Tuesday, October 1, 2013

‘Black George’

The history of the Black presence in Hawaiʻi goes back to the sailors; Blacks were crewmembers of Captain Cook’s second and third Pacific voyages.

There is a “high likelihood” for the presence of Blacks on many of the early ships that crossed the Pacific.  Free and unfree Blacks had been serving onboard these ships in a variety of capacities.

Between about 1820 and 1880 hundreds of whaling ships annually pulled into (primarily) Honolulu and Lāhainā, and a significant number of Blacks stayed behind in the islands and became permanent residents where they worked as cooks, barbers, tailors, sailors on interisland vessels and members of musical groups.

Work on sugar plantations was considered too close to slavery that Blacks were not considered for contract labor by the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Later, however, a significant influx of Blacks to Hawaiʻi involved the migration of the first Portuguese and Puerto Rican contract laborers to work on the sugar plantations (a significant portion of these were of African ancestry.)

One of the earliest blacks in Honolulu, who first arrived in Hawaii in 1810 was Anthony Allen, from Schenectady, New York.  He was keeper of a saloon, boarding house and practiced medicine (he may have been Waikīkī’s first hotel operator on his land near the intersection of King and Punahou.)

Another of the early African Americans to Hawaiʻi was George Washington Hyatt.

He was known as “Black George.”

Born in 1815 in Petersburg, Virginia, Hyatt was a former slave who had escaped and made his way to Hawaiʻi. He had been a member of the original King’s Band under Oliver (the original leader of the King’s Band, also an African-American,) playing both the flute and the clarinet.

Four Blacks formed a royal brass band for Kamehameha in 1834, and Hyatt, organized a larger band in 1845.

Not only did Hyatt play in the band, in 1845 he became the Bandmaster.

A "contract" dated May 26, 1845 states:
Know all men by these presents, that we the undersigned do agree to appoint and we do hereby appoint George Hyatt to be leader of the Band, and Charles Johnson to be Captain. … For our services we are each to be paid not to exceed $3 for a whole day, $2 for half a day and $1 for anytime less than half a day.  (Bandy)

Hyatt remained in Honolulu following his three-year tenure as Bandmaster and lived in Hawai'i for the final 40 years of his life until his death at Queen's Hospital on March 13, 1870 at the age of 65.  (Bandy)

He was known to many within local society:
“Everybody knew him as 'Black George' twenty years ago, and he was a general favorite, not only because he played on the flute and clarinet at social gatherings, but because of his amiability.”  (Bandy)

The image shows Henri Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band, the oldest municipal band in the United States (1889.)  (Sorry, I haven’t found any images of Black George or the old Royal Hawaiian Band.)

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