Hawaii ( or ; Hawaiian: 'Hawaii' ) is the most recent of the 50 U.S. states (joined the Union on August 21, 1959), and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii’s diverse natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches, oceanic surroundings, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists, (wind) surfers, biologists, and volcanologists alike. Due to its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii has many North American and Asian influences along with its own vibrant native culture. Hawaii has over a million permanent residents along with many visitors and U.S. military personnel. Its capital is Honolulu on the island of .
The state encompasses nearly the entire volcanic Hawaiian Island chain, which comprises hundreds of islands spread over . At the southeastern end of the archipelago, the eight "main islands" are (from the northwest to southeast) , , , , , , Maui and the . The last is the largest and is often called "The Big Island" to avoid confusing the name of the island with the name of the state as a whole. The archipelago is physiographically and ethnologically part of the Polynesian subregion of Oceania.
Hawaii is the 8th smallest, the 11th least populous, but the 13th most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states. Hawaii's ocean coastline is approximately long, which is fourth in the United States after those of Alaska, Florida and California.
Hawaii is one of two states that do not observe daylight saving time, the other being Arizona. It is also one of two states that are not in the contiguous United States; the other is Alaska. Additionally, Hawaii is the only U.S. state not to be located in the Americas. Hawaii is also the only state with an Asian plurality.
Hawaii is one of four states, besides the original thirteen, that were independent prior to becoming part of the United States, along with the Vermont Republic (1791), the Republic of Texas (1845), and the California Republic (1846), and one of two, along with Texas, that had formal diplomatic recognition internationally. The Kingdom of Hawaii was sovereign from 1810 until 1893 when the monarchy was overthrown by resident American (and some European) businessmen. It was an independent republic from 1894 until 1898, when it was annexed by the United States as a territory, becoming a state in 1959.
Hawaii was the target of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan on December 7, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor and other military and naval installations on , carried out by aircraft and by midget submarines, brought the United States into World War II.
First human settlement — Ancient Hawaii (800–1778)
The earliest habitation supported by archaeological evidence dates to as early as 300 CE, probably by Polynesian settlers from the Marquesas, followed by a second wave of migration from Raiatea and Bora Bora in the 11th century.
Polynesians from the Marquesas and possibly the Society Islands may have first populated the Hawaiian Islands between 300 and 500 CE. There is a great deal of debate regarding these dates.
Some archaeologists and historians believe that an early settlement from the Marquesas and a later wave of immigrants from Tahiti, c. 1000, introduced a new line of high chiefs, the Kapu system, the practice of human sacrifice and the building of heiaus. This later immigration is detailed in folk tales about . Other authors argue that there is no archaeological or linguistic evidence for a later influx of Tahitian settlers, and that Paao must be regarded as a myth.
Regardless of the question of Paao, historians agree that the history of the islands was marked by a slow but steady growth in population and the size of the chiefdoms, which grew to encompass whole islands. Local chiefs, called , ruled their settlements and launched wars to extend their sway and defend their communities from predatory rivals. Ancient Hawaii was a caste-based society much like that of the Hindus in India.
European arrival and the Kingdom of Hawaii
There are questions as to whether Spanish explorers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the 16th century, two centuries before Captain James Cook's first documented visit in 1778. Ruy López de Villalobos commanded a fleet of six ships that left Acapulco in 1542 bound for the Philippines, with a Spanish sailor named Juan Gaetano aboard as pilot. Depending on the interpretation, Gaetano's reports seemed to describe the discovery of Hawaii or the Marshall Islands. If it was Hawaii, Gaetano would have been the first European to find the islands. Some scholars have dismissed these claims as lacking credibility. However, Spanish archives contain a chart that depicts islands in the latitude of Hawaii but with the longitude ten degrees east of the Islands. In this manuscript, the Island of Maui is named "La Desgraciada" (the unfortunate), and what appears to be the Island of Hawaii is named "La Mesa" (the table). Islands resembling Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokai are named "Los Monjes" (the monks). For two and a half centuries Spanish galleons crossed the Pacific along a route that passed south of Hawaii on their way to Manila. The exact route was kept secret to protect the Spanish trade monopoly against competing powers.
The 1778 arrival of British explorer James Cook was Hawaii’s first documented contact with European explorers. Cook named the islands the "Sandwich Islands" in honor of his sponsor John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. He published the islands' location and reported the native name as Owyhee. This spelling lives on in Owyhee County, Idaho, after three Hawaiian members of a trapping party that went missing in that area.
Cook visited the islands twice. Upon his departure during his second visit in 1779, a quarrel ensued, involving Cook's taking of temple idols and fencing as "firewood", and the taking of a ship's boat by a minor chief and his men. Cook then abducted the King of the Big Island of Hawaii, , and held him as ransom aboard his ship for the return of the boat, a tactic that had worked for Cook in Tahiti and other islands. Kalaniōpuu's supporters fought back and Cook and four Marines were killed as Cook's party retreated to the beach and launched their boats.
After Cook's visit and the publication of several books relating his voyages, the Hawaiian islands received many European visitors: explorers, traders, and eventually whalers who found the islands a convenient harbor and source of supplies. Early British influence can be seen in the design of the flag of Hawaii which has the British Union Flag in the corner.
These visitors introduced diseases to the once-isolated islands and the Hawaiian population plunged precipitously because native Hawaiians had no resistance to influenza, smallpox, and measles, among others. By 1820, Eurasian diseases, famine, and wars among the chiefs killed more than half of the Native Hawaiian population. During the 1850s, measles killed a fifth of Hawaii's people.
Historical records indicated that the earliest immigration of the Chinese came from Guangdong province: a few sailors in 1778 with Captain Cook's journey, more in 1788 with Kaina, and some in 1789 with an American trader who settled in Hawaii in the late 18th century.
House of Kamehameha
During the 1780s and 1790s, chiefs often fought for power. After a series of battles that ended in 1795 and forced cession of the island of Kauai in 1810, all inhabited islands were subjugated under a single ruler who became known as King Kamehameha the Great. He established the House of Kamehameha, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom until 1872.
After Kamehameha II inherited the throne in 1819, American Protestant missionaries to Hawaii converted many Hawaiians to Christianity. Their influence ended many ancient practices, and Kamehameha III was the first Christian king. One prominent Protestant missionary, Hiram Bingham I, was a trusted adviser to the monarchy during this period. Other missionaries and their descendants became active in commercial and political affairs, leading to future conflicts between the monarchy and its restive American subjects.
Missionaries from other Christian denominations (such as Catholics, Mormons, and Episcopalians) were active, but never converted more than a minority of the Native Hawaiian population. Ezra T. Benson appeared to have been the earliest Mormon missionary to the islands.
The death of the bachelor King Kamehameha V—who did not name an heir—resulted in the popular election of Lunalilo over Kalākaua. Lunalilo died the next year, also without naming an heir. Perhaps "the People's King" (Lunalilo) wanted the people to choose his successor as they had chosen him. In 1874 the election was contested within the legislature between Kalākaua and Emma. This led to riots and the landing of U.S. and British troops, and governance passed to the House of Kalākaua.
1887 Constitution and overthrow preparations
In 1887, Kalākaua was forced to sign the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which stripped the king of much of his authority. There was a property qualification for voting, which disenfranchised most Hawaiians and immigrant laborers, and favored the wealthier white community. Resident whites were allowed to vote, but resident Asians were excluded. Because the 1887 Constitution was signed under threat of violence, it is known as the "Bayonet Constitution". King Kalākaua, reduced to a figurehead, reigned until his death in 1891. His sister, Queen , succeeded him on the throne. She was the last monarch of Hawaii.
In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani announced plans for a new constitution. On January 14, 1893, a group of mostly Euro-American business leaders and residents formed a Committee of Safety to overthrow the Kingdom and seek annexation by the United States. United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, responding to a request from the Committee of Safety, summoned a company of U.S. Marines. As one historian noted, the presence of these troops effectively made it impossible for the monarchy to protect itself.
Overthrow of 1893—the Republic of Hawaii (1894–1898)
In January 1893, Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown and replaced by a Provisional Government composed of members of the Committee of Safety. American lawyer Sanford B. Dole became President of the Republic in 1894. Controversy filled the following years as the queen tried to regain her throne. The administration of President Grover Cleveland commissioned the Blount Report, which concluded that the removal of Liliuokalani was illegal. The U.S. government first demanded that Queen Liliuokalani be reinstated, but the Provisional Government refused. Congress followed with another investigation, and submitted the Morgan Report on February 26, 1894, which found all parties (including Minister Stevens) with the exception of the queen "not guilty" from any responsibility for the overthrow. The accuracy and impartiality of both the Blount and Morgan reports has been questioned by partisans on both sides of the debate over the events of 1893.
In 1993, a joint Apology Resolution regarding the overthrow was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The Provisional Government of Hawaii ended on July 4, 1894, replaced by the Republic of Hawaii. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii in 1885 as contract laborers for the sugar cane and pineapple plantations.
Annexation—the Territory of Hawaii (1898–1959)
After William McKinley won the presidential election in 1896, Hawaii's annexation to the U.S. was again discussed. The previous president, Grover Cleveland, was a friend of Queen Liliuokalani. McKinley was open to persuasion by U.S. expansionists and by annexationists from Hawaii. He met with three annexationists from Hawaii: Lorrin Thurston, Francis March Hatch and William Ansel Kinney. After negotiations, in June 1897, Secretary of State John Sherman agreed to a treaty of annexation with these representatives of the Republic of Hawaii.
The treaty was never ratified by the U.S. Senate. Instead, despite the opposition of a majority of Native Hawaiians, the Newlands Resolution was used to annex the Republic to the United States and it became the Territory of Hawaii. The Newlands Resolution was passed by the House June 15, 1898, by a vote of 209 to 91, and by the Senate on July 6, 1898, by a vote of 42 to 21.
In 1900, Hawaii was granted self-governance and retained as the territorial capitol building. Despite several attempts to become a state, Hawaii remained a territory for sixty years. Plantation owners and key capitalists, who maintained control through financial institutions, or "factors", known as the "Big Five", found territorial status convenient, enabling them to continue importing cheap foreign labor; such immigration was prohibited in various states.
Political changes of 1954—the State of Hawaii (1959–present)
In the 1950s the power of the plantation owners was finally broken by descendants of immigrant laborers. Because they were born in a U.S. territory, they were legal U.S. citizens. The Hawaii Republican Party, strongly supported by plantation owners, was voted out of office. The Democratic Party of Hawaii dominated politics for 40 years. Eager to gain full voting rights, Hawaii's residents actively campaigned for statehood.
In March 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law. (The act excluded Palmyra Atoll, part of the Kingdom and Territory of Hawaii, from the new state.) On June 27 of that year, a referendum asked residents of Hawaii to vote on the statehood bill. Hawaii voted 17 to 1 to accept. The choices were to accept the Act or to remain a territory, without the option of independence. The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization later removed Hawaii from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
After statehood, Hawaii quickly modernized via construction and a rapidly growing tourism economy. Later, state programs promoted Hawaiian culture. The Hawaii State Constitutional Convention of 1978 incorporated programs such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to promote indigenous language and culture.
Note: Hawaii was an independent nation prior to ceding its sovereignty to the United States in 1898; it was made a territory in 1900. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii was admitted as a State and assumed its present boundaries, omitting certain small islands formerly included in the territory. Census coverage has included the whole of Hawaii since 1900. The Hawaiian government conducted at least 9 censuses between 1850 and 1898; see Robert C. Schmitt, Historical Statistics of Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1977).
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Hawaii family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.