Francis March Hatch: Granite Imperialist?

back to Family Stories, Spring 2020

by Bernard Zitzewitz

When I started my family research, I doubted I would find people born within the last 200 years who had been responsible for a grave historical injustice. However, this complacency disappeared when I came across Francis March Hatch (1852-1923), my fourth great uncle, in my AncestryDNA Thrulines. Upon clicking on this connection, I noticed Francis’ profile was marked with the words “Hawaii Supreme Court Justice.” The Hatch family had been a prominent family in New Hampshire for generations, so the sight of a relative who had reached such a high position in a state as far away as Hawaii. After some brief searching, I found that Francis’ position on the bench of the Supreme Court of Hawaii came as the result his involvement in one of the most controversial episodes in United States history.

The first thing I found was a Granite Monthly article from August 1897 about Francis’ life and career, which was written by Clarence Johnson[1]. The son of my fourth great-grandfather, Albert Ruyter Hatch, a prominent New Hampshire lawyer, and the brother of judge John Hatch, my second great grandfather, Francis made his own way in the legal profession. After graduating in 1873 from Bowdoin Law, Francis was admitted to the bar and he apprenticed for his father until 1878, when he moved to Honolulu. He practiced as a lawyer in Honolulu for 15 years, becoming actively involved in the consolidation of corporate interests on the island. When Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown in 1894, however, Francis became the vice-president of Hawaiian president Sanford Dole’s advisory committee, and he was subsequently made minister of foreign affairs. Francis’ main task as foreign minister was to negotiate the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. In 1897, Francis became one of three Hawaiian delegates to sign the official annexation treaty that had been negotiated with the McKinley administration. Francis went on to serve for six months on the Supreme Court of Hawaii, from June 1904 to January 1905[2].

However, Francis’ career did not end with the negotiation of this treaty and his time on the Hawaiian supreme court. Johnson’s final remark was that “the many friends [Francis] has made in Washington would be more than pleased if they could induce him to remain there.” While Francis opted to remain in his adoptive home of Hawaii, a letter he wrote to Elihu Root, the U.S. Secretary of State under President Roosevelt, reveals he would not let his connections in Washington go to waste[3]. In this 1906 letter written on behalf of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, one of the most powerful special interests in American history, Francis implores Secretary Root to exempt Hawaii from restrictions on the immigration of Japanese workers. Hawaiian sugar plantations relied on Japanese and Filipino laborers who worked for low wages, and it seems Francis has learned to leverage his connections to support these interests. Francis lived in Honolulu until his death in 1924, but he was buried in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery[4]

Learning about a relative with such a controversial story was fascinating for me, as I has no idea that someone from a family that had been in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for years would leave everything behind to seek his fortune in Hawaii. Reading the jingoistic tone of Johnson’s article, I realized that Francis played an important role in the formation of American imperial identity.