Valdemar Knudsen became a pioneer and chieftain on Kauai
Valdemar Knudsen from Norway became one of Hawaii’s most prominent pioneers. He was involved in operating sugar plantations and ranching. In addition, he became an agent for the King and served as a member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives for several years.
Waldemar, or Valdemar as he later wrote his name, was born in Kristiansand on August 5, 1819. He was the son of Knud Hansen Knudsen and his wife Karen Sophie, nee Soprim. Knud Hansen was Magistrate in Kristiansand. Some sources have mistaken this title to mean President of Norway, but that is not correct.
Valdemar went to New York in the beginning of the 1840’s. He got employment at a customs office, which dealt with trade between the USA and South America. He became a citizen of the USA in 1852.
In 1849 he went to California to find gold. He found enough gold to start a business in Pleasant Valley, California. He also learned the native language of the Indians of that area and gave them advice in legal matters.
Valdemar took a trip to Norway, but was soon on his way back to the USA. While in Panama on his return trip, he contracted a fever sickness, probably malaria, and decided to go to Chile where the climate might be more conducive to his recovery.
Luck was with him However, when he saw a ship that was bound for Kauai in the Sandwich Islands, he sailed on it, arriving three weeks later in June 1853.
Luck was with Valdemar, and he regained his health. He was well received by the other foreigners on Kauai and formed business partnerships with a couple of them. He also learned the native Hawaiian language and developed a good, close relationship with the native people.
It wasn’t long before Valdemar became a ranch owner and later leased from the King an enormous tract of land consisting of 100,000 acres. A large portion of this land was developed into a sugar plantation. King Kamehameha IV then appointed him to be administrator of all his royal landholdings, a position not unlike that of a chieftain in earlier times.
An ear for languages
In 1860, Valdemar Knudsen was elected to Hawaii’s House of Representatives. He had an ear for languages and his command of the Hawaiian language helped him greatly. The King wanted to appoint him to the House of Nobles but Valdemar would not accept the promotion.
Valdemar married Annie Sinclair from Scotland in 1867, and they had five children.
The Hawaiians respected Valdemar and considered him to be an honorable man. They called him “Makua” (Father) and they called Annie “Makuahine” (Mother).
Among Annie’s close friends were several missionaries. She was an active member of the Episcopal Church where she served as a Sunday School teacher for many years. During the first years, before there was an organized church in Waimea, Sunday church services were held in the Knudsen home. Sometimes they would have a visiting minister, and at other times Annie or Valdemar would hold the service.
The Knudsens were generous people who gave willingly to the needy. On one of his trips to Honolulu, the King invited Valdemar to discuss the possibility of growing sugar cane in an area where there were no plantations at that time because of the lack of water. An irrigation system was developed, and Valdemar acquired a pump driven by steam. The sugar cane plants grew well, but the Hawaiians were not very interested in working on the plantations. As a result of this, Valdemar went to San Francisco to find Chinese laborers to work on the Hawaiian sugar plantations.
In 1880, Knudsen’s nephew, Anton Faye, and a German by the name of Meir took over most of the responsibilities and landholdings that Valdemar had owned or managed. Anton Faye had come to Kauai in 1878.
In their later years, Valdemar and Annie traveled all over the world to a number of countries including New Zealand, USA, England, Germany, Austria, and Norway.
Valdemar died in 1898, but Annie lived until 1922.
Without a doubt, Valdemar Knudsen’s prominent position in Hawaiian society played a deciding and significant role in the developments that led to Norwegian immigration to Hawaii.
“Aloha from Forgotten Norwegians in Hawaii”