alexa hume ford

South Carolina is not known for great surfing, but a native son named Alexander Hume Ford (1868-1945) is credited with the revival, preservation, and promotion of that sport. The scion of an old South Carolina family, he was the son of Georgetown County planter Frederick W. Ford (1817-1872) and Mary Mazyck Hume. His mother died at the time of his birth and he was raised by a maiden aunt in the lean, difficult years after the War Between the States. After graduating from Porter Military Academy, he found employment at a Charleston newspaper, the News & Courier, until dismissed from his job in August 1886. Shortly afterwards he went to New York to work for John C. Calhoun (1843-1918), who was a financier, the officer of several railroad companies, and the grandson of his famous namesake. Ford was a member of the New York Southern Society, the object of which was “to promote friendly relations between Southern men resident or temporarily sojourning in New York City, and to cherish and perpetuate the memories and traditions of the Southern people.”

Ford later worked as a freelance writer and playwright in New York and Chicago. In 1899 he traveled abroad and wrote articles on assignment for several well-known periodicals, and in 1907 he settled in Honolulu, Hawaii. He fell in love with the Hawaiian Islands and soon became interested in surfing, an ancient native sport which had all but vanished by the early 20th century. In 1908 Ford became one of the founders of the Outrigger Canoe Club, the purpose of which was to revive and preserve “surfing on boards and in outrigger canoes.” He was also an enthusiastic promoter of Hawaiian tourism and surfing, and was instrumental in forming the Pan-Pacific Union, an international organization aimed at fostering the interests of, and harmony among, all the nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.

In Hawaii, Ford became friends with the author Jack London, whom he (unsuccessfully) taught surfing, and in time, his activities there promoting that sport, Hawaiian tourism, and the Pan-Pacific Union brought him some fame. He founded and edited the Mid-Pacific Magazine, a monthly that ran for 26 years, and for twenty years worked tirelessly on behalf of the Pan-Pacific Union. His efforts to promote multi-racial and multi-ethnic harmony among the nations of the Pacific Rim, however, were ultimately ineffectual, and he became thoroughly disillusioned. In a newspaper interview published in 1937, Ford acknowledged the futility of his work and stated, “I’m never again going to try to understand other people or other nations.”

In the 1930s, when Ford visited the United States again after a long absence he was surprised to see the trend toward communism in his country. Later, he remarked to some newspaper reporters in Hawaii: “Communist party leaders have repeatedly told me they want to run Franklin Roosevelt for a third term on their ticket.” The news story added: “Mr. Ford, who classified himself as a rugged individualist at heart, believes the handwriting is on the wall. Rugged individual Americanism is gone forever. It must inevitably be replaced by some scheme of collective living.”

Alexander Hume Ford never married, and he died on the island of Oahu in 1945 at the age of 77. His ashes were sent home to South Carolina and buried in the cemetery of the Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown. The only full biography of Ford, authored by Valerie Noble, was published in 1980 as Hawaiian Prophet.

Karen Stokes

Karen Stokes, an archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, is the author of nine non-fiction books including South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path, The Immortal 600, A Confederate Englishman, Confederate South Carolina, Days of Destruction, and A Legion of Devils: Sherman in South Carolina. Her works of historical fiction include Honor in the Dust and The Immortals. Her latest non-fiction book, An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865, includes the correspondence of seven brothers who served in the Confederate Army with great distinction.

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