James Campbell was born in 1826, to carpenter William Campbell and his wife Martha of Londonderry, Ireland. He was the eighth child in a family of 12 children.
James Campbell left Ireland at the age of 13 to seek fortune in the New World by stowing away on a lumber ship. He worked as a carpenter in New York for two years then signed onto a ship bound for Pacific whaling grounds. But the ship hit a reef and never reached its destination.
Campbell survived the shipwreck by clinging to a spare and floating to a nearby island. He and two shipmates were captured by island natives and held prisoner until Campbell demonstrated his resourcefulness by repairing a broken musket belonging to the local chief. Months later, Campbell fled the island by flagging down a passing ship headed for Tahiti.
In 1850, after several years in Tahiti, Campbell boarded a whaling ship which brought him to Lahaina, Maui. At age 24, he decided to make Hawaii his home. After several years of working as a carpenter, Campbell met and married Hannah Barla. The marriage ended with the death of young Hannah in 1858.
Using his life savings and some small properties inherited from Hannah, Campbell undertook business enterprises beyond his carpentry. In 1860, he and business partners Henry Turton and James Dunbar founded the Pioneer Mill Company--a sugar processing plant. The venture eventually became the basis of his wealth. He later purchased land on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.
In 1877, Campbell sold his interest in the company and married Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine. The newlyweds lived on Maui briefly, then moved to a home on Emma Street in Honolulu.
The Campbell's had eight children, four of whom died in infancy. Four daughters survived: Abigail Wahiikaahuula (later Mrs. David Kawananakoa), Alice Kamokila (later Mrs. Walter Mcfarlane, and better known as Kamokila Campbell, a territorial senator), Beatrice (later Mrs. George Beckley, then Mrs. Francis Wrigley) and Muriel (later Mrs. Robert Shingle, then Mrs. Charles Amalu).
One of Campbell's land purchases included 41,000 acres of dry, barren Ewa land which he bought in 1877 for $95,000. Many critics scoffed at the doubtful value of his purchase. But Campbell envisioned supplying the arid area with water and commissioned California well-driller James Ashley to drill a well on his Ewa ranch.
In 1879, Ashley drilled Hawaii's first artesian well. James Campbell's vision had made it possible for Hawaii's people to grow sugar cane on the dry lands of the Ewa Plain. The well also uncovered a vast pure water reserve that to this day provides the Pearl Harbor and Honolulu areas with water. The site of the well is marked by a stone monument and plaque on Fort Weaver Road, across West Loch Fairways.
Campbell continued to acquire and manage properties until his death in 1900. He left an estate valued at more than $3 million.
Today, the Estate of James Campbell is one of Hawaii's largest private landowners and administers the assets under the will of James Campbell for his heirs. The Estate's major undertakings include the development of the City of Kapolei and the ownership of office, retail and industrial properties both in Hawaii and in the mainland.
The Estate strives to emulate James Campbell who believed in the wise stewardship of land. He knew that caring for the land's resources wisely and efficiently would provide a better environment for growth and a better quality of life for Hawaii's people.
His descendants today honor the memory of James Campbell and his wife, Abigail, by funding the James and Abigail Campbell Foundation. The Foundation has made many donations to various educational projects and the school that bears James Campbell's name.