Nothing remains at Kaupulehu to recall the capture of the Fair American by Chief Kameeiamoku in 1790. However, this historically significant encounter did occur off the North Kona Coast, and its outcome directly aided King Kamehameha’s quest for power.
Capt. James Cook’s arrival in the Sandwich Islands in 1778 brought foreign sea captains to Hawaii on a regular basis for the first time in recorded history. Traders, some carrying furs from the Pacific Northwest to China, stopped briefly in Hawaii to procure water, firewood, meat, salt, fruits and vegetables. Hawaiian chiefs, who controlled all barter with outsiders, wanted Western goods, such as iron, gunpowder and firearms in exchange.
In 1789, the American ship Eleanora sailed into Hawaiian waters under the command of Simon Metcalfe, a hot-tempered and violent man. On his way to China from Northwest America, Metcalfe planned to meet his son, Thomas, captain of the small schooner Fair American, during his winter stopover in Hawaii. As Simon Metcalfe sailed down the west coast of Hawaii, he antagonized numerous chiefs with his imperious manner. One chief in particular, Kameeiamoku, insulted and struck by Metcalfe, swore to take revenge on the next foreign ship that appeared.
While Simon Metcalfe waited for his son’s arrival in the safety of Kealakekua Bay, the unsuspecting Fair American appeared off North Kona’s Coast en route to the long-awaited father and son reunion.
Off Kaupulehu, Kameeiamoku saw his chance for revenge. The chief and his men attacked the Fair American, threw her six crewmen overboard, and beat five of them, including Thomas Metcalfe, to death with canoe paddles. The only survivor was Welshman Isaac Davis. Chief Alapai, a brother of Kameeiamoku, hauled him half-dead into a canoe and took him ashore.
Alerted that a foreign ship had been captured, Kamehameha I put a kapu (taboo or prohibition) on Kealakekua Bay. This kapu effectively cut off all contact with local Hawaiians or visiting traders for Simon Metcalfe. He never heard the unhappy news of the Fair American. While Metcalfe waited for his son’s arrival, John Young, an English boatswain from Eleanora, went ashore on an excursion. Kamehameha detained him. Metcalfe fired guns repeatedly to guide Young back to the ship, but to no avail. After two days, Metcalfe sailed away without ever learning the fate of his boatswain or his son. Kamehameha immediately went to Kaupulehu to claim the Fair American and Davis.
John Young and Isaac Davis became captains of Kamehameha’s fleet of foreign-built ships, which included the Fair American. In time, they married Hawaiian alii and achieved wealth and high status in the Hawaiian Kingdom. Many of their descendants have played prominent roles in Hawaiian history, including Young’s granddaughter, Queen Emma, wife of Kamehameha IV.
Copyright 1998 Kona Historical Society. Reprinted by permission.