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Hawaii Deed History

The most recent of the 50 states, Hawaii joined the Union on August 21, 1959. Hawaii is one of four states, aside from the original 13 colonies, that were independent prior to becoming part of the United States. The Kingdom of Hawaii was sovereign from 1810 until 1893 when the kingdom was overthrown by American and European businessmen residents. From 1894 until 1898 it was an independent republic until it was annexed by the United States as a territory. The Territory of Hawaii was in existence from 1898 until statehood in 1959.

There are five counties in Hawaii: Hawaii County, Maui, Kalawao, Honolulu, and Kauai. The state does not have a form of local government (i.e. city government) other than counties; however, Honolulu is governed as a consolidated city-county.. All the counties were created from unorganized territory in 1905, seven years after Hawaii was established as a U.S. territory. Kalawao only has a population of 90 as it is used exclusively as a leper colony. The most populous county is Honolulu, which is on the island of O’ahu and also includes several outlying islands.

Prior to 1840, all land in Hawaii belonged to the king and the chiefs. A Land Commission was formed in 1846 to quiet land titles because many non-natives had moved to Hawaii and were disputing the king’s ownership of all lands. The commission consisted of a five-member board, which acted as a court of record and divided land between the king, the government, and the people. During the first two years of the Land Commission, the Mahele Book (or Book of Division) was created, which contains releases or quitclaim deeds signed and sealed by the several chiefs to the King of the lands they respectively surrendered, and also releases signed by the King to the several chiefs of his feudal rights in the lands remaining to them as their shares. The board of commissioners to quiet land titles was dissolved in 1855.

When Hawaii was officially annexed to the United States in 1898, the Newlands Resolution was approved by a jointed resolution and was signed by President William McKinley. The resolution stipulated that the government of the Republic of Hawaii had to cede and transfer to the United States the absolute fee and ownership of all public, government, or crown lands. The term “crown lands” here refers to land reserved by Kamehameha III, who was the King of Hawaii from 1825-1854.

Deeds in Hawaii are recorded with the Bureau of Conveyances, which is a division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, formed shortly after Hawaii became a state.