Koʻolau who was killed in the battle of the Nuʻuanu Pali. (Kelley)
Isaac Davis, who had been with Kamehameha since 1790, spent a good deal of time on Oʻahu after the Battle of Nuʻuanu (1795,) and as early as 1798 he was ‘supreme’ at Honolulu, handling all trade with visiting ships.
Holmes made his living managing his land holdings on Oʻahu and Molokai, providing provisions to visiting ships. (Hammatt) To supplement that, in 1809, he got involved with a distillery in Kewalo – this was the infancy of the short-lived rum distillation from the local sugar cane. (Greer)
Holmes was an assistant to the Governor of Oʻahu for a long time. (Land Commission Testimony) After Davis’ death (1810,) Holmes impressed visitors as the most important man on Oʻahu, next to the King. Holmes was addressed as Aliʻi Homo (Chief Holmes.) (Daws)
John Young, Isaac Davis, and Oliver Holmes were all governors of Oʻahu. Kamehameha’s advisors told him not to appoint an important chief over Oʻahu in the king’s absence, for he might rebel against him.
Davis served as governor of Oʻahu from 1795 to 1810; following Davies’ death, when Kamehameha was on Hawaiʻi, Holmes was in charge of foreign trade at Oʻahu; when the king was on Oʻahu, Young would manage affairs on Hawaiʻi. (Klieger)
“At the time Kamehameha I went back to Hawaiʻi (1812) he appointed (Oliver Holmes) to arrange settlements of disputes (hoʻonoho e hoʻoponopono i na mea hihia); (Holmes) built a house and made a wall at this vacant place and lived there. … it (was) fenced, having 6 houses on it”. (Land Commission Testimony)
The former Holmes Honolulu property was on a site on the mauka side of King Street, midway between Fort and Nuʻuanu Streets (Bethel Street now cuts right through the former Holmes property.) He had acquired it in about 1811 from Kamehameha I for consideration of services and friendship.
Holmes, among other foreigners, asked the Protestant missionaries to help educate their children; “… we were encouraged in our efforts to commence a school by several residents, some wishing their wives, and others their children to be instructed.”
“Among these, were Messrs. Holmes and Navarro (American), Marin (Spanish), Harbottle, Woodland and Beckley (English) and Allen, a refugee from New York slavery before its abolition…” (Bingham)
Holmes and Mahi had six surviving children: Hannah, George, Polly (Sarah Pauline,) Charlotte, Mary and Jane (another, Benjamin, died in infancy.)
Hannah first married William Heath Davis (Sr;) their son, William Heath “Kanaka” Davis, Jr (1822 – 1909,) was a merchant and trader, and was one of the founders of “New Town” San Diego in 1850. Hannah later married John Coffin Jones Jr – Jones was the first US Agent for Commerce and Seamen and the ﬁrst ofﬁcial US representative in the Hawaiian Islands.
Click HERE for a prior post on William Heath Davis Jr.
It appears that Polly had a few husbands: Capt. Isaiah Lewis, Samuel F Mills, Washington Crocker and George Colman – and several children. Charlotte married Charles Hammett (Hammatt.) Mary married English fur trader Captain John Bancroft.
Another of Oliver Holmes’ daughters, Jane, married Nathan Spear; Boston-born Spear came to Monterey in 1831 and became one of California’s pioneer merchants. Five years later he opened the first store in the new village of Yerba Buena (now known as San Francisco.)
Holmes died August 6, 1825 at his property on King Street. The image shows the location of the Oliver Holmes property in downtown Honolulu.
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Craig Rockhold says
Thank you so much for this story! I am a direct descendant of Oliver Holmes and Mahi Kalanihoʻoulumokuikekai…they are my 4x Great Grandparents. Through other verified sources, I have been able to establish that Kamehameha I adopted Mahi as his niece after the Battle of Nuʻuanu Pali — a standard practice by the victorious Ali’i out of respect to his conquered (and deceased) foe.
BTW – my 3x Great Grandmother Polly Holmes’ son, John G Lewis (my 2x Great Grandfather) was the man that built the home that eventually became Queen Emma’s Summer Palace. My Grandmother told me many stories – including that John G Lewis carved/constructed the Koa casket for Kamehameha III. My Great Grandmother, Harriet Kawaikapulani Likelike Lewis married my Great Grandfather Charles E Blake (b. Koloa, Kauai), who was a member of the first graduating class of the Kamehameha School.
Hi Craig! I too am a descendant of Oliver via his daughter Polly and daughter Mary Lewis Kanae. I believe we already had contacted each other on Ancestry. Would be cool if you had taken advantage (or did you already?) of Ancestry’s DNA tests that was for 30% to see how much it shows we share with DNA. You could also join the Polynesian DNA project at familytreedna.com as well.
William King says
Aloha e ke hoahanau, (greetings cousin),
O Wiliama Heath Davis King III ko’u inoa (my name is William Heath Davis King III) and we are indeed cousins, albeit distant, through Oliver and Mahi, our illustrious forbearers. All of this history, bordering on ancient, is nonetheless hoihoi loa (very interesting)!
Could you cite the source of Oliver managing land on Molokai? I am curious as to how his grandson Isaac Lewis managed to have land on Molokai, was wondering if this source of yours may reveal some answers.
Peter T Young says
Sworn Land Commission testimony notes: Claim 4030 “Not Awarded” (Numerical Index of Awards) FR 174.2, Feb. 19, 1848:… “In behalf of the Heirs of the late Oliver Holmes, I make the following Claim to a land on island of Molokai, called Kuliula, which was given the late O. Holmes by Kamehameha Ist and is now in possession of George Holmes, son of said Oliver Holmes deceased. It has not been surveyed.” Signed Robert G. [Grimes] Davis.
In addition, Hammatt and Wagner-Wright in “Ships, Furs, and Sandalwood: A Yankee Trader in Hawai’i, 1823-1825” note, Holmes “supported his family from his landholdings on Oʻahu and Molokaʻi and by selling provisions to visiting ships.”
Thank you so much! I appreciate it! I know that his grandson Isaac Lewis Kanae’s will mentions the land in Mapulehu and I figured that came via his mother – Polly Holmes. Thanks again!
Ken Holmes says
Is there any further information regarding Oliver Holmes’ son, George? Seems that after some legal matters regarding his father’s property, George seems to have disappeared. Did George ever marry? Did he ever have children? I am trying to trace my Hawaiian heritage (15%) and have hit a brick wall. My grandfather’s name was George Bishop Holmes (1890-1951), the son of Henry Holmes ( ? – ?). Great grandmother may have been Kaailaulele Wikoli. Thank you, in advance, for your consideration on this matter.
Merrill Holmes says
Aloha—George Holmes (1801-1861) has often been listed as unmarried and childless, but recent online postings say George was married twice, with at least two daughters from his first marriage, and no children from his second marriage to a Native Hawai’ian named Kaiwi. Unfortunately the references for these marriages and children are not shown.
Merrill Holmes says
I am also a direct descendant of Oliver Holmes and Mahi and a historian. My own research into the John Alden/ Mayflower connection to Oliver Holmes has shown no link so far. None of Alden’s children seem to have married anyone with the surname of Holmes. However one John Holmes did emigrate to Mass. Bay/ Plymouth Colony from northern England around 1830 and fathered Nathaniel Holmes, leading in subsequent generations to Simeon Holmes, the father of Oliver Holmes born 1777.
Has anyone here been able to verify the link from Oliver Holmes to John Alden? It also seems there are multiple dates surrounding Oliver Holmes arrival in Hawaii (some Hawaiian court documents show his arrival as late as 1798!), his marriage to Mahi (1795 or 1796), and his age at death (either 45 or 52.). This is why I don’t rely on Ancestry Tree dates, as folks can easily link the wrong Oliver Holmes to their family tree. I am aware of documents that my great uncle and cousin possessed in Hawaii on Oliver Holmes before the internet era and hope to solve some of these questions when I return to Honolulu later this year. Otherwise I humbly solicit comments about your own research.
From what I’ve found, it was through Oliver Holmes’ mother – Mercy Weston that links to Rebecca Alden.
Would you have that document that listed 1798? That sounds familiar, I’d have to double check if I saw that somewhere.
I have never relied on Ancestry trees to trace these people. I don’t understand why anyone would. I did use Ancestry trees to look for clues as it caused me to find documentation including how I found my mother’s biological parents.
Peggy Holmes Duncan says
7-1-20 Hello Kalani,
You’re right, none of the Aldens married Holmes.’
Our Holmes family also comes down from the Alden family through his daughter, Sarah who married Lydia Standish who married Isaac Sampson. Our relative, John Holmes married Experience Sampson. Simeon Holmes’ family comes through Alden’’s daughter, Rebecca who married a Delano who married a Weston and Mercy Weston married Simeon Holmes.
My aunt did our Holmes family genealogy after finding her father’s notes that named his ancestors as far back as John Holmes, 1759 and his wife, Experience Sampson, 1763. My aunt traveled to Mass. visiting relatives and was given a letter from an Oliver Holmes, 1772-1825, who had sailed from Mass. to the “Sandwich Islands” on a ship, the Margaret, in 1794. He developed scurvy and remained on Oahu. The 1821 letter is addressed to “Dear Brother” but we aren’t sure who this brother was. There are quite a few Olivers in our tree, and think he may have been a cousin.
I really don’t know if Simeon and Mercy were his parents. It could be that someone in Oahu started looking on the internet and found this Holmes family who had an Oliver about the same age and assumed it was the same person. However when I researched that family I found that their Oliver, 1777, died in 1841 in Maine.
There was a wonderful website that a descendant of Oliver & Mahi put up that has been taken down now, but he was/is a pretty famous hula master, Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewettt. He also thought Simeon and Mercy were Oliver’s parents.
Here is his Facebook page:
I don’t remember which of Oliver’s children Frank descends from, possibly Polly. He took the website down and I didn’t copy it. If you are interested you can contact him directly through FaceBook. He was living on the big island several years ago.
I can also post that letter from Oliver Holmes if you would like it. Meanwhile I keep looking for that link between our two families.
Nice to meet you,
Peggy Holmes Duncan
I saw a transcription of that letter to the brother from Oliver Holmes about scurvy, and was just looking at it (again) this past weekend.
And yes, I spoke to cousin Frank Hewett about the Oliver Holmes connection.
Merrill Holmes says
Dear Peggy—Thank for your very informative post. It confirms for me that many Ancestry.com posters were too quick to assign the b.1777 Oliver Holmes to Hawaii. To my mind a teenage Oliver Holmes would have been too young to be held in confidence as an adviser to the King of Oahu, not to mention King Kamehameha himself during the 1790s. I would love to see the Oliver letter you are referring to. I have seen an Oliver letter that was published in a local Mass. newspaper in the 1820s that may or may not be the same one.
I have an anecdote about Hannah Holmes, one of his daughters. I mentioned her name to a longtime Honolulu local and scholar who said she was well known for her beauty and “free affections” to visiting ship masters, which troubled the local missionaries to no end.
Best Regards from Merrill Holmes King
I agree, too many people assign ANY “Oliver Holmes” to Hawaii including the birth year of 1777 to their Oliver Holmes. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to do a reasonable exhaustive research which would include understanding history for various places like the Sandwich Isles and the changes it went through to the Hawaiian Kingdom days, and when the United States of America didn’t have 50 states. Most are unfamiliar with the fact that apprenticeship was fairly common in the American colonies, with indentured apprentices arriving from England in the 17th century. Benjamin Franklin did such a thing under his own brother. The age was not 18 years old.
So what needs confirmation, or rather the research question is was Oliver Holmes who arrived in the Sandwich Isles in 1793 on the ship Margaret who became the 3rd Governor of O’ahu and husband to Mahi, daughter of Kalanihooulumokuikekai, the son of Simeon Holmes and Mercy Weston of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
William Heath Davis King, III says
I have, somewhere in my possession, Oliver Holmes’ discharge papers from the Ship Margaret, showing that he did not jump ship, as was often the case in those days, but was granted permission to remain ashore. It was, and is, a matter of considerable family pride that his discharge was honorable.
keith fernandez says
Peter, this is Keith Fernandez(your classmate) I have been digging into my genealogy a lot in the last few years. My grandmother was Nancy Espinda whose grandmother was Sophia Kina Lewis Kanae, and her grandmother on her fathers side was Sarah Pauline Polly Pa’a’aina Holmes. Descendants of John Alden of the Mayflower who landed on Plymouth Rock.
I come from Mary Lewis Kanae, and have seen a lot of the descendants of Kina who married Joe Espinda list Kina’s name as Sophia Lewis Kanae too. Nice to meet other family members.
keith fernandez says
Kalani, nice to meet you. Love meeting and finding new relatives. I have an aunt in California that is a geneology expert in terms of searching all sorts of sources. She is helping me. Are you here in Hawaii? Mahalo
Sarah Fernandez says
Hoping you can help me with a question regarding Mahi Kalanihoʻoulumokuikekai. We are researching my husband’s Fernandez family tree, and have hit an abrupt dead end.
(She was my husband’s 6th great grandmother.)
We can’t find any mention of who Mahi’s mother was, or even the mention of Kalaniho’oulumokuikekai having a wife. Maybe we haven’t looked hard enough yet. Do you know if that information is recorded somewhere?
Thank you for any information you may have!