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The Lincoln connection

By Nanette Naioma Napoleon

Special to the Star-Advertiser

LAST UPDATED: 4:51 p.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012

Hawaii in the time of Abraham Lincoln was a land so remote that even news of his death in 1865 took weeks to arrive in the islands, delivered by sailing vessel. Though he never visited what was then a foreign country, the president's influence was keenly felt and his actions inspirational.

There is a Lincoln legacy here, remote as that concept might sound. And the success of Stephen Spielberg's film "Lincoln," which collected seven Golden Globes nominations last week and numerous other accolades, serves as a reminder that the man who ended slavery in America touched the lives of free men and women everywhere.

Here are some examples:


Samuel Chapman Armstrong was born and raised in the Kingdom of Hawaii, the son of American Congregational missionaries. He attended Punahou School and was a junior at Williams College in Massachusetts in February 1861 when he and his brother, William Armstrong, a young attorney in New York, attended a rally at the Capitol building in Albany to listen to Lincoln on the eve of the outbreak of the Civil War, which began April 12.

Armstrong was enthralled with Lincoln and his speech about the need to keep the Union intact.

"The crowd was enormous and we were jammed awfully as we stood on the steps," he wrote in a letter home. "Soon Lincoln came … and made a short speech … and I had a good look at him. He is not a homely man … very tall and sparse, has whiskers and a very energetic expression of countenance, he speaks like a man who means what he says and bends backwards … and forwards precisely as father used to when he spoke."

Immediately after graduating from Williams in 1862, Armstrong enlisted in the Union army as a captain in the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. After leading his company of men bravely at the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, he was promoted to major. He later became colonel of the 9th and then the 8th U.S. Colored Troops.

Abraham Lincoln has a physical legacy throughout Oahu, largely in buildings named for the 16th president:

>> President Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, 615 Auwaiolimu St. This territorial public school opened in 1956.

>> Linekona School, corner of Victoria and Beretania streets. This school founded in 1908 was originally named after another assassinated U.S. president, William McKinley. Its name was changed to Linekona (Lincoln) School after McKinley High School was built in 1923. It was one of the first English standard schools in Hawaii. Today, the building is owned by the Hono?lulu Museum of Art.

>> “Lincoln the Frontiersman,” Ewa Elementary School. This larger-than-life bronze sculpture was dedicated Feb. 12, 1944. It was made by Avard Tennyson Fairbanks, professor of fine arts at the University of Michigan, and paid for by the estate of Katherine Burke, who was a teacher and principal of the school from 1919 to 1927 and a great admirer of Lincoln.

>> Lincoln Hall, East-West Center, University of Hawaii-Manoa. This four-story building opened in 1962 to house visiting scholars and a library.

In the closing days of the war in 1865, Armstrong was appointed brevet brigadier general in an order signed by Lincoln. He was only 28.

Armstrong was one of more than 200 men from Hawaii who fought in the American Civil War. He is the most well known because he became a general and because after the war he spent the rest of his life in Virginia developing schools for emancipated slaves and other minorities. Hampton University in Hampton, Va., was founded by Armstrong as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1868.


In 1864 the Rev. James Kekela of Hawaii was serving as a Congregational missionary on the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas when an American whaler named Jonathan Whalon was captured and sentenced to death because of inappropriate relationships with several local women.

Whalon was taken to a stone altar and was on the brink of being killed when Kekela threw himself upon the altar, with only his Bible to protect him. After much praying and tense negotiations with the local chief, Whalon was released to Kekela and fellow missionary the Rev. Alexander Kau­kau.

News of the dramatic rescue raced across the United States and reached Lincoln. The president was touched by the story, and to show his gratitude for saving an American, he sent $500 to the U.S. minister in Hawaii with instructions to buy suitable gifts for Kekela and Kau­kau.

Minister James Mc­Bride purchased a gold watch for Kekela and had it inscribed in Hawaiian: "From the president of the United States, to Rev. J. Kekela for his noble conduct in rescuing an American citizen from death on the island of Hiva Oa, January 14, 1864."

The watch is in the care of the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives.

"This watch is a really important artifact because it shows that Lincoln was cognizant of American activities in the Pacific region," said Mike Smola, museum curator of public programs.

Even though the incident happened amid the turmoil of the Civil War, Lincoln took the time to honor Kekela and Kau­kau. Descendants of Kekela still visit the watch to keep the story alive for younger members of the family.


Of the thousands of letters and documents President Lincoln signed during his term in office, four made their way to the Kingdom of Hawaii. They are all kept at the Hawaii State Archives.

One of the documents is a personal letter of condolence to Kamehameha V upon the death of his brother, Kamehameha IV, signed in February 1864. Two letters appoint Alfred Caldwell as U.S. consul, and James Mc­Bride as minister resident in Hawaii.

The most important of the four letters is dated Sept. 22, 1862, and authorized the U.S. secretary of state to affix the U.S. seal to the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

In 1864, Elisha H. Allen, envoy extraordinary and minister from Hawaii, traveled to Washington, D.C., on a diplomatic mission to secure a reciprocity treaty that would allow sugar to enter the U.S. duty-free, thus increasing sugar profits.

Allen was received by Lincoln and had long talks with Secretary of State William H. Seward but was finally told the treaty could not be pursued because of the pressing issues of the war. However, Lincoln wrote a letter to Allen on June 9 assuring him the ties between the two nations were amicable.

"In every light in which the state of the Hawaiian Islands can be contemplated, it is an object of profound interest to the United States," Lincoln wrote. "Virtually it was once a colony.

"It is now a near and intimate neighbor. It is a haven of shelter and refreshment for our merchant fishermen, seamen, and other citizens, when on their lawful occasions they are navigating the eastern seas and oceans. Its people are free, and its laws, language and religion are largely the fruits of our own teachings and example.

"The distinguished part which you, Mr. Minister, have acted in the history of that interesting country is well known here. It gives me pleasure to assure you of my sincere desire to do what I can to render now your sojourn in the United States agreeable to yourself, satisfactory to your sovereign, and beneficial to the Hawaiian people."

Lincoln's relationship to Hawaii came naturally, said Hawaii Pacific University history professor Justin Vance, who co-wrote, with Anita Manning, an article on the U.S. Civil War for the online journal World History Connected.

"Before Lincoln was elected, Hawaii had strong ties with the United States through whaling, missionaries and sugar, so Lincoln was familiar with the islands and these relationships," Vance said.


On Nov. 10, 1860, The Polynesian newspaper reported that a mock election was held four days earlier in Hono­lulu to "test the political complexion of the American residents in Hono­lulu." It was held at the store of Capt. Thomas Spencer.

This was the same day of the presidential elections in the U.S., which featured four candidates: Abraham Lincoln, Republican; John C. Breckinridge, Demo­crat; John Bell, Constitutional Union; and Stephen A. Doug­las, Demo­crat.

Lincoln triumphed in the mock election with 131 votes. His nearest rival, Doug­las, received 110. The president received 45 percent of the popular vote compared with his 40 percent in the official U.S. election.


Although Lincoln was shot April 14, 1865, news of his assassination did not reach Hono­lulu until May 8, 1865, when the cargo ship D.C. Murray entered the harbor, flags at half-mast. A small boat came ashore with the news of his death.

Quickly the Hawaiian government ordered offices closed, flags lowered and officials to wear crepe in formal mourning.

The city shut down as stunned residents closed businesses. The American minister's offices received a stream of formal condolences. Church services were scheduled on May 9 for the Protestant, Episcopalian and Catholic communities. Speeches were delivered and prayers of sorrow and support offered.

The entire community responded without regard to nationality, and all grieved.

"The widespread reaction to the news of Lincoln's assassination demonstrated how respected he was in Hawaii," said Manning.

The first locally published account of the assassination was in Hawaiian. Ka Nupepa Kuo­koa printed its entire May 11 issue with all the columns edged in black.

When the information reached American residents of Wai­ohinu, Ka‘u, on Hawaii island, they sent a formal resolution of mourning.

Members of the Hawaiian Protestant church at Wai­nee, Maui, long supporters of abolitionist causes, transmitted a resolution of sympathy to Mrs. Lincoln as the newest war widow. The resolution, given to the U.S. consul in Lahaina and forwarded to Hono­lulu's American minister was, as requested, transmitted to Secretary of State Seward in Washington, D.C.

An unsigned letter in the missionary newspaper The Friend said it all:

"I saw tears in the eyes of natives when they heard the sad news. Said one, ‘I am grieved as if I heard of the death of my King (King Kamehameha V).' Well may they mourn, for Lincoln was the true, single-hearted friend of man, of all men, of the poor, the despised, the crushed. …"


Nanette Napoleon is a historical researcher who is producing a documentary, "The Hawai‘i Sons of the Civil War," about the men from Hawaii who fought in the American Civil War.

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