William Sumner was born in 1786 in Northampton, England; he boarded a British vessel as a steward of the captain, and came to Hawaiʻi in 1807.
When the ship arrived on Kauai, William Sumner jumped-ship and lived amongst the Hawaiians there. Kaumuali‘i was the king of Kauai at the time, and when he saw Sumner, he was entranced by this youth, and took him as a “keiki hoʻokama” (adopted him.)
Archibald Campbell in his visit to the islands in 1809, referring to the vessels of Kamehameha, said, “I counted more than thirty vessels; they are kept with the utmost care, having sheds built over them, their spars laid alongside, and their rigging and cables preserved in stores.”
“They are chiefly sloops and schooners, under forty tons burden, and have all been built by his own carpenters, principally natives, under the direction of an Englishman of the name of Boyd.”
Captain William Sumner served as one of the captains on ships in this fleet. In doing so, he also participated in some of the monumental moments in Hawai‘i’s history of his time.
When Kamehameha called for Kaumuali‘i to meet, in 1810, reportedly, it was Sumner who accompanied King Kaumuali‘i to Pākākā for the peaceful settlement between Kaumuali‘i and Kamehameha.
After this meeting, Kaumuali‘i returned to Kauai, but because Kamehameha took a fancy to Sumner, he was held back to stay with Kamehameha. Sumner became one of the few who lived with the family of Kamehameha.
In 1817, he was Chief Mate on Brig Forrester, bound for China, under the command of Alexander Adams. On this trip they proceeded first to Kauai to haul down the Russian flag at Fort Elizabeth. After expelling the Russians, they then sailed for China.
In addition to interisland travel, Sumner captained ships for trade for the Kingdom.
In 1821, he commanded the Brig Thaddeus and sailed for Kamchatka with a load of salt; in 1824, he was given charge of the brig Ainoa for a sealing voyage, returning October with 5,845 fur skins, a quantity of elephant oil and fish; in 1829, he took charge of the Brig Neo bound to Tahiti, to recover “lost” cargo; and over the years, he transported sandalwood.
In 1822, Captain Sumner captained an expedition to claim Nihoa as a possession of Hawai‘i. He also took Ka‘ahumanu and a royal party including Kaumuali’i, Liholiho, Keōpūolani and Kahekili Ke‘eaumoku on a visit to Ni‘ihau.
In 1831, Captain Sumner played a role in expelling and deporting the Catholics priests out of Hawai‘i. On May 5, 1831, King Kamehameha III issued a commission to Sumner, as commander of the brig Waverley, “to receive on board two French gentlemen and their goods, or whatever they may bring on board, and to proceed on to California, and land them safe on shore, with everything belonging to them, where they may subsist, and then to return back to the Sandwich Islands.”
Some foreigners, like Captain William Sumner who sailed ships for Kamehameha, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III,) were awarded land grants for their services.
In 1819, Kamehameha I gave LCA 155 to ship Captain William Sumner for services rendered. This site was at the corner of today’s Hotel and Punchbowl Streets (near where the present Barracks are at ʻIolani Palace.)
In 1840, Kamehameha III granted William Sumner the “farmland to the west of Honolulu known as Kahaohao” (about 60-acres.) The deed included a “proviso that the said property cannot be transferred to any other than a native-born citizen of the Sandwich Islands.”
Sumner was also awarded “… a fishery of the 647 Diamond Head acres of the reef lying between the Kalihi and Honolulu Harbor Channels. The area carried the Hawaiian name of Kaholaloa (Koholaloa, Kahololoa, Kaholoa.) The Ewa portion of this reef was designated Mokauea.”
Following the Mahele, Mokapu Peninsula was kept as Crown Lands. Koʻolaupoko District Chief Abner Pāki was awarded over 3,000 acres in Heʻeia ahupua`a (LCA 10613) and Queen Kalama, wife of Kamehameha III was awarded over 9,000 acres in Kāneʻohe ahupuaʻa (LCA 4452). Both awards were given for nearly the entire ahupuaʻa.
Pāki’s portion of ili Mokapu was sold at auction to brothers William and John Sumner and included 464 acres. John Sumner became sole owner upon his brother’s death, and left the lands in trust to Robert Wyllie Davis, his nephew.
The area was later divided into house lots in 1932 and sold off. In 1940, by Federal Executive Order through the U.S. Navy, all 331 parcels on the 464 acres were condemned and a Declaration of Takings enacted.
Sumner married the High Chiefess Keakuaaihue Kanealai Hua in 1818; they had three children, William Sumner, Jr.; John K. Sumner; and Maria K Sumner. In 1847, William Sumner died; he’s buried at O‘ahu Cemetery.
The map shows the approximate area of William Sumner’s 60-acres of “farmland” (green) and 647-acres of “fishery” (blue) – this covers most of what is now Honolulu Harbor and Sand Island. Note Sumner’s house across from what is now downtown Honolulu.
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