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The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

February 27, 2012

A Hawaiian petroglyph depicting a Western sailing ship.

Born in Wales in the mid 1700’s, Isaac Davis became one of the trusted advisors of Kamehameha the Great. While serving with an American company under the leadership of Captain Simon Metcalf, Davis served aboard the small ship Fair American. In 1790, having come from the Pacific Northwest, Davis’ ship was attacked while conducting trade along the Kona coast of Hawai’i Island.

A local chief, having been disrespected by Captain Simon Metcalf (who had visited several days earlier on the Eleanora), swore his vengeance on the next foreign ship that came into his waters. That next ship ended up being the Fair American (captained by Simon Metcalf’s 19 year-old son Thomas). Having predetermined to kill everyone on board the vessel, the chief and his men acted as if they were going to trade with the ship. It is said that Isaac Davis warned the young captain that the situation did not seem right, but Thomas Metcalf disagreed, allowing the chief and his warriors onto the small ship. All of a sudden the Hawaiian chief and his men attacked the crew of this ship. Some say that at this point Isaac Davis pulled out a small pistol, but it either misfired or missed its mark.

Having been beat and clubbed, Davis was thrown overboard into the Ocean. Unlike the other sailors, Isaac Davis was an experienced swimmer and was able to stay afloat, despite being stabbed, beat with clubs and paddles and being forcefully held under water. Although they killed all the other men, it is said that when the chief and his men saw that they could not kill Davis, they concluded that he possessed great mana or spiritual power. They then brought him up into their canoe and took him to their high chief Kamehameha.

While recovering from his wounds, Davis was accompanied by his fellow sailor John Young, who at the time of the attack had himself been stranded on the Island (Young had served aboard the Eleanora). Together, Davis and Young would serve as advisors to the powerful chief Kamehameha. Through fighting alongside Kamehameha and his warriors and serving as a intermediary with foreign traders, Davis was given great authority in Kamehameha’s realm. At one point, Davis, called ‘Aikake by Hawaiians, became the high chief of O`ahu.

It is clear that Isaac Davis and Kamehameha became close friends. Ebenezer Townsend of theNeptune noted in 1798 that,

On leaving Davis the king embraced him and cried like a child. Davis said he always did when he left him, for he was always apprehensive that he might leave him, although he had promised him he would never do it without giving him previous notice.

In 1810 Isaac Davis negotiated terms of peace for Kamehameha with Ka’umu’ali’i, the king of Kaua’i. When Ka’umu’ali’i journeyed to Honolulu on board a foreign vessel to see Kamehameha, some lower chiefs conspired to kill him and proposed to Kamehameha that a sorcerer perform this deed. The king refused and even had the sorcerer slain. The chiefs then hatched a plot to kill Ka’umu’ali’i secretly as he journeyed into the interior. Learning of these plans, Davis warned Ka’umu’ali’i to return on board ship. Shortly thereafter, Davis died by poisoning, possibly in retaliation for this act of loyalty to Ka’umu’ali’i

John Young adopted the children of Isaac Davis and later made them heirs when he died. Isaac Davis was buried in the “Cemetery for Foreigners” in Honolulu, whose exact location has now been lost due to development. If you would like more information about Isaac Davis and Hawaii’s fascinating history, visit the website of Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site!

Kiholo Bay, believed by some to be near the site of the attack on the Fair American in 1790.


Descendants of Isaac Davis gathered in April 2010 at Pu`ukohola Heiau to honor his life and legacy on the 200th anniversary of his death.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. weeboopiper permalink
    February 27, 2012 4:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Notes From the Wooden and Iron World.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 23, 2015 8:29 am


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