The Samoan Islands at the turn of the century



At the turn of the century, the Samoan Islands had an area of only a little over fifty square miles, and a population of about 5,000. They did not have much commercial importance, but the harbor of Pago Pago was the finest in the Pacific, and so situated as to be invaluable to the United States. Owing to the internal strife of rival kings, it was decided by Great Britain, Germany and the United States to acknowledge the right of the Chief of Tutuila to share in the settlement made between the powers. Great Britain withdrew its claim, for a consideration. In December, 1899, the three parties concerned signed an agreement, of which the second article is as follows:

"Art. 2. Germany renounces in favor of the United States of America all her rights and claims over and in respect to the island of Tutuila and all other islands of the Samoan group east of longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich. Great Britain in like manner renounces in favor of the United States of America all her rights and claims over and in respect to the island of Tutuila and all other islands of the Samoan group east of longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich. Reciprocally, the United States of America renounce in favor of Germany all their rights and claims over and in respect to the islands of Upolu and Savaii and all other islands of the Samoan group west of longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich."

The harbor of Pago Pago was on the coast of the newly acquired island of Tutuila, which afforded a valuable station in the Pacific, especially in view of the proposed isthmian canal and consequent growth of United States trade in the East. We had the treaty right to use the harbor as a coaling depot as far back as 1878. Our representative, Mr. Goward, reported that "The capacity of this harbor is sufficient for the accommodation of large fleets; landlocked, it is safe from hurricanes and storms and could easily be defended from land or sea attack at a small expense. In a naval point of view it is the key position to the Samoan group and likewise to central Polynesia, and is especially well located for the protection of American commerce. The Samoan archipelago is by reason of its geographical position in central Polynesia, lying in the course of vessels from San Francisco to Auckland, from Panama to Sydney and from Valparaiso to China and Japan, and from being outside the hurricane track, the most valuable group in the south Pacific. Situated half way between Honolulu and Auckland, Pago Pago would be a most convenient stopping place or coaling station for vessels or steamers either for supplies or the exchange of commodities. With the Pacific mail steamers making it a port for coaling, it would necessarily become the controlling commercial place in that part of Polynesia."





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