A major rediscovery for the study of early Hawaiian history: Anthony Allen's "lost" letter narrating his journey from slavery in New York to prosperity in Hawaii.
"In 1822, Anthony D. Allen of Honolulu received a letter from a Doctor Dougal of Schenectady, New York. Dougal, the son of the family that once held Allen as a slave, had read an article in the Missionary Herald about Allen's life in Hawai'i. He wrote Allen and asked him to write back describing his life since leaving Schenectady. Allen was 'much affected' by the letter and asked that one of the American Protestant missionaries act as his scribe for a response. Hiram Bingham agreed, and early one morning Allen appeared at the missionaries' compound to dictate an account of his adventures. No more was known of Allen's letter to Dougal, and it was assumed to be lost." In 1991, a private collector of historical Hawaiiana brought the present letter to the Hawaiian Historical Society. "The letter … was written by a Black man living in Honolulu. Among other things, it told of his escape from slavery, his reunion with his father, his capture and subsequent release by a slave master, and his adventures at sea. The letter ends with an account of his arrival in Hawai'i and the life he began there. … Barbara Dunn, Administrative Director and Librarian of the Hawaiian Historical Society, realized from the content that Allen was the author of the letter. Lela Goodell, Hawaiian Mission Childrens Society librarian, recognized the handwriting as that of Hiram Bingham" (Marc Scruggs, pp. 85–86).
Allen's letter (addressed to "My Dear Master") begins with some bittersweet reminiscences: "I rejoice that you have found out my residence after supposing I had been dead. I thank you for your good letter to me and for your kind regards. I love you still. I remember how kindly you and all your family used to treat me. I was like a child in your father's house. I remember your kind father once wrote a latter from St. Johns to his family & said to them 'Take care of my black children.' I remember how I used to draw you about ona hand sleigh, when you was a child. I remember too when I told your mother after your father's death, that I had found a new master who would purchase me, she cried, because she did not wish to have me leave her, but I was afraid she would sell me to some person where I could not see my mother."
Allen next explains his method of composition: "As you have written me a long and very kind letter and requested me very particularly to write to you an account of myself since I left your city, I have come to the house of the Missionaries, to get one of them to write what I wish to sayto you respecting myself. They are ready to aid me in writing the letter and in forwarding it to you. …"
Undoubtedly the missionaries would have been happy to assist Allen. Allen had taken up permanent residence on Oahu in 1812 (he had visited the Islands previously), so he was well established when the first missionaries arrived in 1820. They uniformly found Allen to be a helpful friend and gracious host. In June 1820, Elisha Loomis recorded his impression of Allen in his diary: "There are many white residents here—the most pay an outward respect, sending us little presents of fresh pork, corn, beans and the like. … There is one black man, Anthony Allen … who I believe lives the most comfortably of any on the island—has a wife and two pretty children. … He has been very kind to us, sending us potatoes, squashes, etc. As often as once in two weeks, a goat or kid neatly dressed, —every morning, two bottles of goat's milk, and many things I cannot mention …" (quoted in Scruggs, p. 55).
Allen's narrative proper begins with a stirring account of his flight to freedom in 1800, which led him to Boston, where he worked as a cook. He then went to sea as a cook and steward, narrowly avioding being taken back into slavery when his ship docked in Norfolk. (There a kind person warned him, he relates in this letter, "This is a difficult place for colored people to be about and if you get into any difficulty apply to me.") Eventually at Boston port Allen was found by one Kelly, the man who had purchased him from Dr. Dougal's mother. The owner of the ship Allen was on purchased his freedom and allowed Allen to work off his debt, which he did over the next year.
After 1807, Allen was legally free and continued to make his living on the sea, travelling as far as China and the Pacific Northwest of America. He also describes making port in Cuba, Santo Domingo, India, Jamaica, France, and Indonesia. In 1810 or 1811 he landed for the first time in Hawaii, where he bought some land and began a new life in 1812:
"… came to the Sandwich Islands in 1811 & here came ashore with permission and lived four months with Hevaheva the high Priest of the Islands. … Capt. Davis emplyed me as a steward in passage from one island to anotherparticualrly to wait on the King Tamehameha & his five Queens, as I was a taboo'd man, and they would like my services the better. I applied to Hevaheva, the high priest, for land & Mr. Moxley a white man now residing at Pearl River, on this Island, then the King's Linguister, interpreted my request. The High Priest gave me a piece of land at Waititi containing about six acres, having on it a few cocoanut trees & three small houses or native huts. I gave the Priest a few small articles, principally, a fathom of broadcloth and a bar of Russian iron, which I cut into pieces & gave hime one or two at a time as he wanted them. … After going to Hawaii with the King and his wives and company … we left the king there and went in the Lilly bird to Canton. … At Macao we heard the news of war between England & America. Came back to these Islands in the Isabella Capt. Davis in 1812 & celebrated the 4th of July at Karakekuah, a great day.—Returned from Hawaii to this Island & after about a fortnight I came ashore with my wages which amounted to about 150 doll., and came to live on my place with two families the people of the High Priest, belonging to the land. And here I must tell you that according to the custom of the country & the practice of some of my white neighbors who settle in these Islands I took me two wives. They were cousins, and were daughters in the two families living on the land that was given me. You Sir may think it strange that I have Two wives. … Isaac Davis had six, and one American gentleman I could name, kept ten, for two or three years. This is as true as the book of Genesis."
Allen's detailed account continues: "In 1813 I began to build me small thatched houses, I built one for a sleeping house, one for an eating house for myself and for an eating house for my wives, for we might not eat in a sleeping house without breaking taboo. I could not eat in my women's eating house nor they into mine. I could not go into theirs nor they in mine, we could not drink. …" Here the text breaks off, the conclusion of the letter having evidently been separated from the first eight pages at some point. Although this loss is regrettable, it in no way diminishes the vital significance of the surviving portion of the letter, "which adds important information to Hawaiian history, African American history, and maritime history" (Scruggs).
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