Charles Brewer was born in Boston in 1804. His father was Moses Brewer, his mother Abigail May Brewer. After his father died in 1813, his mother moved to her family home in Jamaica Plain, where she remained until she died in 1849 at 79 years.
“At a very early age (he) had a strong desire to be a sailor, but, being an only son, (his) mother strongly objected, and sent (him) to a woman’s school at East Sudbury. (He) remained there two summers. During the year following (he) attended the East Sudbury Academy.” (Brewer; Reminiscences)
Then, “One day, my mother, without my knowledge, called on several of her old friends to consult with them about my going to sea … each of whom had been a sailor in his youth, and afterwards had been engaged in shipping business from Boston for many years.” (Brewer)
“Their advice … was that, if I was so anxious to become a seaman when I was twenty-one, she had better give her consent for me to go when I was seventeen, so that perhaps I might become an officer by the time I was twenty-one.”
“Their advice proved good, for (he) was second officer of the ship” Paragon” when (he) was twenty-one, and first officer of the same ship when was twenty-two.” (Brewer)
After some sailing experience, Brewer had an interest in going to the Sandwich Islands. “(He) learned that the ship ‘Paragon’ was going to the Sandwich Islands and to China, so (he) made application at once, and was shipped on board as an ordinary seaman at eight dollars a month.” (Brewer)
They left Boston on February 23, 1823 with two passengers, Thomas Crocker. Esq., US consul for the Hawaiian Islands, and Robert Elwell, consul’s clerk. Second officer (and also acting sail-maker) on board was John Dominis (father of John Owen Dominis who was later the husband of Queen Liliʻuokalani.)
After arriving in Honolulu and ongoing attempts to gather sandalwood for trade, the King asked to charter the Paragon for the funeral of Queen Keōpūolani.
“The king, with all his officers, together with all the foreign consuls, was on board the ‘Paragon.’ On the arrival of the fleet at Lāhainā, minute-guns were fired, and it was continued all the day.”
“There were nearly 12,000 natives at the landing at Lāhainā to witness the funeral; and they expressed their deep grief and sympathy for the king by a loud wailing and wringing of hands. The next day the fleet returned to Honolulu.” (Brewer)
After serving on several other ships trading between the Northwest, Hawaii and China, Brewer headed for Honolulu (on his third voyage for the Islands,) arriving in November, 1830.
Part of the cargo was plants, including night-blooming cereus. They looked dead and he was ordered then thrown overboard; one looked survivable and he nursed it back and when they arrived in Honolulu the flowers were in full bloom and “was a great curiosity.”
“When I was at Honolulu in 1879, I found the plant no longer a curiosity, for the walls in many parts of the town were covered with it.” (Brewer)
(Punahou School’s dry stack rock wall along Punahou Street was constructed in 1834. The night-blooming cereus (known in Hawaiʻi as panini o kapunahou) that today continues to cover the Punahou walls (that back in 1924 was noted to have “world-wide reputation and interest”) was planted by Sybil Bingham (Hiram’s wife.))
As Brewer was sailing back and forth to the Islands, James Hunnewell was doing the same. On one trip, on the Thaddeus, Hunnewell returned to the Islands in 1820.
“This was the memorable voyage when we carried out the first missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands (including Hiram and Sybil Bingham.”) He stayed … “it was urged by some of the chiefs that knew me on my previous voyage that I should remain instead of a stranger to trade with them.” (Hunnewell)
Later, in 1825, Hunnewell negotiated with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, “to take the missionary packet out, free from any charge whatever on (his) part for sailing and navigating the vessel—provided the Board would pay and feed the crew, and allow (him) to carry out in the schooner to the amount (in bulk) of some forty to fifty barrels”. (Hunnewell)
He then purchased the premises of John Gowen for the sum of $250, to which I added some land by exchange in 1830. “As soon as I secured this place, I landed my cargo, and commenced retailing it…” (Hunnewell) This was the beginning of a company that would later carry the Brewer name.
Hunnewell first partnered with Henry A Peirce. Peirce then took Thomas Hinckley as a partner; but Hinckley soon retired due to his health. Next, in steps Brewer; he commanded Peirce’s trading vessels on their voyages to China and the Russian possessions.
In December, 1835, a co-partnership was formed by Peirce and Brewer. Under this partnership, the firm of Peirce & Brewer conducted a general merchandise and commission business at Honolulu. (Peirce)
“When I was received as a partner in business with Mr Henry A Peirce, I continued the firm name of Peirce & Brewer until Mr Peirce retired, in 1843. I then continued the business as C Brewer & Co., with my nephew C Brewer, 2d, until the year 1845.” (Brewer)
After various partnerships and name changes, it was not until 1859 that the firm again and finally resumed the name of C Brewer & Co., when in September of that year, Charles Brewer II, a nephew of Captain Brewer, engaged in partnership with Sherman Peck and took over the business. (Nellist)
Brewer returned to Boston. “We arrived in Boston on March 26, 1849, and from that time, my sea life may be said to have ended.” (Brewer)
However, “I continued my business alone for about one year, and then joined with Mr. James Hunnewell and Mr. Henry A. Peirce in the Sandwich Islands and East India trade, as well as general freighting in various parts of the world. Our Partnership consisted only in our ships, and we were one third owners each of our several vessels.” (Brewer)
In reminiscing of life in the Islands, Brewer noted, “My life at the Sandwich Islands during a period of nearly twenty-six years was a very pleasant one, and I shall always remember with gratitude the kindness I received from the many friends in Honolulu, and especially from his majesty King Kamehameha III, who, from his boyhood to his death, was always my firm friend.”
The image shows Charles Brewer.
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