The history of the Black presence in Hawaiʻi goes back to the first sailors; Blacks were crewmembers of Captain Cook’s second and third Pacific voyages.
Thirty years later, Cook’s Black cabin boy was given the opportunity to prove his navigational prowess to George Crowninshield, then captain of the famous Salem, MA built yacht ‘Cleopatra’s Barge,’ in Genoa, Italy. (McGhee) (Liholiho, King Kamehameha II, later bought Cleopatra’s Barge for over 1-million pounds of sandalwood and renamed the yacht “Haʻaheo O Hawai‘i” (Pride of Hawaiʻi.))
There is a “high likelihood” of the presence of Blacks on many of the early ships that crossed the Pacific. Free and unfree Blacks had been serving onboard these ships in a variety of capacities.
Between about 1820 and 1880 hundreds of whaling ships annually pulled into (primarily) Honolulu and Lāhainā, and a significant number of Blacks stayed behind in the islands and became permanent residents, where they worked as cooks, barbers, tailors, sailors on interisland vessels and members of musical groups.
Work on sugar plantations was considered too close to slavery that Blacks were not considered for contract labor by the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Later, however, a significant influx of Blacks to Hawaiʻi involved the migration of the first Portuguese and Puerto Rican contract laborers to work on the sugar plantations (a significant portion of these were of African ancestry.)
Hawaiʻi experienced serious labor problems prior to 1900. Japanese and Chinese plantation laborers had sporadic strikes that began to present real problems for plantation owners.
“Paradise of the Pacific” quoted one sugar plantation owner as saying that his plantation could take 25-families. He stated that “…interest has also been awakened among housewives as to the desirability of Negroes as cooks, nurses, etc and many think they might supplant the Japanese in household duties.” (September 1897)
Over the following decades more Blacks came to the islands. The following is a sampling of some census data on African-Americans in Hawaiʻi:
A couple of the early, notable Blacks in Hawaiʻi include:
Anthony D Allen
The most notable among African Americans to settle in Hawaiʻi, Anthony Allen, arrived in 1810. Called Alani by the Hawaiians, Allen was a former slave; arriving in Hawaiʻi he served as a steward to Kamehameha and went on to become a successful entrepreneur.
He acquired land from high priest Hewa Hewa in 1811, starting a farm, ‘resort’ (he reportedly had the first ‘hotel’ in Waikīkī,) a bowling alley and a hospital for ill and injured sailors.
Allen died of a stroke on December 31, 1835, leaving behind a considerable fortune to his children. In tribute to Allen, Reverend John Diell noted, “The last sun of the departed year went down upon the dying bed of another man who has long resided upon the island. He was a colored man, but shared, to a large extent, in the respect of this whole community. …”
“He has been a pattern of industry and perseverance, and of care for the education of his children. … In justice to his memory, and to my own feelings, I must take this opportunity to acknowledge the many expressions of kindness which we received from him from the moment of our arrival.”
Another former slave on the continent, Betsey Stockton then belonged to Robert Stockton, a local attorney. She was given to Stockton’s daughter and son-in-law, the Rev. Ashbel Green, then President of Princeton College (later known as Princeton University,) as a gift.
When Stockton expressed her interest in becoming a Christian missionary, she was granted her freedom and accepted into membership by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries. On November 20, 1822, Stockton and 20 other American Protestant missionaries in the 2nd Company set sail from New Haven, Connecticut for the Hawaiian Islands. Upon her arrival Stockton became the first known African American woman in Hawaiʻi. Stockton was assigned to a mission in Lāhainā, Maui, in 1823.
Up until that time, missionaries instructed Hawaiians in Christianity but had limited their teaching of reading, writing and math to their own children and the children of the Hawaiian chiefs. Stockton learned the Hawaiian Language and established a school in Maui where she taught English, Latin, History and Algebra.
The site of her school is the location of the current Lahainaluna School. Stockton left Hawaiʻi in 1825, returning to the mainland where she was assigned to teach Native American children in Canada. She spent the final years of her life teaching black children in Philadelphia. Betsy Stockton died in her hometown of Princeton, New Jersey in October 1865.
Alice Augusta Ball
On June 1, 1915, Alice Ball was the first African American and the first woman to graduate with a Master of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaiʻi. In the 1915-1916 academic year, she also became the first woman to teach chemistry at the institution.
But the significant contribution Ball made to medicine was a successful injectable treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease. She isolated the ethyl ester of chaulmoogra oil (from the tree native to India) which, when injected, proved extremely effective in relieving some of the symptoms of Hansen’s disease.
Although not a full cure, Ball’s discovery was a significant victory in the fight against a disease that has plagued nations for thousands of years. The discovery was coined, at least for the time being, the “Ball Method.” A College of Hawaiʻi chemistry laboratory began producing large quantities of the new injectable chaulmoogra.
During the four years between 1919 and 1923, no patients were sent to Kalaupapa – and for the first time some Kalaupapa patients were released. Ball’s injectable compound seemed to provide effective treatment for the disease, and as a result the lab began to receive “requests for their chaulmoogra oil preparations from all over the world.”