Captain John Kendrick’s life was filled with excitement and surprise. So was his death.
Kendrick was born sometime around 1740 in Massachusetts. He carried on the family tradition of becoming a seaman. After participating in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, he volunteered to serve in the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. He served with distinction throughout the war. When independence was achieved, he made use of his naval skills by commanding whaling and merchant ships.
On December 12, 1794, Kendrick was in Hawaii. His ship, Lady Washington, was docked at Fair Haven (now known as Honolulu). Kendrick had arrived in time to assist the local chief, Kalanikupule, ward off an attempted invasion by rival chief Kaeo. Thanks to Kendrick’s timely arrival, Lady Washington was able to team up with the British ship The Jackal to defeat Kaeo and his men. Kalanikupule retained his chiefdom.
As the Lady Washington prepared to set sail, its crew decided to offer a 13-gun salute in honor of their victorious captain. The Jackal joined in the celebration, firing a cannon volley as a salute of its own.
Unfortunately, no one thought to check the cannon before loading it with a cannonball. If anyone had bothered to look, they would have seen the grapeshot that was already loaded in one of the guns. When the cannon fired, it not only launched the intended cannon, but the grapeshot scattered in all directions.
Kendrick was on the deck of Lady Washington, eating breakfast and observing the festivities. His location was riddled with grapeshot, killing not only the captain but several of his officers, as well.
All things considered, the salute sent a mixed message, at best.