This article provides the first full biographical account of history’s only known Native Hawaiian whaling captain, George Gilley, whose life story ranges across the entire North Pacific, throughout the Bering Sea, and into the Arctic Circle. It adds to a growing body of work on Indigenous participation in colonial institutions, including Pacific commercial whaling, and makes a case for using relevant Indigenous epistemologies and methods to locate Native agency within the largely non-Native sources born of those institutions. Gilley’s mo‘olelo (story/history) specifically fits into the burgeoning field of Native Hawaiian biography, which, it is argued, should expand to consider historic Hawaiians who left few written records. The article demonstrates a model for achieving this expansion, by treating Gilley’s hybridized, (de)colonial mobility and embodied, inherited knowledge as legible evidence of his sovereignty within the Euro-American economic, racial, and nationalistic structures that nineteenth-century whaling purveyed throughout the Pacific.

With two schooners and a speedy sloop nipping at its wake, George Gilley’s masted whaleboat passed the last bell-buoy and sailed straight for Honolulu’s harbor.1 It was November 16, 1880, King David Kalākaua’s forty-fourth birthday. The morning-long yacht race kicked off the festivities, during which “Hawaiians, about five thousand strong, with a sprinkling of foreigners thronged the Esplanade,” according to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.2 With winds rising through the morning, the ships had cut east to Waikīkī, then doubled back west as far as Pu‘uloa, or Pearl Harbor, before returning to the port after noon. The final moments held all watching in suspense, until it was clear: Gilley could not be caught.3 The crowd undoubtedly roared, for the first-place-winner was the only Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) in the race.4 Indeed, the then-royalist Advertiser proclaimed a cultural coup for the Native monarchy, as the crowd’s “spontaneity of spirit” and “peacefulness of demeanor” throughout the day countered “oft repeated statements, that either disloyalty, or antagonism of race have affected the masses of His Majesty’s native people.”

The yacht race itself was probably not expected to cause much “antagonism of race,” as its white entrants and Native Hawaiian spectators surely knew Gilley’s high odds of winning the fifty-dollar top prize. He was the first and only known Kanaka whaling kāpena (captain) in history. For many years, Honolulu’s commercial columns had logged the mariner’s annual returns to that same harbor with barrels of oil and tons of baleen, hauled from the furthest reaches of the North Pacific. So well-known was Gilley that in its coverage of the yacht race, the city’s Saturday Press, “the whitest of the white men’s newspapers,” mentioned “Captain Gilley” by name twice but left out the names of all the white captains.5 Yet, Gilley is a virtual stranger to us today. Where his breezy victory off Honolulu may have once met expectations, it now elicits many questions. For starters, why did this Kanaka seaman have an English name? How do we know he was Kanaka Maoli? How did he acquire skills and status that other Kānaka had not? Was he motivated to race for his mō‘ī (king) and lāhui (nation, race, people), or was the monetary prize his main motivator after completing the Kingdom’s final successful whaling voyage earlier that year?6 Above all, why did Gilley’s story disappear from Hawaiian history?

Countless Kanaka Maoli laborers of the nineteenth century warrant such questions about their identities, achievements, and motivations. However, like Kāpena George Gilley, the vast majority—including other trailblazers in imported industries—have long remained unstudied.7 This omission conceals the myriad achievements of everyday Kānaka Maoli within an increasingly colonized context. Therefore, in this article I present Gilley’s mo‘olelo (story/history) as an illustrative example to argue that the historiography of Hawai‘i—and potentially Indigenous and Pacific Island Studies more generally—should further expand to include historical Kānaka who did not leave significant written records. Even as recorded in non-Native sources, the deeds and achievements of these individuals reveal agency within, and often against, the structures of settler colonialism in the Pacific.

This expansion of Hawaiian life-writing responds to three historiographical trends. The first includes top-down histories that have erased everyday Kanaka achievement by centering American expansion and limiting discussions of Native Hawaiian society to well-known Hawaiian political figures.8 This approach includes some recent critiques of Pacific settler colonialism that rely on “fatal impact” theories and inadvertently downplay Kanaka success.9 The second wave of scholarship focuses on “reconstructing Native Hawaiian intellectual history.”10 Spearheaded by Kanaka ‘Ōiwi scholars, this critical salvage work focuses on those Kānaka who published mo‘olelo and mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogical narratives) in Hawaiian-language newspapers.11 In my view, this focus has left out laborers whose work often appears complicit with colonialism. I contend that these laborers can be seen to reflect mo‘okū‘auhau that extend beyond family connections. As David Chang argues, Kanaka genealogies accommodate “a large and complex network of lines of descent and connection of all sorts—intellectual, political, sexual, ‘oihana (skilled craft or profession), and more.”12 Although whaling itself was a non-Native trade, seafaring will ever be an ‘oihana flowing from deep mo‘okū‘auhau ‘ike, genealogies of knowledge.13 A third group of studies expounds on Native labor in the Pacific. This area has seen recent growth and innovation, but generally these studies paint Kanaka workers with broad strokes as “a key contributing group” in colonial industries like whaling and fur trading.14 Some scholars do focus on individual Indigenous whalers, but they have rarely found evidence in their sources for anything more than an “attenuated agency,” to use Lynette Russell’s term.15 I propose that a new model may emerge through the close study of individuals, like Gilley, whose exceptional mobility and virtual sovereignty on foreign-built ships might best prove the rule that colonial structures were not always fixed, finished, impermeable, or necessarily disempowering forces in Pacific Islanders’ lives.16

In what follows, I piece together Gilley’s mo‘olelo through newspapers, ship logs, and explorer accounts that catalog his movements. At the same time, I strive to embrace the full nature of the mo‘olelo form, which “blurs distinctions between academic and literary genres, between nonfiction and fiction, myth and history, as well as oral and written binaries.”17 This approach includes borrowing Hawaiian-language terms and ideas from Kanaka authors to reflect the duality that Gilley embodied and experienced.18 Working toward a kind of “shared authority” in the storytelling process, I highlight Gilley’s power to mobilize authors to record and preserve his actions, to construct a plausible series of movements that took place on at least eight Arctic-going ships.19 Above all, my “against the grain” method is guided by a Kanaka theory of agency derived from the ‘ōlelo no‘eau (proverb), “Aia ke ola i ka hana,” meaning, “life is in the hana” (work, practice, action). The Native Hawaiian ontology embedded in this ‘ōlelo no‘eau potentially amplifies contributions to Hawai‘i’s lāhui (nation, people) by Kānaka whose working lives register primarily in settler archives.20

Finally, I seek to challenge the idea that the United States achieved unambiguous hegemony in the North Pacific. Not only did Gilley learn to exploit the capitalist system, but his mobility often exposed the contingencies of imported concepts of race and nation. Across disparate archives Gilley emerges as Kanaka Maoli, “half-caste,” and white—perceptions he seems to have variously indulged to suit his advantage. Similarly, while Gilley remained rooted to his lāhui, he consistently traversed national boundaries with little evident regard for his “official” status as a British, Hawaiian, Japanese, and American citizen. Because Gilley defies neat categorization as a member of any one nation, race, or economy, his mo‘olelo lodges a pesky, corrosive lance in the leviathan of colonial modernity which he also nurtured in the Pacific. In light of such contradictions, Gilley ultimately repatriates himself to Hawaiian history as a decolonial hybrid: as both a product of and participant in colonialism, as well as a decolonizing actor.

George Gilley was born some forty years before his race off Honolulu, not in Hawai‘i, but in the Bonin Islands, a European colony in the Asian Pacific that both supported and relied upon Kanaka families and lifeways. England claimed the small island group, located six hundred miles south of Tokyo, in 1827. Three years later, a British ship captained by Samuel Dowsett carried about twenty Kānaka Maoli from Hawai‘i to the uninhabited archipelago and left them to settle on Peel Island (modern Chichijima).21 Accompanying them were an Enata (Marquesan) boy and five white men to whom the Hawaiians were either married or indentured as laborers.22 Most nineteenth-century accounts of the islands’ history emphasize the hardscrabble lives of the white settlers, especially that of Nathaniel Savory, an American. Due to the number of Kānaka Maoli these men sought to exploit, Peel Island was British on paper, yet largely a Hawaiian colony in practice. By 1833, the colonists’ grass-hut settlement attracted at least six more wāhine (Hawaiian women), and several other white men, including English whaler William Penn Gilley of the shipwrecked Amelia Wilson.23 Generally, as historian David Chapman notes, “information on the very first Hawaiian islander settlers, especially the women, has not emerged in any records,” yet one late nineteenth-century visitor identified Fanny Gilley as the “Hawaiian wife of W.P. Gilley.”24 Like the other Bonin wāhine, who were described by shipwrecked Japanese sailors in 1840, Fanny probably wore a flowing, hand-made holokū-style dress and tortoiseshell comb in her top bun.25 Not yet a teenager on arrival, Fanny soon had at least two sons with William Gilley—William Jr. in 1833 and George in about 1837 (most sources round to 1840).26 The boys survived regular typhoons, earthquakes, and the arrivals of violent seamen, “who had little fear of punitive recourse for their actions.”27 Many others were lost to such forces and sickness. British captain R.C. Collinson reported in 1851 that twelve of the twenty-six children born on the island by that point had died—a nearly 50 percent child mortality rate.28

George Gilley was molded by a blend of Kanaka and Euro-American cultures. Although he inherited his father’s English surname, that had little bearing on his Indigeneity. As Lisa Kahaleole Hall explains, “a Hawaiian plus a non-Hawaiian produces a Hawaiian child.”29 Chapman infers that “William Gilley [Sr.] left sometime between 1837 and 1851,” possibly for California mining, although he may have repeatedly left and returned, as seamen do.30 Fanny most likely took the parental lead, raising Kanaka Maoli children on islands which must have felt something like Hawai‘i in terms of climate, built structures, and agriculture. The Kanaka colonists, who were “free agents” by 1837 according to visiting British Captain Michael Quin, remade the island that they called “Aina” in their own image.31 Their first modifications included planting kalo, the roots of which are mashed into poi. This vital dish connects Kānaka to their Native ‘āina (land, lit. that which feeds), their common ancestral brother Hāloa, and ultimately to the progenitor gods Papahānaumoku and Wākea.32 In addition to eating this dynamically fortifying poi, it is highly probable that the young Gilley thrived on other Hawaiian staples that the colonists procured: fresh fish, wild pig, sweet potatoes, and sugarcane.33 The Gilley family sustained both Hawaiian and Euro-American agriculture on their family farm.34 Like this hybrid diet, the colonists created new language forms. Linguist Daniel Long has traced New England accents among twentieth-century islanders to Massachusetts-born Nathaniel Savory’s influence, although English was long spoken by Kānaka in pidginized forms.35 Originally, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i may have enjoyed some lingual dominance; the residents taught the Japanese sailors at least thirty-five Hawaiian-language words and only about twenty English words during their two months together in 1840.36

We can imagine that, like Kānaka Maoli far to the east, Gilley’s boyhood was defined by the sea, which provided Native and foreign bounties and connected him to hybrid ancestral traditions. At first, Gilley likely hunted sea turtles—another mainstay in the colonists’ diet since first arrival.37 He may have learned to hunt these from outrigger canoes, also used for interisland travel. Hanae Kramer and Scott Kramer have found that while the “islanders largely dispensed with ceremonial aspects of canoe making…a small population with limited needs resulted in…single-hulled dugouts supported upright by one lateral float held in place by two booms,” which can still be found in the islands today.38 With guidance from his kūpuna, elders with connections to mo‘okū‘auhau ‘ike (genealogies of knowledge), Gilley may have developed an early understanding of seagoing vessels, from their construction to their handling at sea during shark hunts. Not unlike the “voyaging nursery” that Near Oceania’s archipelagoes provided ancestral Pacific Islanders, the Bonin Islands would have allowed a safe educational space for the voyager-in-training.39 In time, Gilley might also have learned how to take advantage of imperial networks to procure goods and capital. As roving whalers increasingly sailed into Port Lloyd, seeking “supplies of water and wood,” the burgeoning planters sold them “Indian corn, yams, sweet potatoes, melons, plantains, onions, beans, salad, and pumpkins…at very moderate prices,” according to an early visitor.40 These visiting ships likely contained many Kānaka continuing ancestral voyaging traditions by way of the whaling industry. As Chang writes, from the moment Captain James Cook inadvertently introduced a new class of open-ocean vessels to their islands in 1778, Kānaka Maoli, “in keeping with their own heritage of exploration and curiosity…went out into the ocean to seek knowledge of the strangers and the world.”41 In the decades following the arrival of the first foreign whaleship in Hawai‘i in 1819, thousands of Kānaka embarked on whaling voyages all across Oceania and well into the frigid north.42

In his late teens, George apparently signed onto a ship bound for O‘ahu, and through this first action as a trans-Pacific voyager increased ties to his lāhui (nation, people), and generated our earliest known record of his actual life. In 1855, a Gilley family friend in Honolulu wrote to the Bonin Islands’ de facto leader, Nathaniel Savory, “George has been here 2 or 3 times but I could not persuade him to go home and see his mother,” noting further that “[h]e seems to like this place so much.”43 As the message makes clear, Gilley’s move from the Bonin Islands signaled a break from his makuahine (mother). Gilley would treat O‘ahu as home base for the next two and a half decades. Unlike the many Yankee whalers provisioning their ships at Honolulu and Lahaina, Gilley was a Native subject since King Kamehameha III had decreed that “persons born abroad of a parent native of this kingdom, and afterwards coming to reside in this, shall be deemed to owe native allegiance to His Majesty.”44

Throughout his career, Gilley made occasional appearances in newspapers, which help us exhume his story, even as they introduce some confusion. The San Francisco Chronicle claimed that Gilley was the heroic first mate on the Hawaiian-registered Kohola in 1864, when its captain, Herman Brummerhoff, was killed by Siberian Chukchi traders.45 That actually occurred in 1862, when Bernard Cogan was first mate; it was he who, unable to find the captain’s body, retrieved his clothing and steered the ship to safety.46 Yet because the Chronicle’s reporter claimed to have interviewed Gilley, it is possible that Gilley was aboard the Kohola in 1862. If so, that season may have included Gilley’s first “wintering over” in the Bering Strait, at eastern Siberia’s St. Lawrence Bay. It also may have been his first of many experiences witnessing another Indigenous community’s cultural practices, as the Chukchi had killed Brummerhoff “according to their custom of man for man” when one of their kin, Capatchou, died under the captain’s watch. When the Kohola resumed its harvest in the spring—hauling six hundred barrels of whale oil—five Kānaka died of scurvy, followed by three more from a “disease of the breast.”47 Such were the harsh realities of whaling that Gilley must have quickly grown accustomed to “aia i ‘Ālika (there in the Arctic),” where the captain’s wheel turns, “e niniu i ka makani (spinning in the wind),” as a popular maritime song of the time reflected.48 Even if Gilley’s association with the Kohola is clouded by his interviewer’s apparent sloppiness, it arises from something he must have said, orally.

Because the scattered sources on Gilley’s life soon prove fallible and contradictory, his story is well served by the mo‘olelo form, which makes room for divergent threads in a single storyline. One such divergence was initiated in the late 1850s, when his brother William apparently decided to name his own son George B. Gilley. Born to William Jr. and a “Kanaka woman” called Tineree, George B. Gilley was recorded as present on Peel Island in 1875 and 1898.49 While the roughly ten-year age difference between the Georges helps to separate them, their shared name, distinguished only by the younger’s occasionally used middle initial, may confuse their overlapping lives. The narrative bifurcation begins as early as 1870, when a woman living in Pohnpei named Lizzie Brown wrote to Nathaniel Savory in the Bonin Islands, asking him to “please tell my brother that I am quite well and coming back.” Commenting on that letter in 1915, the Bonin Islands S.P.G. missionary Lionel Cholmondeley claimed Brown’s brother “would be George Gilley, son of William Penn Gilley, one of the earliest settlers.”50 This suggests that George Gilley returned to his family by 1870, perhaps soon after one “William Gilley” (his father or brother) was killed on Peel Island in 1863.51 It is also possible, however, that Lizzie Brown was referring to George B. Gilley—and that, like him, she was a child of William Gilley Jr., brother of the George Gilley in Hawai‘i. Indeed, just two years later, in February 1872, the Hawaiian Gazette listed a sailor named “Gillie” on the Honolulu yacht Henrietta who was “counted among the most expert whalemen that belong here.”52 Yet the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, reporting ten days later that “the crew of the Henrietta have struck three whales since leaving here,” confusingly attributed this success to an “R. Gillie.”53 Even though misprints were common in the papers, this instance challenges the assumption that George Gilley never returned to the Bonin Islands.

In 1875, George Gilley became the captain of the Hawaiian-registered brig Onward, making him the only Kanaka Maoli known to have led whaling expeditions.54 The Onward happened to be owned by Honolulu businessman James Dowsett, son of the Captain Dowsett who ferried the first settlers to the Bonin Islands (before famously disappearing at sea in 1834). While Dowsett was part of a small pool of local financiers fitting out whaleships, it is possible that George Gilley forged his professional opportunity through some lasting personal ties to the man whose father once traveled three thousand miles with his mother, Fanny Gilley. Notably, the earliest record of her full name, “Mrs. Fanny Gilley,” dates to 1875, when she and other heads of household “signed an oath to honor the rules and regulations” of the nascent Empire of Japan as it assumed control of the Bonin Islands.55 While this retroactively added Japan to her son’s web of national ties, at the time he was busy fulfilling his new duties in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, which included filing obligatory shipment reports.56 These reports offer us a clearer sense of his role in Hawai‘i’s mercantile economy. His spring debut as a captain at Honolulu Harbor included overseeing flour, salt pork, sweet potatoes, and other commodities loaded into the Onward ahead of its six-month sojourn in the North Pacific.57

Clearer, too, from this year on, are the links between the Kingdom of Hawai‘i’s stature and Gilley’s ‘oihana—his skilled profession—as each whale that his learned hand harpooned brought “success to home enterprise.”58 In November, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser logged the Onward sailing back into port with all her casks full, thanks to Captain Gilley’s winning gamble on a whaling ground off Kodiak Island that was once, but no longer, popular with the massive American whaling fleet.59 Records of Captain Gilley’s auspicious start therefore illustrate his thorough maritime training before 1875 and convey the broader aptitude of his lāhui (nation, people) in the global economy, countering notions that it merely fell prey to American capitalism in the late nineteenth century.

Because Gilley achieved captaincy amid an exceptionally perilous decade for North Pacific whaling, his name not only entered commercial reports at higher frequency but also emerged in accounts left by the Kanaka seamen who recorded their own tribulations. Gilley was well aware of the immense dangers that Arctic whalers faced each season. There is a chance that he was present for the disaster of 1871, when rogue ice floes claimed more than thirty ships, including the Kohola and three other Hawaiian-registered vessels.60 The 1876 summer season, likewise, witnessed the ice trap at least twelve ships, including the Honolulu barks Arctic and Desmond, off Nuvuk, or Point Barrow, the northernmost point of all U.S.-claimed territory.61 That year Dowsett hired Gilley to captain the William H. Allen, but it seems that delays in fitting out the ship spared him the hardship faced by the three hundred seamen who became stranded on the ice. Gilley ended up taking the brig for a short winter hunt along the equator—a late-season trip possibly intended to recoup some of the year’s Arctic losses.62

Thus, it was not until 1877 that Gilley, again at the helm of the William H. Allen, would see for himself what remained of the trapped fleet. He departed in April and by early August reached Tangent Point, on Alaska’s north slope, where he was surely surprised to see a Kanaka whaler, Charles Edward Kealoha, clambering toward him over the coastal ice dunes. Kealoha and a Mā'ohi (Native Tahitian) whaler named Kenela, both of the wrecked Desmond, were the last survivors of at least fifty men who stayed behind when others took their chances on a few crowded ships that managed to escape the ice.63 Later that year, Kealoha would publish a firsthand account of their harrowing winter and departure with Gilley in the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Lahui Hawaii. As Kealoha related to his people, he was initially rescued by local Iñupiat, whose diet of fatty fish and orca meat was at once repulsive and lifesaving. Yet, despite these challenging lifeways, Kealoha declared, “he lahui keia i ano like ka ili me ko kakou” (this is a people whose skin type is like ours), adding that theirs is paler, “i ka noho paha iloko o na lua” (probably because they live in caves). In contrast to the coarse and unexpected kinship forged in those caves, Kealoha delighted in the warm reception offered by “Kapena George Gilley,” who was “he keiki Hawaii Ponoi” (one of Hawai‘i’s own children), and whose “moku” (ship) provided a feeling of being “i ka aina hanau” (in the birth land).64 Gilley signed Kealoha and Kenela onto his crew on August 9, 1877. In her analysis of Kealoha’s article, archaeologist Susan Lebo suggests that the new hire likely spent many hours in the forecastle trading mo‘olelo (stories) with fellow writerly Kanaka seaman J. Polapola. The latter, a member of Gilley’s Honolulu-based crew, would go on to publish his own account of the 1877 season, including the violent event, later known as the “Gilley Affair,” that occurred on the decks above them two months before.65 Like Kealoha, Polapola inscribed Gilley’s name in his article, as a result of the captain’s decisive actions.

The label “Gilley Affair” reflects the muddled, racially contingent discourse around the events that transpired off Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, on June 5, 1877. The “affair” involved the slaughter of at least a dozen Kingikmiut (Iñupiaq) traders, one of whom had fatally stabbed a member of Gilley’s Kanaka crew when bartering went awry.66 The event’s affiliation with “Gilley,” the ship’s captain, diverges from naming massacres after their location and, occasionally, after white victims.67 Yet few massacres involve a survivor and lead perpetrator possessing Gilley’s perceived racial ambiguity. Indeed, the captain’s Indigeneity, and that of his crew, was variously erased or amplified within English-language renditions of the massacre, a trend that again affirms my use of the mo‘olelo narrative form. As Native Hawaiian scholar ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui explains, “multiple versions and variants” in mo‘olelo “are not just acceptable, but perhaps preferable, as it allows for an array of possibilities through the analysis of several perspectives and sources of knowledge in the telling and recording of story.”68 In a mo‘olelo of the “Gilley Affair,” we may also see how Gilley mobilized his own sense of self-identity to emerge relatively unscathed from racist discourses, and even learned how “to make race work to one’s advantage.”69

From the outset, Gilley portrayed himself as a victim of circumstance, starting with his brief 1877 season report to the Advertiser:

June 5th, while becalmed between Cape East and Cape Prince of Wales, three canoes approached the vessel, for the purpose of obtaining liquor, but were refused, on account of their being drunk, in consequence thereof a row ensued on board, and we were compelled to drive them off as soon as possible, resulting in killing of one of the crew (Hawaiian) and wounding two.70

It is noteworthy that Gilley left out killing the Kingikmiut, the unidentified “them,” though perhaps not surprising given that he was reporting for the commercial column—which logged his successful haul of two hundred barrels of oil, five thousand pounds of baleen, and three tons of ivory. In the same column, Captain Leander Owen of the Three Brothers offered “a heartfelt thanks to Capt Gilley for his generous hospitality,” as Gilley had helped to rescue Owen’s ice-bound crew near Nuvuk three months after the “row” at Cape Prince of Wales. Together, these reports appear focused on assuring the public of Hawai‘i’s national economic stability amid the waning of the disaster-prone whaling industry. Yet Gilley’s pragmatic report, printed in late October, was actually preceded by one that had aligned his victimhood with his relative whiteness. In the very first record of the William H. Allen’s incident, received by the missionary newspaper The Friend on September 1, Captain Benjamin Whitney of the Giovanni Apiani conveyed that when “natives came on board and kicked up a row, the officers and crew with handspikes and heavers killed some 10 or 12, and drove the remainder overboard.”71 The term “natives” here is notably reserved for the Kingikmiut, while Gilley and his crew of Kanaka, white, and Native Siberian whalers were uniformly deracialized.72

Stateside papers would quickly sensationalize these reports, while further whitening Gilley and promoting his innocence via racial tropes common to the settling of the American West. Within a month of the William H. Allen’s return to port a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle printed “A Whaleship’s Escape: Indian Pirates in the Arctic Sea,” claiming to dispel the “wildest rumors” by presenting facts gained through an interview with the captain. Yet the writer went on to describe how “the vessel was overpowered” by “seventy five warriors,” led by a 6-foot-6-inch tall chief who seized Gilley by the throat and signaled his determination “to take charge of the vessel, run her ashore, and murder the officers and crew.” With dramatic flair, the article flipped this fate, one “lazy,” dead “redskin” at a time, as the writer described the Kingikmiut. The Chronicle’s version was soon reprinted in New York and Chicago, feeding American readers’ images of a melee at sea. Throughout the rendition Gilley was implicitly, and heroically, cast among the ship’s “four white men, the remainder being Sandwich-Islanders.” With his first mate-cum-sidekick W.H. Murphy fighting for “life or death,” “the Captain escaped unhurt,” having only struck the towering chief “with the butt-end of his revolver” before the chief fell overboard, though “in what manner nobody knows.”73

In time, captains for the U.S. Revenue-Marine, predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard, produced accounts that varied in their treatments of Captain Gilley as they prioritized America’s national interests. In his 1880 “Report Upon Alaska and Its People,” addressed to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, Captain George W. Bailey mentioned “Gillie [sic], master, from the Sandwich Islands” in a discussion of “ships from the Sandwich Islands, under the Hawaiian flag” illegally trading contraband liquor “on our side” of the Bering Strait. Bailey blamed Gilley, whose crew “shot and killed…fourteen men and one woman,” for the likelihood that “these natives will probably retaliate some day, by taking advantage of some vessel.”74 By contrast, Captain C. L. Hooper of the Revenue-Marine steamer Corwin proclaimed in his 1881 report that the Iñupiat of Kiŋigin, “the worst on the coast…were taught a severe lesson about two years ago by the Hawaiian brig, ‘Wm. H. Allen,’ commanded by a Kanaka half-breed named Gilly [sic].” Here, the mate apparently “shot the Indian dead” who “attempted to stab the captain,” while the rest were killed by “enraged Kanakas.”75 In spite of their differences, both emissaries of America’s rule in Alaska passively condemned the presence of the Hawaiian-registered William H. Allen, either through associating its parent nation with illicit behavior or its “half-breed” captain with an inability to restrain his savage crew.

In 1887, George Gilley was ostensibly able to set the public record straight, by way of a firsthand telling to itinerant journalist Herbert L. Aldrich. In the latter’s book Arctic Alaska and Siberia (1889), Gilley is presented—or presents himself—across four pages as level-headed and even-handed, each action as a measured reaction. For example, when the Kingikmiut “resorted to big knives and stabbed one sailor in the back,” Gilley stated, “I stood ready, and whenever I saw a native raise his knife I shot him.” Further, he attempted to “take survivors prisoner…for they had been punished enough,” and yet when they persisted Gilley “posted men above them, and when a native showed his head, he was clubbed and thrown overboard.” He justifies this saying, “these same men had looted Captain Jacobson’s schooner a week before, and tried to take Captain Raven’s brig. They had also endeavored to take possession of two other ships…No attempt to take a vessel has been made since.” In this arguably self-serving rationale, we may notice that Gilley shifts from calling the Kingikmiut “natives” and refers to them simply as “men.” Although Gilley no doubt carried his own learned prejudices, he still implied that all present were men, even men with a shared interest in autonomous trade—the entire exchange having begun with a friendly request for ammunition, and the big chief taking practice shots at “cakes of ice” before his men clamored for rum and turned violent, as Gilley/Aldrich explained.76

In 1890, the U.S. Bureau of Education’s first English-Eskimo and Eskimo-English Vocabularies included a biased rendition by ethnographer John W. Kelly, who described the Kingikmiut as “a band of hypocrites and shylocks…led by what they believed to be invincible unutkoots (seers).”77 Kelly claimed that these “Kinegans” had as their leader in 1877 “an unutkoot, whom the natives considered invulnerable, [when] they seized and boarded a Hawaiian brig, commanded by George Gilly [sic], a Bouin Islander [sic].” Kelly continued that Gilley “broke the power of the Kinegans” by proving “the unutkoots…to be but ordinary men.” Like Hooper, Kelly saw Gilley as a partially civilized enforcer of white hegemony. For Kelly, this equated to Gilley “striking the chief over the head” before “he shot him dead.”78 The pinnacle of Gilley’s racial manipulation came later still, in famed Arctic resident Charles Brower’s 1942 memoir Fifty Years Below Zero. Notably, Brower and Kelly were the very same Americans who first commodified Iñupiaq labor, respectively establishing commercial shore whaling stations at Utqiagvik in 1888 and Point Belcher in 1891.79 Coining the phrase “Gilley Affair” in his memoir, Brower placed first blood on the hands of the “hothead” Irish first mate, re-named Finnigan—beginning a racist trend. When provoked, Gilley’s “crew of Kanakas…went crazy…grabbed axes and spades and lit into the damned Eskimos,” wrote Brower, ostensibly quoting words Gilley told him in an 1886 encounter. Brower went so far as to state that Gilley “wasn’t the only white man to avoid Cape Prince of Wales in those days,” and quoted him saying, “No, sir, they don’t like whites much around Cape Prince of Wales.”80 In some eyes, this sentiment was corroborated by the seemingly retributory 1893 murder at Kiŋigin of an American missionary, Harrison R. Thornton, who himself suspected that some “Gilly [sic] conflict” survivors and kin might have “vowed vengeance on all white men.”81

It is worth exploring the possibility that Gilley deliberately passed, or primarily identified himself, as a white man. One of the first visitors to the Bonin Islands colony described the results of local “miscegenation” stating, “In the male children the white parentage is very distinct: light olive complexion, dark eyes and clear cut features.”82 Such white perceptions of Kānaka Maoli fit within Maile Arvin’s study of “the deep history of attributing (always approximate and partial) whiteness to the Polynesian race in Western scientific literature, popular culture, and law,” which engendered “a logic of possession through whiteness” among settlers.83 Born to a white father in the diverse Bonin Islands colony, Gilley may have been at least passively aware of such settler perspectives; indeed, he seems to have gained power from that knowledge. In the ruffian writings of Charles Brower, Gilley appears to contradict the discourse in which “Polynesians became the feminized, exotic, possessions of whiteness, gaining no secure power to possess whiteness or identify as white themselves.”84 Rather, Gilley may have exploited blind spots in white visions of the racial hybrids—hapa haole, ‘afakasi, half-breed, half-caste—that settlers socially constructed and legally enshrined throughout Oceania. As such, Gilley fits a different historical trend, outlined by Damon Salesa, in which Oceania’s “half-castes” challenged “assumptions that European society in the colonies was an obvious and discrete social and biological whole…and forced the boundary to be actively and visibly policed, so that the inequalities of colonialism might be maintained.”85

Floating, or passing, above that policing, Gilley “had the capacity to traverse categories, or be cast from one to another.”86 Much like the “half-caste” Aboriginal whaler Tommy Chaseland studied by Lynette Russell, Gilley’s skill and rank “gradually got him out of the category of nonwhite. Although he never fully becomes white he certainly is seen as not merely colored.”87 In a specifically Hawaiian context, Gilley echoed the “Hawaiian elites,” discussed by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, “who benefitted from the social positions of their white fathers [and] identified as hapa haole, which implied a degree of privilege and status, regardless of (or in addition to) their mothers’ genealogical status.”88 As Kanaka seaman Charles Kealoha made clear, Gilley cultivated a feeling of shared Hawaiian Indigeneity aboard his own moku. Conversely, in Brower’s company, Gilley appears to have allowed racist assumptions to stand unchecked. Through the resulting solidarity, the trusting Brower quoted Gilley in his popular book, from which we can infer many of Gilley’s movements as mate aboard the American steamship Grampus in 1886. Again, Gilley’s mobility and ‘ike (inherited and self-honed knowledge) allowed him to become the agent of his memory.

Unlike all the English-speaking reporters, J. Polapola was actually present on the deck when the Kingikmiut chief took Gilley by the throat, and therefore hoped to spread his firsthand version throughout the lāhui (nation, people), “from Hawaii to Niihau.” The moment Gilley was threatened, Polapola recalled, he hurled a heavy handspike at the chief’s brother, striking him in the neck. “Ke kaikaina alii a haule make aku la iluna o ka oneki,” Polapola wrote—the chief’s younger brother dropped dead onto the deck.89 But rather than calling the first mate to action, as the Chronicle averred, Gilley shouted just one thing in Polapola’s account: “Don’t kill him yet.” As echoed in Aldrich’s text, it seems Gilley had tried to cut short the violence by sparing the chief. And when Kanaka seaman Honuailealea was stabbed in retribution, it doesn’t appear that all the “Kanakas went crazy,” as Brower reported. At least two Kānaka, named Paia and Kahele, abstained from violence. But others in the fight, including Gilley, knew that Hawai‘i’s whaling fleet was down to just three ships and that theirs contained about $36,000 worth of cargo, according to Polapola.90 Losing it was unthinkable. Only after laying out this rationale did Polapola state, “The captain seized the chief by the neck, gave him a bullet in the face and threw him into the sea.”91

The vast majority of sources that we do have on Gilley limit their coverage of his life to his 1877 “affair.” The event has increasingly functioned as a ready-made anecdote in discussions of historical friction on the northern fringe of America’s empire, rather than in the center of the Kingikmiut world. Two recent histories—John Taliaferro’s In a Far Country (2006) and John R. Bockstoce’s Furs and Frontiers in the Far North (2009)—synthesize the aforementioned reports by white men to produce anecdotal renditions in which Gilley is implicitly different from his Kanaka crew.92 Even such recent and innovative scholarship as G. Samantha Rosenthal’s Beyond Hawai‘i (2018), which does include Polapola’s voice, merely mentions Gilley’s presence as captain amid its treatment of Kealoha’s agency as a laborer on his ship.93 No recent chroniclers have pursued anthropologist Dorothy Jean Ray’s 1975 assertion that “Eskimos in the 1960s had their own versions of what had happened almost a century before” on the ship of the “half-blood Hawaiian.”94 Taliaferro and Bockstoce do draw from several nineteenth-century accounts from the Iñupiaq side; yet Bockstoce, who deems Brower’s the best general record, adds that “it is regrettable that no contemporary account by an Eskimo has survived.”95 This lament is surprising, as a 2012 development plan by the town of Wales (Kiŋigin), Alaska, notes, “There are many versions of the [‘Gilley Affair’] that do not coincide with the local knowledge.”96

This observation, finally, directs us to a central tenet of Indigenous Studies: that all knowledge is both variable and local. In this light, the events that transpired within the locale of Gilley’s moku (ship) in 1877, among actors who variously embodied Kanaka, Iñupiaq, Euro-American, and Native Siberian epistemologies, would seem to preclude efforts toward an authoritative account, let alone one written down and in English. According to Iñupiaq anthropologist Aġiyġaq Herbert Anungazuk, in twenty-first-century Kiŋigin, “what remains from this incident is signed in the traditional manner…by placing bowhead whale mandibles upright on the tundra.” Where such bones usually signal a grave, here they “mark no remains of our losses on the William H. Allen, only the belongings of those who were lost,” Anungazuk explains. He knows this, he states, because it is what “we are told,” referencing the Iñupiaq oral tradition which, “however faint, differs from what has been told in print.”97 Meanwhile, the ongoing proliferation of English-language accounts remains largely tethered to a Euro-American worldview favoring static printed sources and racial certainties. As a result, Captain Gilley predominantly appears as a white or mostly white agent of settler colonialism, rather than the more elusive figure I have drawn out, a hesitantly violent and broadly opportunistic actor serving his own interests and those of his Native lāhui (nation, people).98

Although George Gilley and his crew inflicted much harm at Cape Prince of Wales in 1877, the whaler’s subsequent moves suggest a determination to maintain positive relations with Alaska’s Indigenous communities. Just seven months after returning to Honolulu, Gilley again steered the William H. Allen across the North Pacific, through the Bering Strait, and over to Alaska’s north coast where it, and the whaleship Florence, met their ends.99 As the leading Hawaiian-language weekly Ka Nupepa Kuokoa reported, “The pair [of ships] were stuck in the ice, and surrounded by it. The pair’s whales were procured, and if they are not troubled, then the child [keiki] Gilly [sic] shall return with all the goods of his ship.”100 The paper’s projection—echoing Charles Kealoha’s description of Gilley—was borne out, as the captain safely returned to Honolulu on the familiar Onward in November.101 Hawai‘i’s whaling fleet had dropped to two ships, including Gilley’s next charge, the Giovanni Apiani.102 But the Arctic he encountered in 1879 had changed. He reported to the Advertiser that he found no whales, but a population “starving for want of blubber,” such that he “killed two schooner loads of walruses and carried them along the settlements and gave to the natives.”103 As Gilley’s actions made plain, contrary to stateside “Gilley Affair” spin, he had no interest in exterminating the trading partners that sustained him and provided his lāhui (nation, people) a foothold in the whaling industry. He gave away his entire haul. On October 27, he returned to Honolulu with just twelve hundred pounds of tobacco, five barrels of rum, and other trade goods.104

Following the sale of the Giovanni Apiani in 1880, which led to Gilley helming Hawai‘i’s last Arctic-bound whaler, the Julia A. Long, the seasoned captain transitioned into American maritime positions never before occupied by Kānaka Maoli.105 But before moving beyond the Kingdom’s economy, he demonstrated his mastery of whaling technology to his lāhui. In the 1880 season, Gilley cruised the reliably stormy waters around the central Bering Sea’s St. Lawrence Island, caught half a dozen bowheads, and performed a routine rescue when Captain Benjamin Dexter ran aground in the Loleta.106 Gilley even had an encounter with ichthyologist Tarleton H. Bean, curator of fishes for the U.S. National Museum, and impressed him with his knowledge of walrus-hunting hotspots.107 In spite of the strong haul, Hawai‘i’s local whaling industry folded after Gilley returned to port on October 10, 1880. Listed at that time in the local directory as a “master mariner” living at Pauoa, O‘ahu, Kāpena Gilley was a well-known figure when King Kalākaua’s birthday yacht race took place that November; yet popularity and one-off race prizes could not sustain him.108 From 1882 to 1885, he was listed (ultimately in records as distant as Massachusetts) as captain of the American whaling bark Eliza, which was based in San Francisco but often visited Honolulu.109 In 1883, Gilley became a naturalized U.S. citizen, a necessary legal process to maintain his status as captain. As of 1864, the United States required “that officers of vessels of the United States shall in all cases be citizens of the United States.”110 Gilley’s naturalization form listed his “country of birth or allegiance” not as Hawai‘i, but Japan—a reflection of his mother’s migration to, and participation in signing over, the Bonin Islands.111 In 1886, George Gilley accepted a downgraded station to become first mate on the modern steam-powered San Francisco-based whaler Grampus.112 That season, in which he met Charles Brower, marked the start of his employment with the Pacific Steam Whaling Company (PSWC). In 1887, he had his Arctic encounter with Herbert Aldrich, who also photographed him, standing on the decks of what could be the Grampus, foregrounding two other men, possibly Iñupiaq or Siberian Yupik (fig. 1).113

Figure 1.

George Gilley in the Arctic, at roughly fifty years old. Source: Herbert Aldrich, Portrait of Captain George Gilley on the deck of a ship, 1887, Item Nbr 00.200.419.4. Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum,

Figure 1.

George Gilley in the Arctic, at roughly fifty years old. Source: Herbert Aldrich, Portrait of Captain George Gilley on the deck of a ship, 1887, Item Nbr 00.200.419.4. Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum,

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This record of Gilley’s movements in the 1880s is misleadingly straightforward. It does not align with Gilley family documents, which suggest that Gilley returned to the Bonin/Ogasawara Islands around this time, and married Esther Thurlow Washington (1862∼1925), a daughter of Nathaniel Savory and CHamoru (Native people of Guåhan/Guam) woman Maria de los Santos y Castro. According to this mo‘olelo, Esther entered a union with George Gilley around 1882, shortly after her husband George Augustine Washington died. Gilley then became stepfather to Esther’s three sons—Rufus (1877–1964), Henry (1879–1903), and Charles (1881–1972) Washington—before fathering two sons of his own, Grover (1885–1957) and Norman Gilley (1886–1945).114 At least three Gilley family trees produced in the twentieth century, including one by Grover Gilley himself, corroborate this genealogy, connecting British seaman William Penn Gilley to George Gilley and then to Grover and Norman Gilley.115 Further supporting this lineage is a photograph, possessed at present by Grover’s granddaughter, of a man identified by family as George Gilley standing beside Esther and a young Grover, whose height indicates a date around 1895 (fig. 2).

Figure 2.

This photo of George [B.?], Grover, and Esther Gilley, taken around 1895, remains in possession of Grover’s granddaughter. Source: Gilley family descendants.

Figure 2.

This photo of George [B.?], Grover, and Esther Gilley, taken around 1895, remains in possession of Grover’s granddaughter. Source: Gilley family descendants.

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As with the early phases of Gilley’s mo‘olelo, sources on his later years produce a narrative of mobility that transcends the linear timeline constructed by whaling’s colonial archives. Although it is possible that Captain Gilley traversed the Pacific in the Eliza, stopped over at the Ogasawaras to create this family, and later posed for this photograph, it is also possible that Norman and Grover were actually the sons of the captain’s little-known nephew, George B. Gilley. In a 1971 interview with anthropologist Mary Shepardson, Norman and Grover’s stepbrother Charles Washington differentiated his stepfather “George Gilley”—a man who hunted seals off the coasts of Japan and Korea before drowning (with Henry Washington) in a 1903 storm—from an “Old Man Gilley” whom he had heard about while whaling in the North Pacific. “Of course, he was the captain of a whale ship,” Charles stated of the latter, adding that at one point, “Eskimos…were going to take the ship. See? So he shot all what he could with his gun.”116 As for the family photograph, the mustached man beside young Grover, though clearly a Gilley, does not outwardly appear to be two decades older than Esther, as Captain Gilley would have been. While we might deduce from these details that repeated names, similar careers, island departures, and early deaths likely produced some genealogical foreshortening, Kanaka epistemology does not require that we do so. No one version must be “true,” in the Euro-American empirical sense, when engaging the practices of mo‘olelo or mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogy).117 When read within these expansive Kanaka Maoli ways of knowing, Grover Gilleys’s signed 1950 statement that his mo‘okū‘auhau “is a true testimony” warrants at least as much credence as Charles Washington’s spoken claims that, “It was like this,” and “That’s the way it happened.”118

Newspapers from early 1890s contain brief mentions of Captain Gilley that, in addition to introducing an entirely different marriage scenario and further traces of racial discrimination, indicate his continued determination to work—and specifically to work with other Native Hawaiians. Following a summer hunt off Alaska, during which he met the reindeer-herding missionary W.T. Lopp, Gilley, then first mate of the PSWC steam-whaler Thrasher, developed scales on his legs, and was “taken into custody…on suspicion of being a leper.”119 According to Gilley’s San Francisco-based crew, “his wife, who was formerly a resident of this city, but who now lives at Yokohama, is also a leper.”120 Although a California health officer soon dismissed Gilley with “a severe case of eczema,” one has to wonder whether his ethnicity and associations with Asia and Hawai‘i, famous for its leprosy colony, played into the false assumption that he was “also a leper.”121 Despite potentially racialized stigmas, Gilley continued to visit Hawai‘i, with the hope of luring other Kānaka Maoli to continue whaling. As an article in the Hawaiian-language paper Ka Leo o Ka Lahui reported on March 23, 1891, “Here within Honolulu is Captain George Gilley [Kapena Keoki Kele] with his whaling ship, to procure some kanaka Hawaii, it will likely not be approved, that is what we have heard.122 It is not clear on what ship, or in what capacity, Gilley made this visit, but the record reveals that he retained clout as captain even as he continued to fill lower ranks in the PSWC and possibly faced discrimination in the United States.

At the end of the nineteenth century, George Gilley was recognized for his career’s remarkable longevity, which attested to his unprecedented mobility among diverse racial and national communities. In November 1897, the San Francisco Call ran a feature story on Gilley, then boatsteerer for the Thrasher, complete with an illustrated portrait of him, smartly groomed in a three-piece suit, indicative of his financial success (fig. 3).123 The headline was familiar: “Captain George Gilly: Forty Years an Arctic Whale-Hunter, Who Has Killed a Few Esquimaux.” Besides a rehashed telling of the 1877 incident, the article claimed that Gilley “has gone to the Arctic Ocean every year for forty years past.”124 If true, that placed him in the Arctic even before Brummerhoff’s fatal mishap in 1862. Those years apparently gave Gilley deep insights into, and perhaps feelings of kinship among, the Bering Sea’s Indigenous communities. As the article noted, “He speaks and understands their language,” probably in reference to an Indigenous language of Siberia, where Gilley hired seasonal crewmembers.

Figure 3.

A prosperous George Gilley appeared in a newspaper feature story in San Francisco. Source: San Francisco Call, November 11, 1897.

Figure 3.

A prosperous George Gilley appeared in a newspaper feature story in San Francisco. Source: San Francisco Call, November 11, 1897.

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In 1898, Gilley left the PSWC and joined the Andrew Hicks, becoming first mate to Captain William T. “Black Ahab” Shorey, the only Black whaling captain in the Pacific.125 That spring, the two sailed for the Japanese whaling grounds from San Francisco, stopping for provisions in the Republic of Hawai‘i, the short-lived nation led by anti-monarchy insurgents who were preparing to hand the islands to the United States. While in Hawaiian waters, any chance or need for Gilley to pass as white vanished; the same went for Captain Shorey’s ship. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, then owned by lead annexationist Lorrin Thurston, hailed the return of “Geo. Gillie [sic], a half-caste of this Island,” along with the crew’s other Hawaiians, who were deemed “very much in demand in the whaling business.” As that business confronted increasing competition and scarcity, Shorey needed reliable Kanaka labor. “Hawaiians are fearless on the water,” he told a reporter during the visit. He continued that “[t]hey will chase a whale when they know they are in the greatest danger and think it is the greatest fun…I do not know of any people who are better suited for our business” since “[t]hey are absolutely fearless.”126 Perhaps whaling was “the greatest fun” for Gilley; or perhaps he relished having sovereign power over his moku (ship), and with it his race-transcending status, autonomous mobility, and economic stability. For even after finding such comradery with Shorey, and returning to the soon-to-be “American” city of Honolulu, he sought the Bering Sea one last time.

In 1900, just before Gilley left San Francisco, a U.S. census taker attempted to record his biographical details. The mariner was subsequently listed as a naturalized, literate, married (in 1875), English-speaking “sailor (captain)” born in 1840, with an unlikely immigration date of 1860, and a white racial identity.127 While Gilley himself may not have known exact dates, and may have self-identified as white, in the latter case he had little choice. For “color or race,” canvassers were instructed only to “write ‘W’ for white; ‘B’ for black (negro or of negro descent); ‘Ch’ for Chinese; ‘Jp’ for Japanese, and ‘In’ for Indian, as the case may be,” with no mixed racial option available.128 Gilley’s place of birth and the names of his parents were recorded as “Unknown.”

Despite the many unknowns about his life, it is clear that Gilley leveraged his knowledge and experiences, his mo‘olelo, to maintain personal sovereignty through the end of his days. Voyaging northward to Nome via the bark Alaska in the spring of 1900, as a goldrush was transforming the coastal town, Gilley quickly secured a position as a ship captain and started trading around the Bering Sea.129 In early August, he sailed the schooner Edith over to the Siberian coast and anchored near the shore. A week of trading there went peacefully, until one night, when mysterious gunshots rang out from the beach. Moments later first mate F. Scott Morrison cried from his cabin, “I’ve been shot.” Gilley immediately heaved anchor and sailed through the night for Alaska as Morrison, bleeding out from his groin, brought death upon the ship. The next morning—August 18, 1900—as the schooner approached Sledge Island, about 20 miles offshore, Gilley sat on the ship’s rail and took in a final view of the rocky coast. When the wind suddenly shifted, swinging the boom, Gilley was knocked into the Bering Sea. His remaining crew, Edward Foregren and “an Indian named Sam,” raced astern as the ship cruised onward, only to watch Gilley drown. Evidently loyal and respectful to their captain, the men toiled like whalers to hoist Gilley’s body from the water and then took him on to Nome.130

A few days after Gilley drowned, a small newspaper in Oregon recorded the loss of a 60-year-old “native of the Island of Borneo,” “whose good or bad fortune it was to have killed five Northern Indians some years ago.”131 Later in the same article, that number is raised to ten. A few papers in western states ran similarly misleading accounts. The Salt Lake Herald printed the headline, “Siberian Natives Kill an American Aboard a Ship,” in reference to the Chicago-born first mate Morrison, and only mentioned in passing the death of the other American, Gilley, whom it called “a noted Alaskan explorer.”132 Gilley’s death was not evidently reported in Hawai‘i. In 1975, Dorothy Jean Ray made the only latter-day mention of Gilley’s drowning, in a footnote.133

In light of the intimate Kanaka ‘Ōiwi tradition of caring for ancestors’ iwi (bones), it is fitting that our only indication of Gilley’s final resting place comes through family sources, which also convey the continuation of mo‘okū‘auhau ‘ike (genealogies of knowledge).134 Recalling his own whaling experiences, Charles Washington reported hearing a captain at Unalaska (Dutch Harbor) state, “Captain Gilley is here. They brought him from Cape Nome, and brought him up here and buried him. His tombstone is here.” In Washington’s version, Gilley’s fate intertwined with Morrison’s and the Kiŋigin Iñupiat killed in 1877. “He fooled around again and he went there and some of the old descendants was laying for him,” Washington told Shepardson in 1971 adding, “from the shore they shot him and he fell overboard, see?”135 As should be clear by now, many diverging and converging truths texture the long wake leading to the Gilley name today, which still roves—as “Gilley” and “Gērē,” and within the Nozawa, Minami, and other related families—in the Ogasawaras, Guåhan, and across Turtle Island.136 In recent years, one Gilley descendant on Chichijima, named George Minami (1960–2020), operated a fishing and whale-watching boat, the Little George.137 Through such shared ‘oihana (skilled professions), mo‘okū‘auhau ‘ike (genealogies of knowledge) have continued to connect these Pacific Islanders across the depths of Oceanic space and time.

Unlike Kānaka whose revolutionary lives and writings are readily reassembled from the pages of Hawaiian-language newspapers, Gilley’s rough career largely comes through a few English sources that painted an often incorrect, biased, or confusing portrait of the captain. I have implicitly vouched for these varied reports, and other problematic sources, in telling this mo‘olelo. To ignore them would render Gilley’s life virtually erased. Speaking to this common dilemma for Pacific historians, David Hanlon recently characterized “the colonial archive as at once indispensable but also inadequate to the study of subjugated or subaltern people,” as they tell but “partial colonial histories.”138 This prompts the questions: was Gilley subaltern, and if so, can he speak through these “inadequate” sources?

As shown in this article, Gilley can and does speak volumes. His actions gave meaning to his life at work in a colonial industry and allowed his mo‘olelo to infiltrate lasting settler documents. This takeaway emerges by viewing Gilley’s maritime prowess as the natural manifestation of his mo‘okū‘auhau ‘ike in Pacific voyaging, and his mobility as an exploitation of settler colonialism’s contingencies. To that end, I have argued that Gilley and by extension other historic Kānaka Maoli—literate or not—warrant biographical recognition for their daily, active deployment of inherited ‘ike (knowledge) within and against settler structures. Indeed, my rendition of Gilley’s life-in-work builds on historian Fred Cooper’s critique of studies that play into notions of an all-oppressing colonial modernity by reducing “the conflicting strategies of colonization to a modernity perhaps never experienced by those being colonized” and ignoring the way people like Gilley were able to “build lives in the crevices of colonial power.”139

Effectively a (de)colonial hybrid, Gilley participated in the expansion of American power through his commercial maritime actions yet simultaneously undermined the empire’s racial order as an immutably Native Hawaiian whaler shifting in and out of his relatively contingent whiteness. His unprecedented rise through whaling’s hierarchies to novel forms of sovereignty and success would seem to render those floating diasporas closer, at times, to mobile Native Hawaiian colonies. Presiding over these “crevices” of Indigenous hegemony, he assumed control of the capitalist base of each foreign-built moku he captained. This process further transcended Euro-American national structures as these moku repeatedly delivered Gilley to the comfortably porous “borderlands” of imperial and Indigenous power, which he himself embodied. Ultimately, following Gilley’s mo‘olelo requires a steady mental mobilization away from contingent settler structures, from text to race to nation, that constitute the archives in which his many lives take shape.

This article grew out of a 2019 story by the author originally published in Flux Hawai‘i magazine.140 The author thanks the editors at Flux Hawaii, as well as Gwen Hall Detweiler and Cendy Nozawa for their trust with Gilley family documents.


“Sports of the Day,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (hereafter PCA), November 20, 1880, 3. Unless otherwise noted, all cited newspaper articles were retrieved through Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,


“Pacific Commercial Advertiser,” PCA, November 20, 1880, 2.


“The King’s Birthday,” Saturday Press, November 20, 1880, 3.


I refer to the Indigenous people of Hawai‘i interchangeably as Native Hawaiian, Kanaka Maoli (“real people”), Kanaka ‘Ōiwi (“Native people”), and Kanaka (“man”), with the initial “a” accented (Kānaka) when plural.


“Newspapers published in English in Hawai‘i, 1862–1923: Saturday Press,” University of Hawai‘i eVols website, accessed December 6, 2021,


Thomas G. Thrum, “Honolulu’s Share in the Pacific Whaling Industry of By-Gone Days,” Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1913 (Honolulu: Thos. G. Thrum, 1912), 68.


Achieving captaincy between 1875 and 1885 likely did not exempt George Gilley from performing labor. For example, between 1886 and 1899, he downgraded to boat-steerer, which required harpooning skills that he had apparently maintained.


This would start as early as Sheldon Dibble’s A History of the Sandwich Isles (1839) and arguably extend through Ralph S. Kuykendall’s Hawaiian Kingdom trilogy (1938, 1953, 1967).


A classic example is David Stannard, Before the Horror: The Population of Hawaii on the Eve of Western Contact (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1989).


Major examples include, Marie Alohalani Brown, Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ‘Ī‘ī (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016); and Noenoe Silva, The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017).


“Salvage work” in that it counters the silencing “discourse of sufficiency” outlined in M. Puakea Nogelmeier, Mai Pa‘a I Ka Leo: Historical Voices in Hawaiian Primary Materials, Looking Forward and Listening Back (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 2010), 1; on mo‘okū‘auhau as resistance, see Silva, The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen, 4.


David A. Chang, “Transcending Settler Colonial Boundaries with Mo‘okū‘auhau,” in The Past Before Us: Mo‘okū‘auhau as Methodology, ed. Nālani Wilson-Hokowhitu (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2019), 102.


On mo‘okū‘auhau ‘ike, see Brown, Facing the Spears, 27.


A significant but rare example of Hawaiian labor history with a biographical thrust is Gregory Rosenthal’s Beyond Hawai‘i: Native Labor in the Pacific World (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018); on Hawaiians as a “key contributing group,” see Naomi Alisa Calnitsky, “On the ‘Margins’ of Empire? Toward a History of Hawaiian Labour and Settlement in the Pacific Northwest,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 124, no. 4 (December 2017): 436.


Lynette Russell, Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Oceans, 1790–1870 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012), 7, 13.


To be clear, my foregrounding of Indigenous resilience is meant to better comprehend the limits of settler colonialism, not to dismiss its ever-pervasive violence. On biography as a conduit to Native agency, see Richard Scaglion and Marie Norman, “Where Resistance Falls Short: Rethinking Agency through Biography,” in Identity Work: Constructing Pacific Lives, ed. Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, ASAO Monograph Series (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000), 122.


Brandy Nālani McDougall, Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 4.


By and large, I use Hawaiian terms when Gilley’s mo‘olelo enters a predominantly Hawaiian social context. Even as I try to center Native Hawaiian ideas, I acknowledge that as an O‘ahu-born haole (white person), my construction of Gilley’s mo‘olelo is shot through with privileges and historiographical traditions tied to ongoing settler colonialism in the Pacific. On non-Indigenous biographers embracing connections to Native subjects/communities as “a practice that aligns with Indigenous approaches,” see Shino Konishi, “Making Connections and Attachments: Writing the Lives of Two Nineteenth-Century Aboriginal Men,” Biography 39, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 411–12.


See Michael Frisch, A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).


This proverb diverges from the more commonly cited one, “I ka ‘ōlelo nō ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make”—in the language is life, in the language is death—often applied to those who built up the vital Hawaiian-language archive. For example, see ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui, “I ka ‘Ōlelo ke Ola, in Words Is Life: Imagining the Future of Indigenous Literatures,” in The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, ed. James H. Cox and Daniel Heath Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 675–82.


David Chapman, The Bonin Islanders, 1830 to the Present: Narrating Japanese Nationality (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016), 27. Only one Hawaiian (or possibly Tahitian), Harry Otaheite, is named among party leaders, plus ten kāne, five wāhine, and two Kanaka deserters from Dowsett’s crew, in Michael Quin, “Notes on the Bonin Islands [1837],” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 26 (1856): 232–33.


Michael Quin, in “Notes on the Bonin Islands,” states they “bound themselves to labour,” 234; and William Ruschenberger describes Hawaiians who served whites “as servants and wives,” in William Ruschenberger, A Voyage Round the World: Including an Embassy to Muscat and Siam in 1835, 1836, 1837 (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, 1838), 439.


On wāhine arrivals, see Lionel Cholmondeley, The History of the Bonin Islands: From the Year 1827 to the Year 1876 and of Nathaniel Savory, One of the Original Settlers (London: Constable & Co., Ltd., 1915), v, 40. On William Penn Gilley, see Quin’s extended “Remarks on Peel Island, Bonin Groupe,” in British and Foreign State Papers, 1836–1837, Vol. XXV, ed. [British] Foreign Office (London: James Ridgway and Sons, Piccadilly, 1853), 550.


Chapman, Bonin Islanders, 27; Armine F. King, “Gilley Fanny,” Bonin Islands Settlers and their Descendants (unpublished, 1898), in Philip Van Buskirk Collection, alphabetized but unpaginated MSS, Box 6, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle.


The holokū was an earlier Hawaiian adaptation of New England missionary women’s Mother Hubbard dresses. Hanae Kramer and Scott Kramer, “The Other Islands of Aloha,” The Hawaiian Journal of History 47 (2013): 12–15.


Fanny Gilley “died about 1883, aged about 65,” making her twelve years old on arrival in 1830, according to King, “Gilley Fanny,” Bonin Islands Settlers (1898). George Gilley is listed among the islands’ six children in 1837, in Quin, “Remarks on Peel Island,” 553. Sources denoting the 1840 birth year are the 1900 U.S. Census (see n127), and “Murdered By Siberians,” The Hood River Glacier, September 7, 1900, 1.


Chapman, Bonin Islanders, 31.


Collinson, quoted in Cholmondeley, History, 25–26.


Lisa Kahaleole Hall, “All Our Relations: Mo‘okū‘auhau and Mo‘olelo,” in The Past Before Us, ed. Wilson-Hokowhitu, 116.


Only William Jr. is marked in 1851 headcount, in R. C. Collinson, “The Bonin Islands in 1851,” Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle (London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., 1852), 136. On California destination, see King, “Gilley, William Penn,” Bonin Island Settlers (1898).


Quin, “Remarks on Peel Island,” 553; Kramer and Kramer, “Other Islands of Aloha,” 6.


Hōkūlani Aikau and Donna Kameha‘ikū Camvel, “Cultural Traditions and Food: Kānaka Maoli and the Production of Poi in the He‘e‘ia Wetland,” Food, Culture, & Society 19, no. 3 (September 2016): 543–45.


Crops in Ruschenberger, Voyage, 445; and Quin, “Notes on the Bonin Islands,” 234.


Letter by James Abraham asks, for a Michael Gilley, that Savory “oversee the affairs of the [Gilley] Farm” in 1855, in Cholmondeley, History, 109.


Daniel Long and Peter Trudgill, “The Last Yankee in the Pacific: Eastern New England Phonology in the Bonin Islands,” American Speech 79, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 359.


Kramer and Kramer, “Other Islands of Aloha,” 21–22.


Ruschenberger, Voyage, 442.


Hanae Kramer and Scott Kramer, “Hawaiian Outrigger Canoes of the Bonin Archipelago,” Hawaiian Journal of History 49 (2015): 180.


Geoff Irwin, “Against, Across and Down the Wind: A case for the Systematic Exploration of the Remote Pacific islands,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 98, no. 2 (1998): 168–69.


From “Mr. Edwards’” account in Elijah Coleman Bridgman, The Chinese Repository: Volume 3 (Canton: Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1835), 514–15.


David A. Chang, The World and All the Things upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 26–27.


Susan Lebo, “A Local Perspective of Hawaii’s Whaling Economy: Whale Traditions and Government Regulation of the Kingdom’s Native Seamen and Whale Fishery,” Coriolis: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies 1, no. 1 (2010): 4.


Cholmondeley, History, 110.


“Article 1—Aliens, Denizens, and Natives,” Section III, Statute Laws of His Majesty Kamehameha III, King of the Hawaiian Islands, Vol. 1 (Honolulu: Government Press, 1846), 76.


Herman Brummerhoff’s surname is elsewhere spelled Brummerhop, Brummerhoop, and Brumrow. “A Whaleship’s Escape,” The Chicago Daily Tribune [San Francisco Chronicle correspondence], November 30, 1877, 7. The Native trader is identified as Chukchi in Harry de Windt, Through the Gold-Fields of Alaska to Bering Straits (London: Chatto and Windus, 1898), 259.


Bernard Cogan’s version of events found in Herbert L. Aldrich, Arctic Alaska and Siberia (New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1889), 229–32.


On Capatchou and season haul, see “Memoranda,” PCA, October 29, 1863, 1; six hundred barrels is roughly six whale kills, deduced from a rate of 100 barrels per bowhead, in Ken Ross, Pioneering Conservation in Alaska (Louisville: University Press of Colorado, 2006), 63.


Following the translation in Samuel Elbert and Noelani Mahoe, Na Mele ‘o Hawai‘i Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1982), 33–34.


Sources diverge on the Pacific origins of Tineree, of whom Charles Washington stated, “she’s supposed to be George Gilley’s mother…A Kanaka woman;” see n116, Thomas Webb’s 1875 headcount records a “Tineree” from Abaiang (Kiribati), and George [B.] Gilley, reprinted in David Chapman, “Britain and the Bonins: Discovery, Recovery and Reclamation,” Japan Forum 29, no. 2 (2017): 169; “Geo. B. Gilley” is named among outgoing seal-hunters from Chichijima, in Philip Van Buskirk’s diary entry for February 26, 1898, in Philip Van Buskirk Collection, Box 5, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle.


Cholmondeley, History, 141.


Russell Robertson, “The Bonin Islands” (1876), Transaction of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol. IV, from 20th October 1875, to 12th July, 1876 (Tokyo: Hakubunsha, 1888), 122.


“Notes of the Week: For a Cruise,” The Hawaiian Gazette, February 14, 1872, 3.


Susan Lebo believes this was George Gilley; see Lebo, “A Hawaiian Perspective on Whaling in the North Pacific,” Anthropological Studies of Whaling, ed. Nobuhiro Kishigami, Hisashi Hamaguchi, and James M. Savelle, Senri Ethnological Studies, no. 84 (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2013), 70; “Notes of the Week: Bay Whaling,” PCA, February 24, 1872, 3; “Notes of the Week: Shark Fishing,” PCA, February 10, 1872, 3.


Other Kanaka seamen, like Sam Mana, did captain ships out of Honolulu, yet none are known to have led whaling expeditions. On Gilley’s captain status, and list of ship owners, see Thomas G. Thrum, Hawaiian Almanac (1912), 61–68.


Chapman, Bonin Islanders, 82.


Gilley would eventually claim Japan as his place of birth in the 1900 U.S. Census, discussed below.


“Arrived,” The Hawaiian Gazette, May 5, 1875, 3.


“Notes of the Week: Bay Whaling,” PCA, February 24, 1872, 3.


“Commercial,” PCA, November 6, 1875, 2; Anjuli Grantham, “Kodiak’s Whaling History,” Baranov Museum (blog), March 19, 2012,


This possibility is deduced from the claim that “[Gilley] has gone to the Arctic Ocean every year for forty years past,” in “Captain George Gilly,” The San Francisco Call, November 11, 1897, 8, retrieved via California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, On the 1871 disaster, see “In Search of the Lost Whaling Fleets,” U.S. NOAA Sanctuaries website, accessed May 3, 2020,


“Twelve Ships Lost at Sea,” The New York Times, October 22, 1876, retrieved via The New York Times TimesMachine,


“Brief Mention: A Hawaiian Whaler,” PCA, December 16, 1876, 3.


Discovery of “two live and two dead Kanakas” one year after 1876 disaster reported in “Letters,” Whaleman’s Shipping List [New Bedford], October 9, 1877, 2, retrieved via National Maritime Digital Library,


Charles Edward Kealoha, “He Moolelo Walohia,” Ka Lahui Hawaii, November 15, 1877, 3, retrieved via Papakilo Database, State of Hawai‘i Office of Hawaiian Affairs,


Susan Lebo, “Native Hawaiian Seamen’s Accounts of the 1876 Arctic Whaling Disaster and the 1877 Massacre of Alaskan Natives from Cape Prince of Wales,” Hawaiian Journal of History 40 (2006): 104.


“Affair” was an established settler euphemism. For example, regarding the Camp Grant Massacre of 1871, Karl Jacoby links white pioneers’ “exculpatory narrative of the ‘Camp Grant Affair’” with “a similar pattern [that] played itself out across the American West in the nineteenth century.” Karl Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History (New York: Penguin, 2008), 276.


Examples of contemporary place-named incidents in the West include the Sand Creek Massacre (Colorado, 1864) and Bear River Massacre (Idaho, 1863); those with victim-based names include the Whitman Massacre (Washington, 1843) and the Meeker Massacre (Colorado, 1879), among many others.


ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui, “E Ho‘i ka Piko (Returning to the Center): Theorizing Mo‘okū‘auhau as Methodology in an Indigenous Literary Context,” in The Past Before Us, ed. Wilson-Hokowhitu, 53.


Nancy Shoemaker, Native American Whalemen and the World: Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 5.


“Memoranda: Report of Haw Wh Brig W H Allen, G Gilley, Master,” PCA, October 27, 1877, 2.


“Memoranda: Report of Haw Trading Schn Giovanni Apiani, Benj Whitney, Master,” The Friend, September 1, 1877, 77, retrieved via The Hawaiian Mission Houses Digital Collection,


That season, Gilley reported hiring “Siberian Natives” at East Cape, or modern Cape Dezhnev, Russia, which is ancestral land of the Yupik and Chukchi; see Aldrich, Arctic, 146.


Reprinted as “A Whaleship’s Escape,” in The New York Times, November 26, 1877, 2; and The Chicago Daily Tribune, November 30, 1877, 7.


George W. Bailey, Report upon Alaska and Its People (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880), 20.


C. L. Hooper, Report of the Cruise of the U.S. Revenue-steamer Corwin in the Arctic Ocean (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1881), 20.


Aldrich, Arctic, 145–46, 143.


John W. Kelly, “Memoranda Concerning the Arctic Eskimos in Alaska and Siberia,” English-Eskimo and Eskimo-English Vocabularies, ed. Roger Wells and John W. Kelly, U.S. Bureau of Education, Circular of Information 165, no. 2 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), 11.


Kelly, “Arctic Eskimos,” 12–13.


Mark S. Cassell, “Iñupiat Labor and Commercial Shore Whaling in Northern Alaska,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Summer 2000): 115.


Charles Brower, Fifty Years Below Zero: A Lifetime of Adventure in the Far North (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc., 1942), 77–79.


Kathleen Lopp Smith, Ice Window: Letters from a Bering Strait Village, 18921902 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2001), 13 (n14); Harrison R. Thornton, Among the Eskimos of Wales, Alaska, 189093 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1931), 57.


Robertson, “Bonin Islands,” 132.


Maile Arvin, Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai‘i and Oceania (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 13–14.




Toeolesulusulu D. Salesa, “Half-Castes between the Wars: Colonial Categories in New Zealand and Samoa,” New Zealand Journal of History 34, no. 1 (2000): 98, 116.


Salesa, “Half-Castes,” 98.


Russell, Mariners, 54.


J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 56–57.


J. Polapola, “He kaua weliweli ma Alika maluna o ka moku Alepani,” Ka Lahui Hawaii, November 1, 1877, retrieved via Papakilo Database, State of Hawai‘i Office of Hawaiian Affairs,


Number refers to Hawaiian-registered ships, from Thrum, Hawaiian Annual (1912), 68.


Polapola’s article, translated by M. Puakea Nogelmeier and Bryan Kuwada, printed in Lebo, “Seamen’s Accounts,” 122–26.


John Taliaferro, In a Far Country (New York: PublicAffairs, 2006), 21–38; John Bockstoce, Furs and Frontiers in the Far North (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 312–14.


Rosenthal, Beyond Hawai‘i, 101.


For myself, this worthy endeavor currently exceeds my travel abilities and the necessarily limited scope of this essay. Dorothy Jean Ray, The Eskimos of the Bering Strait, 16501898 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975), 191.


Bockstoce, Furs, 404 (n45).


Pearl Mikulski, Wales Local Economic Development Plan 20112016 (Nome: Kawerak Inc., 2012), 25.


The oral tradition also records specific victims, such as Kingikmiut artist Ootenna’s father; see Herbert O. Anungazuk, “Ootenna,” in Eskimo Drawings, ed. Suzi Jones (Anchorage: Anchorage Museum of History and Art, 2003), 82.


In 2022, even the Columbia University Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race’s website describes the “Gilley Affair” as “an incident which saw thirteen Kingikmiut killed by white men,” in Christopher Green, “Messages across Time and Space: Inupiat Drawings from the 1890s at Columbia University,” A Digital Companion to an Exhibition at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, September-November 2015, Columbia University EdBlogs, accessed July 5, 2022,


“Departures,” PCA, May 11, 1878, 2.


“Nu Hou Kuloko,” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, October 5, 1878, 3, retrieved via Papakilo Database, State of Hawai‘i Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Mahalo to Daniel Kauwila Mahi for this translation, via email to author, May 29, 2020.


“Memoranda,” PCA, October 5, 1878, 2.


Thrum, Hawaiian Almanac (1912), 68.


“Sandwich Islands,” The Daily Intelligencer [Seattle], December 9, 1879, 2; Thrum, Hawaiian Almanac (1912), 62.


“Imports,” PCA, November 1, 1879, 2.


“Preliminary Notice of Sale,” The Hawaiian Gazette, September 22, 1880, 3; Thrum, Hawaiian Almanac (1912), 62.


“Return of the U.S. Cutter Thomas Corwin,” PCA, November 13, 1880.


Tarleton H. Bean, “A Naturalist’s Adventures,” in The White World, ed. Rudolph Kersting (New York: Lewis Scribner & Co., 1902), 265.


Listed in The Hawaiian Kingdom Statistical & Commercial Directory and Tourists’ Guide, 18801881 (Honolulu: George Bowser & Co., 1880), 70.


Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration of Massachusetts, Whaling Masters [American Guide Series] (New Bedford: Reynolds Printing, 1938), 141; “Shipping Notes,” PCA, January 5, 1884, 3; “Marine Journal,” The Friend, February 1, 1883, 13, retrieved via The Hawaiian Mission Houses Digital Collection,


U.S. Congress, House, An Act repealing certain Provisions of Law concerning Seamen on board public and private Vessels of the United States, Act of 1864, HR 519, 38th Congress, 1st Session,


“California, Northern U.S. District Court Naturalization Index, 1852–1989,” FamilySearch image database, George Gilley, 1883.


Brower, Fifty Years, 77.


“Aldrich Collection,” New Bedford Whaling Museum website, accessed May 3, 2020,


Long, “The Last Yankee,” 365; Chapman, The Bonin Islanders, 125, 142. Manifest from the Alice Knowles lists Norman at age seventeen in 1903, in “California, San Francisco Passenger Lists, 1893–1953,” citing San Francisco, California, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1410 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), via FamilySearch image database.


For example: Grover Gilley, “A genealogy of my ancestors,” in the private collection of Gwen Hall Detweiler; and LCDR Dale W. Johnson, Gilley family tree, “From stories and recollections of descendants on Chi Chi Jima,” via Gwen Hall Detweiler, email to author, June 3, 2020.


Quoted in Daniel Long, “Insights into the Vanishing Language and Culture of the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands: Mr. Charles Washington’s 1971 Interviews,” in Endangered Dialects of Japan, ed. Shinji Sanada (Kyoto: Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim publications series, 2001), 26–27.


Hall, “All Our Relations,” 116.


Quoted in Long, “Insights into the Vanishing Language,” 14, 27.


On Lopp encounter, see Thornton, Among the Eskimos, 38.


This woman is never named, but Gilley did list being married in 1875 in the 1900 U.S. census. “Developments in Leprosy [reprint],” PCA, December 23, 1890, 2.


“Not as Bad as Feared,” The Morning Call [San Francisco], December 10, 1890, 2. On the association of Asians with leprosy in San Francisco and Hawai‘i, see Joan B. Trauner, “The Chinese as Medical Scapegoats in San Francisco, 1870–1905,” California History 57, no. 1 (Spring 1978): 70.


“Nu Hou Kuloko,” Ka Leo o Ka Lahui, March 23, 1891, 3, retrieved via Papakilo Database, State of Hawai‘i Office of Hawaiian Affairs,; translation by Daniel Kauwila Mahi, received via email to author, May 29, 2020.


Gilley signed as “boat-header” in a letter supporting Capt. Healy to lead the Overland Rescue Expedition, in “The Expedition is a Certainty,” The San Francisco Call, November 10, 1897, 2.


“Captain George Gilly,” The San Francisco Call, November 11, 1897, 8.


E. Berkeley Tompkins, “Black Ahab: William T. Shorey, Whaling Master,” California Historical Quarterly 51, no. 1 (Spring, 1972): 75–84.


“Master Shorey,” PCA, April 5, 1898, 8.


The 1860 date may retroactively reflect American claims to Hawai‘i. “United States Census, 1900,” California, San Francisco, ED 305 Precinct 9 San Francisco city Ward 45, image 29 of 32, citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), via FamilySearch image database.


Census Office, Department of the Interior, Twelfth Census of the United States, June 1, 1900: Instructions to Enumerators (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900), 29.


On arrival and death, “Deaths at Nome,” The San Francisco Call, August 31, 1900, 2.


“Capt. Gilley, drowned from Schooner Edith near Sledge Island, August 18,” was also recorded by Nome’s undertaker, C. Hiram Babcock, in “Nome’s Deaths in One Year,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 25, 1900, 3.


“Murdered by Siberians,” The Hood River Glacier, September 7, 1900, 1.


“Siberian Natives Kill an American Aboard a Ship,” The Salt Lake Herald, August 31, 1900, 2.


Ray, Eskimos, 191 (n21).


On the relationship between mo‘okū‘auhau and iwi, see Katrina-Ann R. Kapā‘anaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliveira, Ancestral Places: Understanding Kanaka Geographies (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2014), 103–4.


Quoted in Long, “Insights into the Vanishing Language,” 27–28.


Daniel Long states that as the Gilleys integrated with Japanese society some adopted the name Minami, meaning “south,” because they were “proud of the ‘South Sea Islander’ part of their roots,” in Daniel Long, “English on the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands,” American Speech 81, no. 5 (2006): 125–28.


Alissa Descotes-Toyosaki, “Ogasawara: The Treasure Archipelago,” Zoom Japan, July 17, 2017,


David Hanlon, “Losing Oceania to the Pacific World,” The Contemporary Pacific 29, no. 2 (2017): 288.


Fred Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 16.


Travis Hancock, “The Hunt for George Gilley,” Flux Hawai‘i 9, no. 3 (fall 2019): 60–72, later published online as “The Unsung Tale of History’s First Native Hawaiian Whaling Captain,”