Russian Fort Elizabeth

Russian Fort Elizabeth (Russian: Елизаветинская крепость) is a fort on the island of Kauaʻi in Hawaiʻi. It was the last remaining Russian fort on the Hawaiian islands, built in the early 19th century by the Russian-American Company as the result of an alliance with High Chief Kaumualiʻi to gain influence in Hawaiʻi. The fort site is a National Historic Landmark and is administered as the Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park just southwest of present day Waimea.

History

In 1815, German physician Georg Anton Schäffer, an agent of the Russian-American Company, arrived in Hawaiʻi to retrieve goods seized by Kaumualiʻi, chief of Kauaʻi island. According to the Company instructions, Schäffer had to begin by establishing friendly relations with king Kamehameha I who had created a kingdom incorporating all the islands of Hawaiʻi and faced opposition from rebellious Kaumualii. Then, with or without Kamehameha's support, Schäffer had to recover the cost of lost merchandise from Kaumualiʻi.

Schäffer's medical expertise gained Kamehameha's respect but he denied the Russians any assistance against Kaumualiʻi. Schäffer received reinforcement of two company ships and sailed to Kauaʻi on his own. To his surprise, Kaumualiʻi eagerly signed a "treaty" granting Russian Tsar Alexander I of Russia protectorate over Kauaʻi. Kaumualiʻi convinced Schäffer that the Russians could just as easily capture the whole archipelago. Schäffer promised that Tsar Alexander would help him to break free of Kamehameha's rule. Officially, Kaumualiʻi had pledged allegiance to Kamehameha in 1810. Kaumualiʻi probably never intended to give up power over the island; he thought he might reclaim his own kingdom with the help of Russia.

Kaumualiʻi allowed Schäffer to build a fort near Waimea and two others near Hanalei on Kauaʻi. Also known as Paʻulaʻula o Hipo, Fort Elisabeth, or Fort Elizabeth, it was constructed in 1817 on the east bank of the Waimea River overlooking Waimea Bay. Schäffer named it in honor of the Empress of Russia at the time, Elizabeth Alexeievna (Louise of Baden). This fort was built in the shape of an irregular octagon, about 300 feet (91 m) to 450 feet (140 m) across, with walls 20 feet (6.1 m) high. It housed a small Russian Orthodox chapel, Hawaiʻi's first Orthodox Christian church. Fort Alexander built on Hanalei Bay also housed a small Orthodox chapel. When it was discovered that Schäffer did not have the backing of the Tsar, he was forced to leave Kauaʻi in the fall of 1817. Captain Captain Alexander Adams replaced the Russian flag with the new Kingdom of Hawaii flag some time before October 1817. Russian Fort Elizabeth eventually came under the control of Kamehameha supporters.

In 1820, the guns fired in salute as Kaumualiʻi's son, Prince George "Prince" Kaumualiʻi (also known as Humehume) arrived on the ship Thaddeus, after guiding American missionaries back to his home. Humehume tried to stage a rebellion in 1824 by attacking the fort. It was used as a base to capture him and keep the kingdom unified. It was abandoned in 1853.

Dismantling

The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi tasked Kauaʻi pioneer Valdemar Knudsen with the removal of armaments from the fort. Similar work was being done in that era across the kingdom with other forts being dismantled at Kailua-Kona, Lāhainā and along the waterfront at the old port of Honolulu. In a letter sent to Honolulu, Knudsen listed an inventory of the guns at the fort following a survey made in 1862. They included 60 flintlock muskets, 16 swords, 12 18-pound cannon, 26 4- and 6-pound cannon, 6 heavy guns and 24 little guns.

Following the decommissioning of the fort in 1864, while Knudsen was loading armaments and munitions for sale as scrap metal onto a schooner in Waimea Bay, one or two cannons fell into the murky waters of Waimea Bay.

Research

Details of the dismantling of the fort appear in Peter Mills' book Hawaii's Russian Adventure - A New Look at Old History, published in 2002. Mills is an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and chair of its Anthropology Department, and has led archaeological field surveys of the Russian Fort area.

Access

The fort is located at coordinates 21°57′6″N 159°39′51″W / 21.95167°N 159.66417°W / 21.95167; -159.66417Coordinates: 21°57′6″N 159°39′51″W / 21.95167°N 159.66417°W / 21.95167; -159.66417, on the southeastern shore of the mouth of the Waimea River in Waimea, Kauai County, Hawaii. A small parking lot is south of the Hawaii Route 50 bridge, known as Kaumualiʻi Highway in honor of the last king. Facilities at the park include an interpretive walking path, and restrooms. A brochure with details of the site is available for a self-guided interpretive tour. Visitors to this site can enjoy exploring the remains of the fort, viewing scenery, photography and historical interpretation.

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference and added a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com