In 1792, Kamehameha I (1753? -1819) embarked on a series of military campaigns that culminated in his victory at the “Battle of Nu‘uanu Valley” on O‘ahu in 1795 and gave him control of all the major Hawaiian Islands — except Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.
He then set his sights on the conquest of Kaua‘i, and by the spring of 1796, he’d assembled a formidable Kaua‘i invasion fleet of 1,200 to 1,500 war canoes at Wai‘anae, O‘ahu, that was manned by 10,000 soldiers, about half of whom were armed with muskets.
Kamehameha’s strategy for “Ka‘ie‘iewaho,” the name of his planned invasion of Kaua‘i, was to sail his fleet from Wai‘anae across the 90-mile wide Ka‘ie‘iewaho (Kaua‘i) Channel, make an amphibious landing at Puna (Wailua) harbor, and engage and defeat his enemies.
But soon after sailing from Wai‘anae, the fleet encountered fierce winds, called “Kulepe,” which capsized his canoes, drowned many of his men, and forced him to order survivors back to O‘ahu.
Undeterred by the failure of “Ka‘ie‘iewaho,” Kamehameha then set about making preparations for a second invasion.
Beginning in 1799, he spent five years building a fleet of over 800 peleleu — seaworthy war canoes made by lashing two large single canoes together like a double canoe, erecting a covered platform at the stern, and affixing masts, mainsails, and jibs.
It’s noted, also, that one of Kamehameha’s chiefs, named Ka‘enokane, lashed three single canoes together, calling them “the triple canoes (pukolu) of Ka‘enokane.”
And another chief by the name of Waipa built a western-style ship. Its ribs were made of koa and hau and the floors were laid with wiliwili fastened by kauili wood nails.
In 1804, Kamehameha amassed his invasion forces at Ka‘a‘wa on eastern O‘ahu — 7,000 Hawaiian soldiers, 50 European and American soldiers, hundreds of muskets, eight cannon, 40 swivel guns, six mortars, 21 armed schooners, his fleet of peleleu, and Waipa’s ship.
Meanwhile, across the Ka‘ie‘iewaho Channel on Kaua‘i, an army of now unknown size, but one certainly smaller than Kamehameha’s, and with armaments consisting of only 40 swivel guns and three cannon, readied itself for Kamehameha’s imminent attack.
Its commander, King Kaumuali‘i, was so convinced of impending defeat that he’d ordered foreign beachcombers on Kaua‘i to build him a small ship so that he might flee Kaua‘i to another Pacific island or even to China.
Indeed, fortunes did not bode well for Kaua‘i.
• Part 2 will be in next week’s column.