Navassa Island -- Up To 1933

Again, folks, I'm going through my library files, and various things catch my eye. Some time past some one of you wrote asking about Navassa Island. Well, I ran across this piece:

Roy Nichols "Navassa, A Forgotten Acquisition." American History Review, April, 1933. Pp. 505-510.

Brief summary:

In the 1840s and 1850s U.S. farmers wanted guano (bird shit!) to use as fertilizer on their farms. Congress authorized the U.S. to "acquire" any abandon or unclaimed islands which might have guano. There was then a formal process for claiming the island as a U.S. acquisition. On July 1, 1857 Peter Duncan, a ship captain, discovered that Navassa contained guano -- lots of it.

[Note from July 15, 1995: This was during Soulouque's rule.]

"Navassa is a barren isle shaped like an oyster shell, about a square mile in area, formed of volcanic limestone and so filled with holes as to have the appearance of a petrified sponge." (p. 507.)

A fellow named Ramoth was first a partner in the guano business there, but was then fired. He went to Emperor Faustin I of Haiti and asked for a lease on the island, pointing out that it should be Haiti's island, and promising the emperor 1/3 of the proceeds. He got the lease.

[Again, July 15th: According to sources I read on Soulouque, he fought this and finally had to give in..] Haiti sent a couple of gun boats to scare off the U.S. guano diggers, but the U.S. sent warships and Faustin backed off. He claimed that the island was first Spanish and then French, and that with the French recognition of Haitian independence the island became Haitian.

The U.S. argued that the island was "abandoned and derelict" and the warships carried the argument.

Haiti again tried to establish its claim in 1872.

In 1889 some workers killed a boss and were taken to the U.S. for trial and convicted. They appealed that this was not U.S. property, thus U.S. law did not apply. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that the island was U.S. property.

Soon guano became no longer of great interest and the island fell into disuse. (I guess the U.S. let it be abandoned and derelict! :) )

Then came the Panama Canal. This island is the first land fall was comes to upon leaving the canal headed north. It was dangerous and the U.S. wanted to erect a warning light. This was done and President Wilson re-declared the U.S. acquisition of the island.

Now, that ends this 1933 article.

Bob Corbett


Art, Music, & Dance Book Reviews Film History Library Literature
Mailing List Miscellaneous Topics Notes on Books People to People Voodoo


Bob Corbett