An Outsider - Lily Tiefel

John Young: Outsider to Insider in Hawaiian Society

John Young was a British subject from Scotland who became an important military advisor to Kamehameha I during the formation of the Kingdom of Hawaii. He was born in Crosby in Lancashire, England in 1742 of parents of Scottish descent.  After several family mishaps, he joined the merchant fleet as a boatswain’s mate. During a voyage between North American and China, Simon Metcalf, captain of the American ship Eleonora, accidently left behind John Young. Being a “cast away” became a serendipitous event for John Young as he became a friend and advisor to Kamehameha I. He brought knowledge of the western world, including naval and land battle strategies, to Kamehameha as he attempted to consolidate the various Hawaiian factions throughout the islands.  In fact, he played an instrumental role in the culminating battle for supremacy between Kamehameha’s forces and those of O’ahu and Maui.

John Young also exerted a strong voice on state affairs for the Hawaiian Kingdom once King Kamehameha I secured power.  He organized the construction of the fort at Honolulu Harbor. He also played a big role during Hawaii's first contacts with the Europeans powers; he served as a translator and advisor for the Hawaiian ali’i to attempt to find trading agreements favorable to the Hawaiians.  John Young’s support to Kamehameha and the ruling elite earned him the chance to serve as Royal Governor for the Big island of Hawai’i. This was clearly an honor given the Big island was Kamehameha I’s home island.

John Young spent the rest of his life on the island of Hawaiʻi. Between 1802-1812, he ruled as Royal Governor of Hawaii Island while King Kamehameha was away on other islands. The Hawaiians gave him the name ʻOlohana based on Young's typical command "All hands.” The attached picture was sketched by Jacques Arago and is found in the Hawaii State archives in Honolulu (National Parks Service).

John Young ingratiated himself into Hawaiian society; not only did he assist the monarch and his army develop best fighting practices known to the Europeans, but he also worked within the society to enhance his standing and those of the ali’i.  Young married a Hawaiian chief’s daughter and a princess that allowed him to fully integrate into the society. Besides his six children with his two Hawaiian wives, Young's family grew in 1810 when he adopted the children of his deceased friend Isaac Davis. Young's children became very powerful and influential in helping evolve the monarchy in the modern ways. John Young died December 1835 at the age of 93 after living in Hawaii for 46 years, he was an outsider with an inside view and he is considered one of the most influential individuals in Hawaii's history.  As an honor to John Young’s influence, he was buried on Iolani Palace grounds and later his remains were moved to Royal Mausoleum for Kamehameha royal family.

John Young, as a Scotsman, contribution to the formation to a united Hawaii was recognized by the House of Representatives of the state of Hawaii in 2008 through the House Concurrent Resolution NO 81 (House of Representatives).  John Young and his story are special and relatable to younger generations who have made Hawai’i their home. Just like many of us, John Young immersed himself in the Hawaiian culture and taught friends the cultures and ways from other parts of the world. John Young exerted himself to "fit in" and be part of the Hawaiian society as an outsider.  John Young should inspire people to look past skin color and language and instead work together on a goal of being unified.

Works Cited

B.Sparks. “Warfare History Blog.” King Kamehameha The Conqueror & The Wars of Hawaiian Unification, 1782-1795, 1 Jan. 1970, 

“John Young.” geni_family_tree, 24 Nov. 2014, 

“John Young.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 

“John Young.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 

House of Representatives Twenty Fourth Legislator state of Hawaii,, “Supporting the Designation of April 6th of Every Year as Tartan Day in Hawaii.” Supporting the Designation of April 6th of Every Year as Tartan Day in Hawaii, House Concurrent Resolution, 2008. 

Young, Peter T. “Ho'okuleana.” John Young, 1 Jan. 1970,