Isaac Davis

#134 in the Moʻolelo series

Many know of the duo Young and Davis, and about Young in some detail. But less is known about Davis’s life. Isaac Davis was a crew member of the sloop Fair American, whose crew were all killed in a revenge attack (for humiliating one of the Hawaiʻi chiefs). All except Davis, who was spared because he fought bravely. Davis was brought before Kamehameha, where he saw John Young, and the two were made an offer they couldnʻt refuse: either be killed or become assistants to Kamehameha. Their choice became a history-changing one.

Isaac Davis was born in Wales around 1750 and joined the crew of Fair American under Captain Simon Metcalfe, who was involved in the Olowalu Massacre. Davis assisted John Young with the cannon Lopaka at Kanaiwai, the Battle of the Dammed Waters at ʻIao Valley.

Young and Davis at Kepaniwai. Painting by Brook Parker.

This battle was the place where Kamehameha made his famous speech:

Imua e nā pokiʻi, e inu i ka wai ʻawaʻawa, aʻole hope e hoʻi mai ai

Go forward my dear younger brothers, drink of the bitter waters, there is no turning back

According to the National Park Service:

It is clear that Isaac Davis and Kamehameha became close friends. Ebenezer Townsend of the Neptune 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 he 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, site for Puʻukoholā Heiau

John Young adopted Davis’s orphaned children. Davis married into Kauaʻi aliʻi, and still has descendants today.

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