The year was 1789, just 12 years after the Hawaiian Islands had been discovered by Captain James Cook. Cook who was initially perceived as a God, eventually overstayed his welcome and was discovered to be a mere mortal. Ultimately his return to Hawaii was his downfall. He met with an untimely death by angry Hawaiians who killed him on February 14, 1779, on the Big Island of Hawaii. However, Hawaii was now on the map for the seafaring captains of America and Europe.
Captain Simon Metcalfe and his son on two different ships set out on a fur trading mission in 1789. The elder Metcalfe aboard the Eleanora and his son on the Fair American which he captained. The two ships were small schooners with only five crew members each. The two made plans to rendezvous at Kealakekua Bay in the Hawaiian Islands if by circumstance the two were to become separated at sea.
Simon Metcalfe (sometimes spelled Metcalf) was the first American captain to take sea otters on the Northwest Coast and then trade those furs for goods in China. Hawaii being a halfway point was a good place to obtain provision of food and water. He was considered by all who knew him, an irritable, snappish, harsh individual, who was a stickler for rules. He was a firm believer in robust and immediate punishment for those who broke them. No doubt he let the “cat out of the bag” (meaning the cat o’nine tails) on more than one occasion to administer just such punishment.
It was wise the Metcalfe’s had made arrangements to meet if they were separated but also unfortunate for young Thomas Metcalfe as you will soon discover.
It seems the father and son did get separated and Thomas Metcalfe’s ship the Fair American was captured by the Spanish and taken briefly to Mexico. It seems Spain got upset that foreign vessels were engaged in fur trade off the Pacific coast which it laid claim. It captured several ships including the Fair American and several British ships as well. These events have become known as the Nootka Crisis for Nootka Sound off the coast of Vancouver. Britain with its vast armada threatened Spain and Spain without its French ally who was busy with the French Revolution acquiesced to British demands and released all their captured vessels.
Meanwhile, Simon Metcalfe made it to Hawaii and sought refuge and supplies off the coast of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii at Kealakekua Bay. Tragically, there seems to have been some altercation with the local chieftain, Kameʻeiamoku and Metcalfe had him flogged. In retaliation, a small boat was stolen and the watchman killed. This infuriated Metcalfe, and he fired his cannons into the village and captured some of the villagers. They told the Captain that the boat was taken by people from the village of Olowalu.
Simon Metcalfe immediately set sail for Olowalu off the coast of Maui. There, he discovered the boat had been broken up for its nails. Nails for Hawaiians were a real treasure since the Hawaiian culture had no metal smelting technology. The nails were used for fish hooks, adzes, drills, daggers and spear points.
The Chiefess Kalola of Olowalu was only too aware of the gravity of the situation having returned what she could, that being the stolen boats keel and the watchman’s stripped thighbones. She declared a three-day “kapu” (a Hawaiian corporal offense by law) on all canoes approaching the Eleanora.
Meanwhile, Metcalf who was infuriated… feigned a display of peace and invited the villagers to his boat. When the kapu was lifted, hundreds of Hawaiians paddled their canoes out towards where the Eleanora laid anchored. Metcalf was ready for them, having instructed his crew to open fire with cannon and musket. When the smoke lifted more than 100 men, women, and children lay dead in the canoes and many others wounded.
To this day the massacre at Olowalu is referred to by Hawaiians as Kalolopahu or spilled brains.
After Kalolopahu, Metcalfe weighed anchor and sailed back to the island of Hawai’i. Anchoring off of Kealakekua, Metcalf sent his boatswain, John Young ashore to inquire about the Fair American. There Kamehameha learned of the Olowalu massacre from the Eleanora’s boatswain. Kamehameha immediately placed a kapu on any boats going out to the Eleanora for fear the events of Olowalu might be repeated. Metcalfe sent the head chief a letter demanding his crewman’s release but after several days and fearing the worst fate for his boatswain, Metcalfe set sail for China.
John Young, however, was not killed but instead was befriended by Kamehameha. In time he became a close and trusted advisor to the head chief. Something that could not be said for Thomas Metcalf who finally made it to Hawaii after being detained by the Spanish.
About five or six weeks following the Olowalu massacre, the Fair American arrived at the Island of Hawaii. There Kameʻeiamoku, the same chief who Simon Metcalfe had flogged was waiting at Kaʻūpūlehu. The schooner’s crew of five were quickly overcome, and four were killed, including Thomas Metcalfe. The only survivor was Isaac Davis, whom King Kamehameha also befriended as he had done John Young.
Together Young and Davis with their skills and knowledge of the weaponry also captured aboard the Fair American helped Kamehameha become an undefeatable force. As horrible as the Kalolopahu was, it was an event that resulted in shaping the history of Hawaii. Kamehameha’s foresight, leadership, and strategies unified the islands and changed everything for this island culture.
John Young went on to marry the Hawaiian chiefess Ka‘ō‘ana‘eha, and their granddaughter would later become Queen Emma. Of Isaac Davis, he went on to marry a chiefess and had six children and upon her death married a relative of Kamehameha having two more children. He, unfortunately, was poisoned in a plot to kill the King of Kauai. Following his death, John Young raised the remainder of his children.
As for Simon Metcalfe. He left Hawaii for China not knowing that his actions had indirectly brought about the death of his son. Some five years later in 1794, he was killed while trading with friendly Haida natives in Canada.
WHADDA YA KNOW ABOUT MAUI?