Saturday, March 5, 2016

Colonel Volney Ashford (1844-1900): Exiled for role in Hawaiian Revolution

Colonel Volney Ashford (drawing on right from Oakland Tribune)
Plot 12, Sec. 2-11,  
Grand Army of the Republic plot

Volney Vallencourt “V.V.” Ashford was an American Civil War veteran who was involved in the 19th century rebellion in Hawaii.

Ashford joined the Union Army in 1863 after leaving his home in Port Hope, Ontario. He was a British citizen since Canada was a territory of the United Kingdom. He became a Quartermaster Sergeant in the Grizwold Light Cavalry (aka Twenty-First New York Regiment of Cavalry) during the American Civil War. He was honorably discharged as a Sargeant.

After the Civil War, Ashford, became a surveyor for the Beaverton Railway and joined the Prince of Wales' Royal Canadian Dragoons where he was made a Captain.

In 1884, he went to Honolulu, where his brother, Clarence W. Ashford, had been practicing law for several years. His talents were recognized by King Kalakaua, who presented him with letters of denization and shortly afterward made him the royal legal adviser.

Ashford became an important factor in the first revolution in Hawaii. In 1886. when Robert Wilcox was striving to overthrow the reign and government of King Kalakaua in the Wilcox Rebellion, Ashford organized the Honolulu Rifles. The Honolulu Rifles was composed of Americans and Englishmen and Ashford became the commanding Colonel of the Hawaiian Army. Ashford became responsible for the Rifles’ growth from 100 men in 1886 to a battalion of three companies in 1887 and recognition as a paramilitary force. In 1889, the Rifles did battle with Wilcox's forces and defeated them by firing upon them from three building, most notably from the Opera House and the Kawaiahaʻo Church clock tower. Upon Wilcox’s surrender, he offered Ashford his sabre. Ashford accepted the surrender but turned down Wilcox's sabre. Wilcox was tried for treason, but was acquitted by an all-Hawaiian jury.

In 1890, when Queen Liliuokalani was in power, there was another uprising and Ashford claimed that he planned on carrying out Sanford B. Dole's plans to abolish the monarchy, which he believed to be corrupt. However, he claimed Dole betrayed him and revealed his plans. Queen Liliuokalani threatened to have Ashford beheaded, but key allies intervened and saved his life. He was ferried off the islands about a boat. Dole served as President of Hawaii until his government secured Hawaii's annexation by the United States.

Queen Liliuokalani and Sanford Dole
After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, Ashford returned to Hawaii and retired from his position as commander of the Rifles. He was a strong supporter of annexation, but with the establishment of the Republic of Hawaii he gave little support for the new government and disapproved of the mistreatment of Hawaiians by the government. Ashford was approached by counter-revolutionaries as a consultant to restore the monarchy.

The counter-revolution ended in failure in 1895 and Ashford was charged with misprision of treason and received one year in prison and a $1000 fine. Due to his ill health he was given the option of the one-year sentence or to become exiled (which was the option he chose).

After accepting exile he moved to California, his brother moved in with him under similar circumstances of exile. Ashford died on March 21, 1900 in Oakland, California. He was widowed twice in addition to the death of his daughter. 

Sources: San Francisco Call, Wikipedia,, Oakland Tribune, National Archives

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