During the reign of Kamehameha I in the eighteenth century, there were three separate kingdoms—the island Kingdom of Hawai‘i; the island Kingdom of Maui under Kahekili together with the islands of Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, Molokai and O‘ahu; and the island of Kaua‘i under Ka‘eo together with the island of Ni‘ihau. Kamehameha governed the island Kingdom of Hawai‘i according to ancient tradition and strict religious protocol.
In 1794, after voluntarily ceding the island Kingdom of Hawai‘i to Great Britain and joining the British Empire, Kamehameha and his chiefs considered themselves British subjects and recognized King George III as emperor. The cession to Great Britain did not radically change traditional governance, but principles of English governance and titles were instituted such as Prime Minister and Governors. The British colors was given to Kamehameha by Vancouver and flown over the island Kingdom of Hawai‘i.
In 1816, Kamehameha adopted a national flag design very similar to the British East India Company with the Union Jack in the canton.
The Hawaiian flag replaced the thirteen red and white stripes which appeared to vary between seven and nine alternating colored stripes of white, blue and red. Historical records give conflicting number of stripes.
The Hawaiian flag was not flown over the island Kingdom of Kaua‘i because it was a vassal kingdom under Kamehameha through voluntary cession by its King Kaumuali‘i in 1810. Kaumuali‘i was the son of Ka‘eo and succeeded his father after he died in a great battle against the Kingdom of Maui on the plains of Honolulu on the island of O‘ahu in December 1794. This vassalage came to an end on August 8, 1824, after the Kaua‘i chiefs unsuccessfully rebelled under Humehume, son of Kaumuali‘i, King of Kaua‘i. Humehume was removed to O‘ahu under the watch of Kalanimoku, and all of the Kaua‘i chiefs were dispersed throughout the other islands and their lands replaced with Hawai‘i island chiefs.
Below is a drawing from the Alexander Adams collection at the Hawai‘i Archives of the ship named the Ka‘ahumanu (circa. 1817) that Captain Adams commanded for King Kamehameha I. The ship flies both the National flag and the Royal flag, which would indicate that King Kamehameha was on board.
On November 28, 1843, the Hawaiian Kingdom was formally separated from the British Empire when Great Britain recognized Hawaiian Independence, and two years later on May 25, 1845 a revised national flag was unfurled at the opening of the Hawaiian legislature. The Hawaiian flag previous to 1845 differed only in the amount of stripes and also the arranging of the colors. The person accredited with the designing of the new flag was Captain Hunt of H.B.M.S. Baselisk. It has since remained unchanged to date. In the Polynesian Newspaper of May 31, 1845, was the following article:
“At the opening of the Legislative Council, May 25, 1845, the new national banner was unfurled, differing little however from the former. It is octo. (eight) parted per fess (horizontal band), first, fourth and seventh, argent (silver represented by the color white): second, fifth and eighth, gules (the color red): third and sixth, azure (light purplish blue), for the eight islands under one sovereign, indicated by crosses saltire, of St. Andrew and St. Patrick quarterly, per saltire counter changed, argent (white) and gules (red).”
Below is a photo of the Hawaiian Kingdom flag being lowered from ‘Iolani Palace on August 12, 1898 when the prolonged occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom began during the Spanish-American War. It has since been flown below the American flag throughout the Hawaiian Islands in violation of the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom.