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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Our Honolulu
Avast and auwe — 'pirates' Hawaiian

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

Every now and then an unexpected skeleton pops out of our closet. You can blame Dwayne Steele, chairman of Grace Pacific Corp., for this one.

At age 56, Steele retired as president of his international construction firm to study Hawaiian at the University of Hawai'i. His goal: to read history from a Hawaiian point of view.

Guess what? He stumbled straight into an unexplored treasure chest of our past.

For starters, he learned from the Hawaiian newspaper Kuokoa that 13 Hawaiians had joined a "pirate" ship in 1865, just as the American Civil War came to a close. Why, Steele asked himself, would 13 Hawaiian sailors join a pirate ship?

The ship was the CSS Shenandoah, a Confederate raider sent into the Pacific to sink Union ships, mostly whalers. But one of the whalers was Hawaiian, the Harvest.

The Harvest was anchored with three other whalers in Micronesia when the Shenandoah hove into view on April 1, 1865. Under the Shenandoah's guns, a boarding party put the captain of the Harvest in irons, looted the ship and set it on fire.

Fifty Hawaiians were marooned. The Hawaiian monarchy sent a ship, the Kamehameha V, to the rescue.

The Shenandoah cut a wide swath of destruction in the Pacific. Before the attack on the Harvest, the Shenandoah had destroyed most of a large fleet whaling among the icebergs off Alaska.

A surviving vessel sailed for San Francisco with 252 rescued sailors on board. Another vessel brought 150 men to San Francisco and still another 150 to Honolulu. Many were Hawaiian.

"I'm getting a glimpse of a time when ships in the Pacific were filled with Hawaiian sailors," said Steele.

He found a letter to the editor of The Advertiser dated Aug. 26, 1865, that described 300 Hawaiian seamen wandering destitute on the docks in San Francisco:

"The hardest of all is to get them out of the horrid dens in the boarding houses. In their helpless condition they are easy prey to the runners of sailor boarding houses and shipping masters. They are shipped to go on foreign voyages by which their chances of reaching Hawaii are greatly decreased."

The 13 Hawaiian sailors who joined the rebel raider Shenandoah were from one of the ships sunk in Alaska. Steele said he believes they did so to keep from being marooned in the ice.

He said he was surprised at how quickly the Kuokoa picked up accurate news of the Shenandoah. Six months after the Shenandoah secretly put to sea from Liverpool, its movements were reported in the Kuokoa. Six months is the length of time it took for news to come around the horn.

If your ancestor was one of the Hawaiians who joined the Shenandoah, Steele would like to hear from you. His number is 348-4895.