A Kaua‘i ali‘i born in the late 1700s is likely to be the first combat wounded American armed forces veteran from Kaua‘i.
This simple fact has been the object of debate among historians for several decades.
Ethel M. Damon – the author of Koamalu, the classic two-volume history of Kaua‘i privately published in the 1930s – wrote that George Prince Kaumuali‘i, the son of Kaua‘i’s last king Kaumuali‘i, was seriously wounded during the War of 1812. Damon said, the prince, known on Kaua‘i as Humehume, was aboard the USS Enterprise in a fight against the British ship HMS Boxer. She said Humehume had been hit with a blow of an English boarding pike and only the quick action of an American sailor saved his life.
In the early 1970s Catherine Stauder, a historian associated with the Kaua‘i Museum, wrote a piece on Humehume for the Hawaiian Journal of History, the annual publication of the Hawaiian Historical Society.
Stauder concluded, after searching ship musters and other historical records from the War of 1812 era, that a description of Humehume’s exploits aboard the Enterprise that appeared in a missionary newspaper published in New England was inaccurate. Through a search of records in the National Archives she found that Humehume had been stationed aboard the Enterprise as a “land” sailor, but not until after the war was over.
Stauder’s conclusion left the impression that Humehume possibly made up his war wound story.
Expanding on Stauder’s research, lay historical researcher Douglas Warne of Kailua on O‘ahu has discovered key information about Humehume’s past that apparently proves the young Kaua‘i ali‘i was wounded in the War of 1812, but as a marine private aboard the USS Wasp in a sea battle fought in the North Atlantic off the coast of England.
The journalist writing in the Christian newspaper may have picked the story up second or third hand, and in its retelling the Enterprise was assumed to have been the only ship Humehume had served on.
Warne describes the new information on Humehume’s war record in his article “George Prince Kaumuali‘i, the Forgotten Prince” that appears in the 2002 issue of the Hawaiian Journal of History.
Warne, who is retired from the insurance industry in Hawai‘i, found Humehume’s name on a muster list for the Wasp thanks to help from researchers at the National Archives in Washington.
When asked about his interest in Humehume, Warne said, “It goes back to 1978-79, I was working for First Insurance and on my lunch hour I was looking for an old Hawaiian grave stone.”
During his search in the graveyard of the Kawaiaha‘o Church in downtown Honolulu, Warne found the grave of Kanui, one of the four Native Hawaiians who returned to Hawai‘i aboard the brig Thaddeus in 1820 along with the first American Protestant missionary party sent to Hawai‘i.
“I found very little written on him (Kanui),” Warne said. “I started researching the four Hawaiians aboard the Thaddeus and found that Humehume had a more important historical perspective.”
Warne said he requested a search for the war record of a veteran named George Prince through the National Archives, a service the federal agency provides. He was told that the name was found linked to the Wasp.
In retrospect, ironically Humehume’s combat wound probably saved his life, Warne said, for the Wasp later sank at sea, taking down its entire crew as well as its later muster records.
Warne said Humehume later wrote that the wound: “Pained me very much. It was the blessing of God I was kept from death.”
He said Stauder was correct in making the point that Humehume was not in combat during his tour in the U.S. navy aboard the Enterprise, since that ship was never involved in a hand-to-hand boarding fight. He said the Wasp, the vessel he signed aboard earlier as a U.S. Marine Private, was known to have been in one of the most bloody combats in the war in a battle against the British warship HMS Reindeer. Official records indicate several American marines were killed or wounded when the two ships ran against each other, and the crews fought hand to hand on the decks.
Checking with Marine Corps historians, Warne said he found that while it was unusual for a Marine to leave that branch of service, and later sign up in the Navy, but that it did happen. During his cruise as a naval landsman aboard the Enterprise, Humehume was able to go to the Mediterranean, but not until after the War of 1812.
“The religious press saw it as a good thing to promote interest in the Sandwich Island mission. They erroneously assumed that his battle wound occurred aboard the Enterprise rather than the Wasp,” Warne concluded. “I’m still interested in Kanui,” Warne said of his continued interest in the four Thaddeus passengers. “He has a fascinating story all of his own” including a role in the California Gold Rush.