The First Portuguese In Hawaii: John Eliot de Castro
by Melody Lassalle
Statistics show that the Portuguese were in Hawaii as early as 1794. Most likely these early settlers were members of whaling expeditions. They left the seafaring life to retire on Hawaiian soil. Unfortunately, their names have been lost over time. There are no records to tell their tales.
The first recorded Portuguese person in Hawaii is John (a.k.a. Juan) Elliot de Castro. Castro was of Portuguese and English descent. Little is known of his early life. We do know that he was married in Rio de Janeiro, but nothing is known of his wife.
Castro was driven by one goal: to earn his fortune. According to Pokiki: Portuguese Traditions, Castro was "a rover seeking easy fortune across the globe." He attempted many schemes over his life that brought little if no results.
Castro first came to Hawaii prior to 1812. He initially went to Hawaii to make his fortune in the pearl trade. When this scheme failed, he tried another. He became physician to King Kamehameha I. Castro has the distinction as the first known physician mentioned in Hawaiian records. He also became a member of the royal court.
Castro stayed in Hawaii two years. Then, he left for Sitka, an Alaskan island. There he joined a Russian-American company . He was employed to guard one of their shipments to California.
In 1813, Castro's misfortunes grew. On another quest for fame and fortune, he found himself as part of an expedition in Southern California. He and others of his group were captured by the Spaniards and imprisoned for illegal trading. This was not his first time in jail. Earlier in his life, he spent time in a Buenos Aires jail for tobacco smuggling.
It wasn’t until autumn of 1816 that Castro was rescued. Lieutenant Otto von Kotzebue, a crewmember of the ship, the Rurik, gained Castro's release from his captors. It just so happens that the Rurik was heading back for Hawaii. Castro was among the travelers aboard the Rurik who arrived in Hawaii about 1817.
Once in Hawaii, Castro returned to his family. It is not clear whether this family included his wife from Buenos Aires or another marriage. He regained control of the land that was originally awarded to him by King Kamehameha I. He recovered his position as the King's personal physician and surgeon. And, was also given the title of Secretary. He spent the remainder of his life in Hawaii. John Elliot de Castro died in Hawaii on May 8, 1919.
1. Portuguese Immigrants in the United States. Compiled by the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.rr/hispanic/portam/chron2.html.
2. The Pokiki: Portuguese Traditions. www.islander-magazine.com/port.html
3. John Elliot de Castro. By the Mamiya Medical Heritage Center. http:hml.org/mmhc/mindex/decastro.html.
4. Portuguese Immigrants to Hawaii. Compiled by Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr. Hawaii : Maui Portuguese Cultural Club, 1993.
5. Hawaii: a History. By Ralph S. Kuykendall and A. Grove Day. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice Hall, Rev. Ed., 1976.
© 2002 Melody Lassalle
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