Part 4 - Hawaiian Servants

This is part four of an eight part series, by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, exploring the Hawaiian history of Fort Vancouver.

Part 4: Hawaiian Servants
Hawaiians served in a variety of capacities, all under the general classification “servants.” In addition to laborers, they were mill workers, sailors on both the river boats and trans-ocean ships, gardeners, soldiers, and cooks. All employees were expected to perform “any task that needed doing: guard duty, farm labor, maintenance work, or any of the tasks associated with paddling or portaging canoes, and cleaning, drying, sorting, and baling furs.

This policy applied to all Fort employees, including Fort physicians who were required to serve as clerks when not busy with medical work. In practice, some Kanakas specialized in particular tasks and worked as shepherd, sawyers, cooks, coopers and woodcutters or stokers on steamships. They were sometimes paid a small bonus for special assignments, or for “particularly loyal service as cooks or household help for company officers.”

The servant class of employees were provided with weekly food rations which varied over the years depending on supply. In 1838 these consisted of “4 Quarts Pease. ½ lb Tallow, 9 lbs Salmon, and 3 lbs bread or Potatoes.” In 1845, employees were receiving 21 pounds of salted salmon per week and 12 pounds of flour when potatoes were not available. On occasion, fresh meat or game was made available.

These rations were extended only to servants, not to their families. A few exceptions were made for widows of servants with children. Since a servant’s ration was seldom adequate to feed himself, much less a family, women were obliged to either forage for food or earn enough to purchase it. Some of the Indian wives worked as farm laborers or salmon processors and they may have been employed in the manufacture of items such as candles, portage straps, and other items for sale in the Company store. Luxury items such as tea, coffee, molasses, liquor, and condiments had to be purchased at the sales shop. Beer made from barley was produced at Fort Vancouver until 1836 when production was curtailed “because of the bad effect on the men.”
The daily routine was work from sun up to sun down, with only Sundays off. Some of the Hawaiians formally married Indian women, as did the Canadian metis in the village. Many had their children baptized even when these were offspring of unsanctified marriages.

Liaisons between the traders and Indian women were actively encouraged by the Company, and many of the common-law marriages were as solid as those performed in the church.
To learn more about the connection between Fort Vancouver and the Hawaiian Islands, click on one of the links below to connect to the next section of the eight part series written by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, historians specializing in Hawaiian history.

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