Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Flemish of Hawai'i - Part 1

Last week I was in Hawai'i on business. Hawai'i may not seem to be a natural subject for a blog that styles itself as focusing on the Flemish contribution to the discovery and settlement of the New World, but in fact it is highly appropriate. Two primary figures that frequently are submerged under other nomenclature, George Vancouver and Joseph DeVeuster, both contributed to the discovery and settlement of Hawai'i which is, of course, now part of the United States of America.

The story of Hawai'i and its integration into the United States is not an entirely cheerful one. Yet, the Flemish who did play visible roles, such as George Vancouver and Joseph De Veuster, can be proud of their involvement in the European 'discovery' and non-native settlement of the Hawaiian Islands.

George Vancouver, an Anglo-Fleming who was thoroughly Anglicized (as I detailed in an earlier blog posting), first visited the "Sandwich islands", as a junior officer under Captain James Cook. Cook, the first European visitor to Hawai'i, presumptuously named them for his patron, acting First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich, in 1778. [1]

Cook's visits - in 1778 and again in 1779 (when he was killed - as depicted above) - were the first noticeable contacts of the Hawaiians with the outside world. [2] Vancouver participated in both visits and learned a good deal. The lessons learned, and his sensitivity to the local culture, complicated political dynamics, and personalities, contributed to a far more successful series of follow-on visits (in the unification of the Hawaiian archipelago under King Kamehameha I). [3]

Nor was George Vancouver alone in the fleet with Flemish ancestry. Another officer, Captain Charles Clerke was also likely Anglo-Flemish. Captain Clerke assumed command of the expedition after Captain Cook was killed in a skirmish in Hawai'i. He was in command of HMS Discovery. Several Flemish seamen, Peter Cooper (who had been born in Ghent) and his shipmate Jacobus Van Cant (who had been born in Dunkirk) were also present. Both were listed as Able Bodied Seamen on HMS Endeavor.[4]

The legacy of Vancouver's visits to the Hawaiian Islands was more than Flemish footprints in the sand. It was a significant contribution to what became the unified Kingdom of Hawai'i. To quote Ralph Kuykendall's account of George Vancouver and King Kamehameha's relationship:
"Of the time that Vancouver spent at the [Hawaiian] islands [three visits in the 1790s], far the greater part was passed in the dominions of Kamehameha and under the watchful eye and protection of that chieftain. A strong friendship sprang up between the two....The native history, Ka Mooolelo Hawaii (1838), in its account of Vancouver's visits, includes the following details:
"Vancouver taught Kamehameha's men how to drill as a body of soldiers. Vancouver also said to Kamehameha, 'Do not permit the foreigners to settle in Hawaii....They will lead you astray."
"Vancouver's patronage of Kamehameha greatly enhanced the prestige of the latter and was a factor in his [Kamehameha's] subsequent success." [5]
The Flemish, however, were and are hardly a belligerant people. While their numbers were small in visiting the Hawaiian Islands in the 18th century (and remained small in subsequent years) they were to have an outsized contribution to the lore of not only Hawai'i but also Flanders. My next post will show another Fleming who sought the best for Hawai'i and her people and was a soldier but not for an earthly king.
Part 2 of "The Flemish in Hawai'i" will focus on Joseph DeVeuster aka Father Damien/Damiaan

[1] For much of this narrative I am relying upon Ralph S. Kuykemdall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, (Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1938), 3 volumes. For this specific reference see Kuykendall, Volume I, " 1778-1854: Foundation and Transformation", p. 23.
[2] Although in spirit my statement is accurate, technically there of course had been earlier contacts. Kuykendall details these in Volume I, op.cit. Chapter 2, "The Foreigners", p.12ff
[3] Kuykendall, op.cit., Vol. I, p. 39
[4] See the online list of sailors in Cook's fleet here: "The Men Who Sailed With Captain Cook" . More on Captain Clerke can be found here.
[5] Kuykendall, op.cit., Vol. I, p. 43
Copyright 2010 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reporpduction in any form is permitted without my express, written consent.

No comments:

Post a Comment