Peter Young Kāʻeo Kekuaokalani was born March 4, 1836 in Honolulu. His mother was Jane Lahilahi Young, the youngest daughter of John Young (advisor to Kamehameha I;) his father was Joshua Kāʻeo, Judge of the Supreme Court of Hawaiʻi (great-great grandson or great grandson of King Kalaniʻōpuʻu.)
At birth, he was hānai to his maternal uncle John Young II (Keoni Ana) (Kuhina Nui (Prime Minister) (1845-1855) and son of John Young, the English sailor who became a trusted adviser to Kamehameha I)
Kāʻeo was declared eligible to succeed to the Hawaiian throne by Kamehameha III and attended the Chief’s Children’s School. (In 1839, Kamehameha III formed the school to groom the next generation of the highest ranking chief's children of the realm and secure their positions for Hawaii's Kingdom.)
King Kamehameha selected Missionaries Amos Starr Cooke (1810–1871) and Juliette Montague Cooke (1812-1896) from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to teach the 16-royal children and run the school.
Another student there was his cousin, Emma Naʻea Rooke (January 2, 1836 – April 25, 1885,) daughter of High Chief George Naʻea and High Chiefess Fanny Kekelaokalani Young and hānai by her childless maternal aunt, chiefess Grace Kamaʻikuʻi Young Rooke, and her husband, Dr. Thomas CB Rooke. (Emma later became Queen, wife of Alexander Liholiho, Kamehameha IV.)
Kā’eo later served as a member of the House of Nobles (1863–1880) and on the Privy Council of King Kamehameha IV (1863–1864.)
At about this time, leprosy (later known as Hansen’s Disease) was noted in the Islands and it rapidly spread on Oʻahu. In response, the Legislative Assembly of the Hawaiian Islands passed “An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy” in 1865, which King Kamehameha V approved.
This law provided for setting apart land for an establishment for the isolation and seclusion of leprous persons who were thought capable of spreading the disease.
On June 10, 1865, a suitable location for incurable cases of leprosy came up for discussion. The peninsula on the northern shore of Moloka’i seemed the most suitable spot for a leprosy settlement.
The first shipment of lepers landed at Kalawao (Kalaupapa) January 6, 1866, the beginning of segregation and banishment of lepers to the leper settlement.
Receiving and detention centers were established on Oʻahu. Kalihi Hospital was the first hospital for leprosy patients in Hawaiʻi opening in 1865. Kapiʻolani Home opened in Kalihi Kai in 1891 adjacent to the Kalihi Hospital and Receiving Station; Kalihi Plague Camp (1900-1912) and Meyers Street, Kalihi Uka (1912-1938.) (NPS)
Kāʻeo contracted leprosy and on June 29, 1873 joined the many others exiled to the leper colony at Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai (joining him were two servants.)
During his exile at Kalawao (Kalaupapa,) he and his cousin Emma, exchanged letters. Kāʻeo reported in one such letter to his cousin (dated November 4, 1873) that he recently visited the settlement store and bought several yards of cotton twill “to make me some frocks palaka” this is the first known use of the word palaka to describe the style shirt with no tail and meant to be worn outside of the pants. (Korn)
In another letter (August 11, 1873) calls attention to the conditions at Kalawao: “Deaths occur quite frequently here, almost dayly. Napela (the Mormon elder and assistant supervisor of the Kalaupapa Settlement) last week rode around the Beach to inspect the Lepers and came on to one that had no Pai (poi) for a Week but manage to live on what he could find in his Hut, anything Chewable.”
“His legs were so bad that he cannot walk, and few traverse the spot where His Hut stands, but fortunate enough for him that he had sufficient enough water to last him till aid came and that not too late, or else probably he must have died.”
Mortality rates were confirmed by Dr JH Stallard, Board of Health in 1884: “The excessive mortality rate alone condemns the management (of the settlement.) During the year 1883, there were no less than 150 deaths … more than ten times that of any ordinary community of an unhealthy type.”
“The high mortality has not been caused by leprosy, but by dysentery, a disease not caused by any local insanitary conditions, but by gross neglect.” (Voices of Kaulapapa; SanDiego-gov - 1884)
Father Damien himself succumbed to leprosy on April 15, 1889. Sister Mary Leopoldina Burns describes the place: “One could never imagine what a lonely barren place it was. Not a tree nor a shrub in the whole Settlement only in the churchyard there were a few poor little trees that were so bent and yellow by the continued sweep of the birning wind it would make one sad to look at them.” (Voices of Kaulapapa; SanDiego-gov)
Kāʻeo was released from Kalawao in 1876 and lived the remainder of his life quietly in Honolulu, returning to his seat in the upper house of the Hawaiian legislature. (Korn; Spurrier)
The Hawaiian Gazette, December 1, 1880, noted his death, “The Hon. Peter Y Kaeo died at his residence, Emma street, on Friday night (November 26, 1880.) The funeral took place on Sunday, and was largely attended by the retainers and friends of the family. The hearse was surrounded by Kahili bearers as becomes the dignity of the chief.”
About 8,000 people have been exiled at Kalaupapa since 1865. The predominant group of patients were Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian; in addition there were whites, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino and other racial groups that sent to Kalaupapa. The law remained in effect until 1969, when admissions to Kalaupapa ended.
Peter Young Kāʻeo was interred in the Wyllie Crypt at Mauna ʻAla (Royal Mausoleum in Nuʻuanu) along with many of the Young Family. (Though the names are the same, I am not related to this Young family. On my father’s side, Jack, youngest brother of Young Brothers, is my grandfather; on my mother’s side, Hiram Bingham is my GGG grandfather.)
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