Labour History

Bound for Slavery? A Quaker Humanitarian Critique of Waged Labour at Koloa Plantation, Hawaii, 1836

Labour History (2017), 113, (1), 79–102.


The humanitarian testimonials of the “concerned travellers,” Quakers Daniel and Charles Wheeler, from Koloa Plantation on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai in June 1836, problematised the early years of the sugar plantation’s wage labour system. Although the newly introduced wage system was intended by the resident missionaries and the founding company to liberate the plantation labourers from existing feudal obligations, the Wheelers claimed a different form of “slavery” was being imposed on the indigenous Hawaiians employed within the new system. Produced in a climate of protectionist and abolitionist fervour in the mid-1830s “age of reform,” the Quaker humanitarian publications reflected wider contemporary concerns for indigenous populations and post-British-emancipation labour conditions. Through examination of the Wheelers’ critique of Koloa in the formative years of Hawaii’s foreign-owned sugar plantation system, this article contributes a new perspective on the critical question of whether earning wages under the conditions at Kauai in 1836 excluded the Koloa Plantation labourer from slavery.

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*The author would like to thankLabour History’stwo anonymous referees and the editors of this special issue. Google Scholar

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61.The gathering was attended byKamehameha III, Kinau, Rev.John Diell, the seamen’s chaplain, Rev. Beaver of the Hudson Bay Company, Rev. Daniel Lee of the Lower Oregon Methodist Mission, Rev. Samuel Parker, the Hudson Bay Company explorer recently returned from the Colombia River expedition, andPeter A. Brinsmade,partner in Ladd & Co.and a leaseholder for Koloa Plantation.Bingham, A Residence of Twenty-One Years, 479. Bingham did not note the attendance of Kamehameha III and Kinau.Wheeler, Extracts, 169. Wheeler did not list the missionaries and businesspeople in attendance. Google Scholar

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72. Ibid. Google Scholar

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Author details

Peyper, Audrey