Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa (1926-2022): The Last of the Aliʻi and Descendant of Hawaiian Kings

Princess Abigail in front of a portrait of Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani.


On Monday morning, the death of Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa on Sunday, 11 December, was announced in the Hawaiian language in front of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu:

With profound sadness, the Kawananakoa Family, the Hale O Na Alii O Hawaii and Iolani Palace announces the passing of Her Royal Highness, Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa at 6:45 p.m.

We join each other in a period of mourning. Please allow the Kawananakoa Family this time.

Services for the Princess are being coordinated; when plans are finalized, they will be shared. We place before you this manao with mournful aloha.

Abigail’s mother: Princess Lydia Kawānanakoa.

Born on 23 April 1926 in Honolulu, Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike (known as Kekaulike or “Kekau” in her youth and Abigail as an adult) was the only child of Princess Helen Lydia Kamakaʻeha Liliʻuokalani Kawānanakoa (1905-1969), named after the last Queen of Hawaii, and her first husband William Jeremiah Ellerbrock (1902-1953). Princess Lydia Kawānanakoa and William J. Ellerbrock were married on 17 January 1925, the thirty-second anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the dethronement of Queen Liliʻuokalani, at the Catholic Mission in Honolulu. It was reported at the time of their marriage by The Honolulu Star-Bulletin that the Lydia and William, then a salesman at the Royal Hawaiian Sales Company, had been privately engaged for about a month prior to their union. The arrival of their daughter Abigail was published in The Honolulu Advertiser on 26 April 1926: “Mr. and Mrs. William J. Ellerbrock of Kahala announce the birth of their first child, a daughter, at Kauikeolani Children’s hospital, on Friday of last week, the baby being named Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike. Mrs. Ellerbrock was Miss Lydia Liliuokalani Kawānanakoa, daughter of Princess Kawānanakoa and of the late Prince David Kawānanakoa.” 

Princess Lydia.
In June 1927, when Abigail was one, her mother Lydia filed for divorce from her father William. The Honolulu Advertiser managed to locate the legal filings in July, and the story was rather sensational due to the heritage of the bride and the briefness of the marriage. The newspaper reported on 3 July 1927: “Miss Lydia Liliʻuokalani Kawānanakoa Ellerbrock, daughter of Princess Kawānanakoa, has instituted in the local circuit courts proceedings for divorce from her husband, William Jerry Ellerbrock, alleging non-support. The divorce papers, it is understood, were forwarded immediately after filing to the mainland for service on Ellerbrock, who left Honolulu for San Francisco several weeks ago, the day after Mrs. Ellerbrock returned from the coast city. Ellerbrock is still on the mainland, it was learned yesterday…. The divorce suit was filed in the office of the chief clerk of the local circuit court on June 10, last, and up to yesterday it was surrounded by the utmost secrecy. The law firm of Thompson, Cathcart & Beebe appears on record as counsel of Mrs. Ellerbrock. Entry of the suit appears on page 169, Vol. 18, Case No. 11,499, in the following manner – ‘Lydia Kamakaena vs. John. Non-support. June 10 – Filed and issued for service libel, motion, affidavit, order and divorce summons.’ In this manner the names of the parties in the suit were withheld from the public until the true facts were unearthed yesterday morning by The Advertiser.” The marriage of Princess Liliʻuokalani Kawānanakoa and William J. Ellerbrock was dissolved by a decree of absolute divorce on 19 July 1927 at Honolulu, granted by Judge John R. Desha in the court of domestic relations. Liliʻuokalani received custody of their daughter Abigail.
Abigail’s grandmother and adoptive mother, Princess Abigail Campbell Kawānanakoa.
On 23 November 1931, Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa was legally adopted by her maternal grandmother Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa. The Honolulu Advertiser noted: “By decree of the governor of Hawaii, the child’s family name was changed some time ago from Ellerbrock to Kawānanakoa.” The young Abigail had been raised by her grandmother since her infancy. Abigail’s mother Princess Liliʻuokalani consented to her daughter being adopted by her mother; Abigail’s father, William Ellerbrock, was reported to have voluntarily surrendered Abigail to her mother Lydia on 15 May 1927, and he had not been in any way a part of his daughter’s life since then. Both Princess Lydia and Princess Abigail, the young Abigail’s mother and adoptive mother/grandmother stated that they were “wholly unaware of the present residence” of Mr. Ellerbrock. 
Abigail during her time as a pupil at Punahou Academy, October 1939.
Princess Lydia (Mrs. Clark Lee) and her daughter Abigail leave for Shanghai, June 1940.
From 1938 until 1940, Abigail attended the Punahou Academy in Honolulu, where she excelled as a member of the swim team and broke several records. In July 1940, Abigail went to live with her mother Lydia and her (second) stepfather Clark Lee in Shanghai, China, where Mr. Lee was a correspondent for the Associated Press. While there, Abigail attended the Shanghai American School, which she was forced to leave in December 1940 owing to the United States evacuating its citizens from the country. Abigail then returned to Punahou Academy, from which she graduated in 1943. Abigail then went on to attend a Roman Catholic college in California. She returned to Hawaii in the waning days of World War II. On 12 April 1945 at 1:55pm, Abigail’s adoptive mother and maternal grandmother Princess Abigail Wahiʻikaʻahuʻula Campbell Kawānanakoa died at the Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, aged sixty-three. 
Princess Lydia.
Abigail’s mother Princess Lydia Kawānanakoa died on 19 May 1969 at her home in the Waiʻalae-Kahala neighborhood of Honolulu. Liliʻuokalani was sixty-three. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin of 20 May 1969 described the princess as such: “She was the daughter of Prince David Kawānanakoa and Abigail Wahiʻikaʻahuʻula Campbell, and might have been queen of the islands had Hawaii remained a monarchy. She was held in great respect and affection by her people. With her regal bearing, soft voice, and innate grace and charm, she carried out the traditions of her royal family.” Princess Liliʻuokalani was often asked by Governor John A. Burns of Hawaii to represent the native Hawaiian people at state functions. Indeed, at the urging of Governor Burns, Princess Lydia founded the Friends of Iolani Palace charitable organisation in 1966; she remained the president of the Friends of Iolani Palace until her passing. The ashes of the princess were buried in the Oahu Cemetery on 22 May 1969 in a private service conducted by Bishop E. Lani Hanchett of the Episcopal Diocese of Honolulu. In his eulogy of Lydia to her family and friends present, these including her only child Abigail, the bishop said of the departed: “Help us to think of her as no further from us than Thy Presence with us, and while our minds follow her to Thy Presence, let a portion of her loving spirit rest upon us. We gratefully recall all that she was and all that she stood for – this child of Hawaii and daughter of royalty, her love for her land and her concern for her people. We give thanks for all that she has done to preserve the culture and traditions of Old Hawaii, and for her efforts in behalf of people with Hawaiian ancestry.” 
Abigail unveils a portrait of her grandmother Princess Abigail at the Iolani Palace, 1949.
Abigail Kawānanakoa, who lived a largely private life, gave an insightful interview with journalist Pierre Bowman of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, published on 23 July 1985. When asked about her adoption by her grandmother, Abigail stated: “It was a strictly Hawaiian arrangement. The eldest child always went to grandmother.” She further gave insight into the comfortable life she had been able to lead as a result of being an heir to the Campbell Estate: “I’ve had the good fortune of not ever wanting for anything. I’ve been exposed to the finest. And somewhere I developed a discerning attitude and I appreciate beauty, generosity and sincerity.” Abigail grew up in her grandmother’s home with three first cousins, the children of Abigail’s aunt Princess Kapiʻolani: Edward A. Kawānanakoa (1924-1997), Virginia Poʻomaikelani Kawānanakoa (1926-1998), Esther Kapiʻolani Kawānanakoa (b.1928). In the interview, Abigail recalled the children’s upbringing by their grandmother Princess Abigail: “We had a pretty strict household. Grandmother never let us forget our heritage. She tried to expose us to everything. Was it special? Oh, yes, yes, yes. Grandmother carried the title princess, the last with the title that was official. Americans cannot carry titles, you know. We were just of the royal family, which had become very Anglicized. As all kids, we just wanted to be like everybody else. But we arrived at school every morning with a chauffeur in livery, and with a governess. And they picked us up. Once a week we were given some money to stop at Kress store – with a maid or the governess. Grandmother had to give in to Japanese maids. The fancy English nannies she imported only lasted three weeks.” Abigail was then asked if this implied that she and her cousins were rather rambunctious. “Collectively, we could be very naughty. We were raised more as siblings than as cousins. We’d try to run away from our governess. And the Pensacola place [Princess Abigail’s residence] had about six acres – so it was a possibility.” She remembered that watching her grandmother in action was her earliest education. “We used to watch her directing things. Like setting up a luau table. In those days you sat, as if in a dining room. And you were served on china. There were no straddling a wooden sawhorse and tucking in your elbows. And there was the finest entertainment. Iolani Luahine. Flora Hayes. The Beamer children. Lena Machado.” 
Abigail Kawānanakoa on the grounds of Iolani Palace, 1985.
It was her family’s dedication to the native Hawaiian people and the preservation of their culture and history that eventually drew Abigail into what became her life’s mission. She became the President of the Friends of Iolani Palace organisation. Abigail recalled in the 1985 interview: “My mother started it. John Burns gave her the authority to handle it. It was a rather accepted fact that I’d pick up what our heritage demanded. This is my obligation. I must do this. It is with pleasure that I do it. It was my turn when my mother died.” Abigail went on to address how she felt that native Hawaiins needed to be given more independence and chances to thrive within the state that had replaced their country: “We need some land – and not Hawaiian Homes. We need an area of our lives that’s controlled and governed by Hawaiians. That is where we should be considered different from ordinary citizens… I have a lot of faith in OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs). I was advised it would take OHA maybe eight or 10 years before it’s a viable force. They are going about it in a correct way. But Hawaiians hands are still tied. They’re beholden to the state government for everything. Eventually, they should be autonomous. They should not have to beg for money. Land should be given us, to be administered by a body such as OHA. It should never be at the whim of a government or legislature. Then it’s a political situation – as it always has been… I have thought about it for years, trying to find a solution for the important aspects of integration and separation. This is why I said I can relate to the Hawaiian. Many Hawaiians do not talk directly. It’s not because they’re circuitous. It’s the only way they know how. The Hawaiian language – in hula and male – is innuendo and subtlety. Ask a Hawaiian what’s wrong and he’ll never tell you what exactly. That’s why we haven’t been more militant. But where are they going to put us? And that includes me. I am a part of this. They are my people – and I am their’s. Many people do not realize who I am. They’re not educated to it. I don’t resent that. I hope I’ll be able to see what I can do to benefit the plight of Hawaiians. I don’t want to do more than I can, and I do not want to make a stand as the last of a royal one and not have clout. I am so sorry Hawaiians had to become militant to be heard. I am so sorry that George Helm had to lose his life to be heard. I am so sorry Hawaiians have had to resort to militancy to make a point. But all they’re saying is give us the justice we deserve.” 
Abigail in front of Iolani Palace, 1990.


Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa, who eventually began using the title of princess, devoted her philanthropic work to supporting Hawaiian history, culture, and autonomy. 
Abigail and Veronica.
On 1 October 2017, Princess Abigail married her partner of twenty years, Veronica Gail Worth, in Honolulu. The last years of the princess’s life were marred by a legal controversy over control of her fortune. She is survived by her wife, Veronica, and by many cousins.
May the Princess Rest In Peace.
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The Ancestry of Abigail Kawānanakoa
1. Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Ellerbrock, surname changed to Kawānanakoa (Honolulu 23 April 1926-Honolulu 11 December 2022)
m. Honolulu 1 October 2017 to Veronica Gail Worth (b.September 1953)

Parents
2. William Jeremiah Ellerbrock (Honolulu 30 January 1902-Contra Costa, California 27 December 1953)
m. Honolulu 17 January 1925 (divorced Honolulu 19 July 1927)
3. Princess Helen Lydia Kamakaʻeha Liliʻuokalani Kawānanakoa (Honolulu 22 July 1905-Honolulu 19 May 1969)
Grandparents
4. Wilhelm “William” Theodor Heinrich Ellerbrock (Bremen 30 January 1862-San Francisco 30 June 1952)
m. Honolulu 30 May 1891

5. Emma Luise Minna Wieber (Germany 31 July 1875-Alameda, California 17 December 1948)

6. Prince David Laʻamea Kahalepouli Kinoiki Kawānanakoa (Honolulu 19 February 1868-San Francisco, California 2 June 1908)
m. San Francisco, California 6 January 1902
7. Abigail Wahiʻikaʻahuʻula Campbell (Honolulu 1 January 1882-Honolulu 12 April 1945)
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