Capt. William Shaler meets Kauai’s King Kaumualii

In 1803, Capt. William Shaler and supercargo Richard Cleveland of the American merchant-vessel “Lelia Byrd” visited Hawaii, where they delivered a message from Kamehameha I — at that time, the ruler of all the Hawaiian Islands, except Kauai and Niihau — to King Kaumualii on Kauai.

In his message, Kamehameha proposed that Kaumualii at least acknowledge him as his sovereign, but with the added caveat — or risk invasion.

Kamehameha’s reason for sending the message was no doubt motivated by his disastrous attempt to conquer Kauai in 1796. Rather than risk another failed invasion, he now wished to pursue peaceful means — if possible — of gaining sovereignty over Kaumualii and Kauai.

When “Lelia Byrd” arrived off Kauai, Kaumualii would not meet with the Americans, but a European resident of Kauai promised to deliver their message, while adding that it would be disregarded.

Thereafter, “Lelia Byrd” set sail for Guam.

In 1804, while Kamehameha’s army prepared on Oahu for the second invasion of Kauai he’d threatened would occur, his army was destroyed by foreign disease — yet he remained undeterred in his ambition to conquer Kauai peacefully or, if necessary, by armed force.

Consequently, in 1805, when Capt. Shaler of “Lelia Byrd” returned to Hawaii and met with Kamehameha once again, Kamehameha asked Shaler to sail again to Kauai to deliver essentially the same message he’d sent to Kaumualii in 1803.

This time, Shaler met Kaumualii, of whom no likeness was ever made while he lived, but who was described by Hawaiian historian S. M. Kamakau as being “a handsome man, light in complexion and with a nose and general features like a white man’s. He was rather slight in build, but he had good carriage and dressed well.”

Kaumualii promised Shaler that he would comply with whatever terms Kamehameha would dictate, but it would not be until 1810 that Kaumualii actually acceded to become a vassal king of Kamehameha.

Following his meeting with Kaumualii, Capt. Shaler made way for the Marianas Islands.


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