While visiting our son in Oregon, my husband and I took an afternoon to visit the history museum in Portland. One display in the Oregon history piqued my curiosity. It told of Hawaiians traveling to Oregon and Washington in the 1800s. I couldn’t help but ask myself, why? Granted Oregon is gorgeous but what did it have to lure Hawaiians.
Researching the subject, here is what I found. In 1842 approximately 500 Hawaiians lived in the Northwest. It seems emigration started the beginning of 1800s. After Lewis and Clark’s expedition, fur traders became very interested in the Northwest. Traders, such as Hudson Bay Co, often used the Hawaiian Islands (or Sandwich Islands as they were known then) as a stopping place, coming from the Orient.
One American fur magnate, John Jacob Aster, sent two ships to the Columbia River. On the way they stopped in Hawaii and picked up forty Hawaiian workers with the approval of King Kamahameha.
Some historians feel the Hawaiians were anxious to leave the island because of the devastation occurring on the islands due to measles and small pox epidemics.
The traders were glad to get the Hawaiians. They were known for being hardworking, great navigators and ship builders. They were pleasant, agreeable people. They also were excellent swimmers. This was a plus for many non-swimming trappers. The trappers would put an Hawaiian rescuer in each canoe, in case it overturned.
The law forbade Hawaiians from marrying caucasian women, so the trade companies encouraged them to marry native Americans. They hoped this would keep them settled in the Northwest.
At that time, Hawaiians were called either Hawaiian, Kanakas (Hawaiian word for person) or Owyhee. Many places in the Northwest show the Hawaiian influence. Owyhee River, Kalama Washington are just a couple of examples.
This is a picture of Naukane or Old Cox as he was known. It is from the Royal Ontario Museum. He traveled in 1847 for the Pacific Fur Company. He was the first Polynesian to travel into the interior and helped establish the first inland post, known as Spokane House.
Other Information on the Hawaiian Emigrants:
Leaving Paradise: Indigenous Hawaiians In The Pacific Northwest by Jean Barmen & Bruce McIntyre Watson
Hawaiians In Early Oregon by Robert Carlton Clark – Oregon Historical Quarterly Vol. 35 No. 1 Oregon Historical Society