Henry Martyn Whitney was the son of the Rev. Samuel and Mercy Whitney, a teacher and mechanic of New Haven, Connecticut, who was a member of the Pioneer Company of missionaries that arrived in Honolulu on the brig Thaddeus in 1820. (His sister, Maria Pogue, was the first white girl born in the Hawaiian Islands.
Whitney was born at Waimea, Kauai, on June 5, 1824; as a very young boy, he left Hawaii to get his education on the continent, staying with relatives in New England. At an early age, he learned the printing trade and practiced his trade on the continent.
Then the opportunity arrived to return to the Islands; Whitney married Catherine Olivia March (1821–1896) in June 1849, and travelled via Panama to San Francisco. He met Dr Garret Parmele Judd who was then travelling abroad with the two young princes who later became the King Kamehameha IV & V.
Judd wanted a practical man to take charge of the Polynesian, the government’s paper; several editors had left the paper to join the Gold Rush in California – Whitney joined the Polynesian.
Hawaiʻi opened a post office in Honolulu and Whitney was appointed Postmaster of Honolulu (December 22, 1850;) the location of the new post office was at the office of The Polynesian.
When Whitney was postmaster, he conceived and produced Hawaiʻi’s first stamps, issued in 1851 (the stamps are now called “Hawaiian Missionaries,’ all printed locally by letterpress at the Government Printing Office.
Whitney later left the Polynesian and started his own newspaper, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (forerunner of Honolulu Advertiser – first issue July 2, 1856.)
“The whalemen desired an American paper and the white residents wanted one which was not run ‘by authority.’ Whitney gave such a paper to them calling it the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.” (The Independent, August 18, 1904)
“Early in the fifties the writer of this article was strongly urged to publish an independent paper, free from government control. This finally resulted in the establishment of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser; named after the well known New York Advertiser, with which the writer had been connected.” (Whitney, Hawaiian Gazette, August 19, 1904)
“He got from New York a Washington hand press … which had a capacity of only 600 papers an hour and this had to be propelled by hand power. The first number of the paper was a little four page five column sheet. It was weekly.” (The Independent, August 18, 1904)
In its first two and a half months, on its last page, The Pacific Commercial Advertiser ran a Hawaiian-language section, “Ka Hoku Loa o Hawaii” (The Morning Star of Hawaiʻi.) Whitney was fluent in Hawaiian and wrote most of the Hawaiian-language page’s content under his Hawaiianized name, ‘Heneri M Wini.’
In an earlier issue, Whitney wrote in Hawaiian, ‘Aloha, o you close friends living in the towns, the country, the valleys and beaches from Hawaii to Kauai. Great aloha to you. Behold today there is opening the dawn of the Morning Star of Hawaii, to be a torch illuminating your home …’
Whitney did say that the Hawaiian-language page might not survive long. After it ran for 2 ½- months, on September 25, 1856, Whitney announced that he would discontinue the Hawaiian-language page because the newspaper needed space for foreigners when whaling ships arrive in Hawaii. After 5-years, Whitney would publish an entire Hawaiian-language newspaper, Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. (Digital Newspaper Project)
“In 1850 the Polynesian – a weekly owned by the government – was the principal paper here, though there several other small weekly and monthly papers issued, the only one among them that has survived to this date being The Friend, which is really the oldest publication here.”
“The paper had not been established two months before the young publisher had fought and won out of court his first libel suit, in which RG Wylie, Minister of the Interior, was the complainant.” (The Independent, August 18, 1904)
During the Civil War in the US, the cost of cotton rose to “an almost fabulous price.” Whitney received a “quantity of Sea Island cotton seed and distributed the seed widely, at the same time agreeing to purchase all of the seed cotton produced at a good price. For a time the industry flourished.”
“Whitney had set up a number of foot-power gins for removing the seed preparatory to shipping the lint to Boston. The quality of the fiber was considered very fine, and realized upwards of $1.00 in currency per pound. … The customs records show that the largest shipments of cotton made in a single year amounted to a little over 22,000 pounds; this was in 1866.”
“With the decline in prices, the production fell off gradually, until in 1874, the last shipment, amounting to about 2000 pounds, was made.” (Hawaiian Almanac)
Whitney sold the Advertiser in 1870 to Black & Auld, but took charge of it in 1878 and did finally give up his connection with it until 1896. He also (1885) took the editorship of the Planters’ Monthly.
Whitney was also editor and publisher of the Hawaiian Gazette (1873-1878.) In the mid-1870s, the paper turned decidedly anti-monarchy when the views of King Kalākaua and those of the local oligarchy–a powerful contingent of pro-American, pro-annexation sugar interests–began to diverge. (Chronicling America)
Besides the Postmaster General position (1850-1856,) Whitney served in the House of Representatives (1855) and the Privy Council (1873-1891.) Whitney died August 17, 1904 in Honolulu.
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