Kauai’s Russian Fort – Fort Elisabeth
Kauai’s history took a peculiar turn in the early 19th century when Russian arms, construction materials and ships were sent to the island with the intention of helping Kauaʻi’s reigning monarch, King Kaumualiʻi, gain control of all of the Hawaiian Islands.
This is what happened. In January 1815, a vessel belonging to the Russian-American Company was shipwrecked on reefs offshore of Waimea. King Kaumualiʻi took possession of the shipwrecked vessel and its cargo. In response, the company office in Sitka sent its best diplomat, George Scheffer, to win the favor of King Kamehameha I. Scheffer then asked the king to arrange for the release of the company’s property.
The plan went awry when Scheffer, faced with a cold reception from King Kamehameha I, decided to try his hand at a little freelance misrepresentation of his own. He negotiated a contract with Kaumualiʻi for not only full payment for the confiscated bounty, but all the sandalwood on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi. If Scheffer could deliver the manpower, weapons and ships to help Kauamualiʻi’s forces take over Kamehameha’s domain, half-ownership of Oʻahu and the right to set up factories on all of the Hawaiian Islands would be the reward.
In September of 1816, Scheffer began to build the stone walls of Fort Elisabeth at Waimea with the help of several hundred Kauaʻi residents. Two smaller earthen forts were built at Princeville as well. But growing distrust of Scheffer by Kaumualiʻi and the now alerted Kamehameha I resulted in an order that all Russians be removed from Kauaʻi, which proved the downfall of this scheme.
In May of 1817, Scheffer was forcibly returned to his ship and he sailed away, leaving the half-constructed fort behind. The fort, built roughly in the shape of a star and stretching 300 feet around a magazine and armory, barracks, officers’ quarters and sandalwood trading house, was dismantled in 1864 and little remains today. Fort Elisabeth (called Fort Hipo by the Hawaiians) was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966. The ruins are at the Waimea River mouth off Hwy. 50.
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