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Foreigners in the northern Marianas


Amongst the entertainments provided on Guam for the de Freycinets (and almost every other foreign visitor) was a dance performed by a group of Hawaiians. It was clearly a close relative of the haka performed by New Zealand rugby teams before each match. Rose was not impressed, but she did wonder how the dancers came to be on Guam. When she asked about this, she was told that

 ….. the Americans took it into their heads, some time ago, to establish an outpost on Agrihan, one of the Marianas, and brought the Hawaiians there to look after the livestock. The then governor of Guam, in order to assert the sovereignty of the king of Spain over the islands, sent troops immediately to Agrihan to bring the Hawaiians to Guam, and since then they have been put to work by the governor on the farms or as domestic servants, much as the ‘noirs’ are treated in most colonies. These people are slaves, and entirely at the governor’s disposal;  [FL676827]

Jacques Arago, who was another witness to the dances and who also visited Tinian, an island that figured in some of the stories, had a rather different explanation. It involved the shipwreck of an American vessel.

Some years ago, an American vessel coming from Atooee and bound to Guam, was lost on Agrihan, one of the Marianas, a very fertile island but continually agitated by earthquakes, caused probably by the numerous volcanoes it contains. The people on board saved themselves; and as in calamities of this kind, ranks are levelled, and authority frequently little respected, some venturous sailors, despising the orders of their captain, repaired a boat which had been wrecked, and confiding in their own audacity, abandoned themselves to the winds in search of another country. It would appear that their confidence had been misplaced, for hitherto nothing has been heard concerning them. [Letter XCIV  Vol II, pp25-26]

There remained twenty-two Hawaiians, eight of whom were female, who settled down to create a colony of their own, and might have succeeded

….. had not a brig from Manilla accidentally touched at the island and carried intelligence to the Governor of the Marianas of these individuals residing in the country under his jurisdiction. M. Medenilla gave orders to the captain of his vessel to go in search of the persons shipwrecked, and convey them to Guam. The natives of the Sandwich Islands were made slaves, under the ridiculous pretext, that the crew of the vessel, on board which they were, had mutinied. [Letter XCIV  Vol II, pp25-26]

This is all very well, but it does not explain how there came to be so many Hawaiians on the ship in the first place.  Adelbert von Chamisso, who visited Guam in the Russian brig Rurik 18 months before the arrival of the Uranie,  gave a much fuller explanation in the third volume of the post-trip report assembled by Rurik‘s captain, Otto von Kotzebue. He noted that …..

…… in another part of this voyage [I gave] a circumstantial account of the kidnapping of the people from Easter Island, which was perpetrated by the captain of an American ship, with violence and bloodshed, for the purpose of founding a settlement on the Galapagos islands. The trade of this ocean makes it desirable for the “navigators” who possess it, to have similar settlements on the more eastern islands. Their connection with the Sandwich islands renders the stealing of people easy there; and the island of Agrihan, one of the most northern of the Marianas, seemed to be particularly adapted for such a settlement, though it is mountainous, unfit for cultivation, and cannot even feed oxen; and affords no protected anchoring-place.

Captain Brown, with the ship Derby, from Boston, was in Atooi in the year 1809 or 1810. On this island, he was joined by Mr. Johnson, ship builder to the king, who had fallen into disgrace, on account of an accident which had happened to a ship. They weighed anchor during the night, and carried off fifteen women who were on board. They approached the island of Oneeheow. A boat brought refreshments from shore. It was expected: seven men who were in it were taken on board, the boat was then hoisted up, and they directed their course to Agrihan. They missed the island; it was to the north: not to lose time in contending against the wind, they attempted to land on a southern island. They did so at Tinian, where they remained in two parties. One party, consisting of Johnson, with four men, and the Sandwich islanders, were to build a boat to sail to Agrihan; the other party, composed of the second mate of the ship, with three men, who had been discharged, intended to convert a long-boat, which they had bought of the captain, into a ship, for the purpose of carrying on commercial speculations on these seas. The Sandwich boat was left behind: both parties went over to Saipan, which island afforded better timber, and there carried on their work. But the Sandwich islanders remembered their liberty, vengeance, and their country. When the mate had finished his vessel, which they intended to make use of to return home, they took advantage, when the party was dispersed and unarmed, to fall upon them; the mate and one white were killed; war raged.

It was, in the meantime, made known in Guam, that there were strangers in Saipan and Tinian; the Governor, Don Alexandra Parreno, sent thither, and it was in the course of these bloody combats, that, in June, 1810, Johnson, with four whites, two negroes, the seven Sandwich islanders, and the fifteen women, were brought to Guam, where he himself still remains. In May, 1815, by command of the captain-general of the Philippines, Don Gose Gardoque, a settlement on Agrihan was broken up, and nearly forty men, of whom one was an American, three Englishmen, and the rest Hawaiians, brought to Guam.

It is well known, from authentic information, that there is already a new settlement on Agrigan. In pursuance of the present order of the captain-general, no obstacle is to be thrown in the way of the settlement; the settlers are only to acknowledge the supremacy of Spain; and a Spaniard is to be sent as chief magistrate. Nobody has, however, yet been sent. [Kotzebue III: pp86-88]

This places the Hawaiians first on Tinian and then on Saipan, and not on Agrihan at all. There was then, it seems, a second attempt at settlement on Agrihan after Parreño had been replaced by Medinilla, the governor that Kotzebue and Chamisso (and the de Freycinets) knew, and those people were still there when the Rurik left Guam. A year later, another Russian vessel, the Kamchatka, arrived and its captain, Vasily Golovnin, wrote:

Not long ago, a group of North American ship-owners trading on the northwest coast of that vast continent began a colony on the northernmost island of the group, Grigan, in order to have a stopover on the journey from North America to Canton where their ships could obtain supplies free instead of buying them in the Sandwich Islands. With this in mind the company brought over to Grigan several families of Sandwich Islanders under the command of two or three of their own sailors. The Spanish were long unaware of the existence of this colony, but as soon as they learned about it in Manila the Governor-General ordered all the colonists to be taken to Guam and employed there according to their abilities. There we found about twenty poor Sandwich Islanders. Their condition would have been bearable if only taro were grown in these parts, as they use it to make a kind of soft sour dough which is their favourite food. When they saw the taro plants in tubs aboard the sloop they became wildly excited; at once they began begging me to let them have the plants in order to cultivate them on shore, and without waiting for my permission were all set to put them in their boat.***

There is no mention here of any second settlement, but there is one more witness who has to be heard, and he confirms the existence of at least two settlements. In his report of the voyage of the Uranie, Rose’s husband, Louis de Freycinet, wrote

In June 1811, Don Pareño was informed that there were on Saypan and Tinian nine Anglo-Americans and twenty-eight Sandwich Island natives, of whom seven were men, fifteen were women and the remainder children. Here is how they were there. An (English?) ship, having planned to travel from the North West Coast of America to Canton, called in at the Sandwiche Islands, took on some Anglo-Americans as crew, and kidnapped the islanders who had brought supplies. Later, with food running short, he put these same men ashore on Tinian, leaving them with powder, weapons, a canoe, and nails, some other scrap, and all the tools necessary to build a boat.

The Anglo-Americans immediately built a small ship there but the Sandwichians, discontented, burned it and fled in the canoe to Saypan, taking all the weapons and tools. It was then that, having been informed on Goam of the presence of these foreigners, the governor sent a detachment of well-armed soldiers to capture them and bring them to Agagna, where they were allowed to settle. In his accounts Don Pareño recorded the cost of this expedition as amounting to 529 piastres [2,872 francs], for hire of the canoes and for the wages he claimed he gave to the soldiers.

In 1815, it became known on Guam that a colony of Anglo-Americans, Englishmen and Hawaiians had settled on Agrihan, one of the northernmost islands in the Mariana Archipelago (see map on page 229); troops were sent to destroy it and bring back to Agagna the forty-eight persons who were there: only the Hawaiians have remained on Guam. Some American and English ships, which were trading sandalwood in 1807, had successively left a hundred people on Agrihan, and in 1815 there were still eight Anglo-Americans or English, sixteen Hawaiian women and eight men, and sixteen mixed-race children there. The other colonists, having quarrelled with those there, went in a rowing boat to a nearby island whose name is unknown, because Don Medinilla, having looked assiduously into the matter, has not so far been able to discover their fate. It is said that an Englishman was the cause of the dissension that broke out in this nascent society, which was, moreover, without a leader. Presumably the founders intended to make Agrihan into a place where their vessels could take on vegetables and other stores without departing from the direct route. [Historique III/IV pp225-226]

This resolves some of the contradictions by suggesting that there were actually two settlements, and most but not all, of the remaining discrepancies can be explained by supposing that the separate accounts became jumbled inextricably. If the second settlement that Louis de Freycinet discussed is the one mentioned in passing by Golovnin as being still in existence, then it seems that Medinilla ignored the advice from Manila and had the intruders removed by force.

Whatever the true story, it must have made the Spanish government nervous about their uninhabited possessions in the northern Marianas. Convicts who had been exiled from Guam to Rota were sent further north, to Tinian, and a Carolinian colony was established on Saipan. Agrihan may have remained uninhabited until a coconut plantation was established there in the 1870s by a German merchant.

*** This extract ts taken from p235 of the English translation of  “Around the world on the Kamchatka, 1817-1819”, by Vasily Mikhalovich Golovnin, prepared by Ella Lury Wiswel and published in 1979 by the University of Hawai’i Press. Neither the original nor the translation seem to be available on the Internet.