New Hebridean immigrants Ben and Lizzie Ramson of Kauai

During the 1870s and 1880s, approximately 2,500 South Seas islanders were recruited by Hawaii immigration authorities and their agents as laborers for various Hawaiian sugar plantations.

Of that number, some 2,100 originated in the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), while the remaining 400 or so were recruited from the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and elsewhere in Melanesia.

These immigrants proved to be satisfactory laborers, although only a few chose to remain in Hawaii when their labor contracts expired.

In the 1880s, Lizzie — a woman of Ambea Island, New Hebrides — decided to obtain a plantation contract after she’d learned that other New Hebrideans had returned home with truck loads of dress goods, axes, and other valuables after completing sugar plantation contracts at Sydney, Australia.

When the next labor schooner visited Ambea, she asked the captain to take her aboard so that she might also acquire trade goods in a faraway land.

He accommodated her, and by the time the schooner set sail for Hawaii with Lizzie on board, it was crowded with fellow New Hebrideans sailing with her to seek their fortunes in Hawaii.

At Honolulu she secured a three-year plantation contract and was sent to Koloa Sugar Plantation, Kauai, along with other New Hebridean contract laborers.

There she married a New Hebridean immigrant named Ben, who adopted the surname Ramson, and they had one son, Paddy Ramson, born at Koloa, and when their contracts were up, the couple decided to stay on Kauai, first at Koloa and, after 1900, in Kealia.

Paddy Ramson attended Kapaa Grammar School, and he and his New Hebridean wife, Sulai — who had also gone to Kapaa Grammar School and was likewise Kauai-born — had nine children.

Around 1914, Paddy and Sulai Ramson applied for and were granted a homestead in Kapahi at the foot of the Makaleha Mountains on property that had been the site of a Hawaiian village.

They built themselves a Hawaiian-style grass house, and Paddy’s parents, Ben and Lizzie Ramson, moved in and resided there until their deaths in 1940.

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