Welfare stories: How history should be written, with an example (early history of Guam)
Note: I don’t have a professional history background, just a mild amount of amateur familiarity and interest in the subject. If there is some existing scholarship which I’m overlooking here, I would be happy to learn about it.
History writing is complex, with lots of choices about what details to include and emphasize. There is a fair amount of implicit attention given to what is considered more or less important, and there is plenty of room for disagreement on that even assuming agreement on the plain historical facts.
My problem with much history writing is that the emphasis is not weighted well for making judgments on humanitarian impacts. An easy example here is the presidency of George W. Bush. A typical history of his presidency will describe the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in great detail (albeit even then in more political and national terms than global humanitarian ones) while giving little or no attention to the benefits of his PEPFAR initiative, which actually seems more important. Implicitly, such skewed emphasis can have bad consequences for general readers of history, as their worldview gets misshapen. Explicitly, such skewed emphasis limits the usefulness of history to the Effective Altruist, who will have a hard time using it for making good judgments about the kinds of consequences which can result from various actions.
A welfare history would have the framing and emphases most relevant to looking at how people were able to change the quality of life of others. Key questions to be answered would be:
- What were the human consequences of diffuse trends, like economic growth and the spread of new crops?
- What were the human consequences of various actions? In the short run, and in the long run?
- What were the intentions and expectations of the actors who took these actions? What did they know, and what could they have known?
- What other options did they have, and what would the consequences of those have been? (counterfactual history)
Counterfactuals in particular are something that scholars have largely shied away from, or at least they have shied away from explicitly discussing them, although they are alive and well in amateur circles like Alternate History.
Of course there is scholarship that can answer these questions in some ways. But collecting the information (sometimes from multiple disciplines) and packaging it in one coherent story is a different matter. One important component is to use more modern scientific knowledge to try and infer the health and psychological consequences of recorded events.
Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now could be considered an example of the right idea, but it seems to emphasize a specific narrative argument rather than building historical foundations. Also it is very broad, whereas one could instead look more rigorously at narrow slices of history. Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen have called for interdisciplinary “progress studies”; the welfare history approach might be considered a component or possibly an ideal and comprehensive model for this. Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson have called for an “applied history” movement to look back at lessons from history for specific current challenges; a welfare history would not have this reversed direction of inquiry, but invokes a bit of its general spirit and purpose.
There is also work on economic history; this could be considered similar but with a mildly different scope. Most economic issues have a significant direct impact on welfare, but there are many other determinants of welfare.
Here I provide an example to show what the welfare approach to history could be like. I wrote about the history of Guam because it is (a) a small entity, easy to cover in detail, (b) partially Anglophone, making it possible for me to read many primary sources, (c) an oft-forgotten topic, meaning that I can do more to learn and teach something novel, and (d) relevant yet highly neglected as a current issue for the United States. However, for reasons of time and changing interests, I stopped this history at about 1918. I decided to post what I have, and if I get enough positive feedback, I will complete this project with the 1919-2019 history, plus some more detailed evaluation of the American administrations of 1899-1918.
It would be more valuable to write a history of a more well-known topic because that would more clearly showcase the differences between welfarist history and a standard historical narrative, and could catch a lot of attention if it can revise orthodoxy. Most notably, one could surpass the well-known controversy between traditional historical narratives and the New York Times’ 1619 Project about American slavery and more recent African-American history with a ‘third way’ using this welfarist approach. However, that would be a more ambitious project.
History of Guam up to 1918
Guam is a small island in the western Pacific. It lies 1,500 miles south of Japan, 1,300 miles east of the Philippines, 1,100 miles north of New Guinea, and 3,900 miles west of Hawaii. It sits at the southern end of the Northern Marianas island chain; the smaller island of Rota sits beyond the horizon almost 40 miles away, and Saipan and Tinian lie beyond that.
Guam is boomerang-shaped, 4 miles across at its pinch point in the middle – a two-hour walk. The distance from tip to tip is 30 miles, a day of foot travel if there were a straight road. It has an area of 210 square miles, larger than Malta but smaller than Bahrain.
It is a volcanic rock and limestone plateau with coastal cliffs, mostly between 150 and 600 feet above sea level, with some mountains in the south.
The island has a tropical rainforest climate with stable warm temperatures, heavy rains and periods of relative drought. It is vulnerable to typhoons.
Austronesian people from Southeast Asia, with advanced seafaring skills, arrived in Guam at around 1,500 BC. These Guamanian natives later became known as the Chamorro people.
At the time of settlement, Guam was generally covered in forest. Little is known about early Chamorro society, which consisted of small, mobile populations, without much social stratification. They relied mostly on a marine diet, supplemented by foraging and simple farm plots. They seem to have been relatively peaceful, and would have been just a few hundred in number (Amesbury and Anderson 2003).
Population then increased, due to intrinsic growth and/or immigration. This led to larger settlements with greater reliance on agriculture and a more complex social structure by about 900 AD.
What we know of this later Chamorro society is based on archaeology, Chamorro oral lore, and the accounts of the first European visitors in the 16th and 17th centuries. The people were organized around large extended families living in close proximity. Social identity was founded upon family membership. Families were matrilineal, so the female line controlled land and other resources. Women did not have exclusive authority, however. The Chamorros followed an avunculate practice, where the mother’s brother was the principal authority within a household. A man had less domestic authority than his wife, but could exercise authority in his sisters’ households.
Multiple families were connected into clans, which formed a basic political unit sharing internal resources and going to war together. Authority within the clan was divided by gender, with the oldest brother adjudicating work, property, dispute resolution and external affairs, as the senior woman had authority over women’s activities. The Chamorro legend of the shaping of Guam described women solving a problem after an amusing failure by armed men, underscoring separate but not very unequal gender roles.
Clans were largely autonomous, with no central government over them, but they formed alliances with each other for warfare, marriages, trade, and gifts.
Clans were also separated into castes. All land belonged to the high-ranking chamorri caste, who granted tenancy in less desirable areas to the low-class manachang. Chamorri extracted rents in the form of sharecropping. Manachang appeared smaller and darker than chamorri, either due to racial differences (one or the other being an immigrant group) or due to malnourishment and sun exposure. Manachang were also forbidden from fishing on the open sea, relying on freshwater fishing to supplement agriculture; this division was facilitated via superstition. Fishing grounds were divided up for use by specific clans. Violation of these rules was punishable by death. Manachang had to show strong deference to chamorri, and could be killed for disrespect. But a Spanish friar who lived on Rota, Juan Pobre de Zamora, said the manachang were treated well by their superiors. Since they were free to seek tenancy on any land, chamorri had an incentive to keep them satisfied.
Marriage was intracaste but only made outside the clan, as there was a taboo against incest. Marriage was arranged by elders, but were actually easy to dissolve. Men suffered worse consequences for divorce than women. Marriage was monogamous, but adultery still occurred; women could practice it with less social penalty.
Despite monogamy and the incest taboo, other aspects of Chamorro society suggest that they would be moderately high on the Kinship Intensity Index. Other Austronesian societies scored higher than Europe but lower than most African and Asian societies.
In keeping with intense kinship, there was a strong element of communalism, and it was typical for people to voluntarily assist many relatives and neighbors. Zamora observed that the Chamorro were more loving and caring than the people of Spain at the time. They did not practice corporal punishment on their children. Unmarried Chamorros often had sex.
Clans competed for status through athletic competitions, debates, storytelling, and displays of generosity. The chenchule’ practice of reciprocal gift exchange conferred prestige upon men who provided the most gifts to others. Chamorro society was fairly materialist.
Warfare occurred frequently, and often broke out from petty disputes. Correspondingly, it was more of a ritualistic form of dispute resolution, milder than European warfare. A truce would generally be negotiated after just one or a few deaths. Victors would mock the defeated, and then a formal offering would secure the peace. But feuds and resentments could linger.
Chamorro tools appear sound though unexceptional. They fashioned tools and weapons from the bones of their enemies. Chamorro fishing technology could be fairly sophisticated, although lower class men performing freshwater fishing had to settle for clubs and sticks. Sailing technology was particularly advanced; an English mariner in 1686 would declare that their proas “sail the best of any boats in the world.” Chamorro agriculture was entirely plant-based, and seemingly simple: the soil was worked with wooden sticks, and there is little evidence of agricultural earth works. They had neither wheels nor ploughs, innovations of relatively low value in their environment. But they apparently had some awareness of soil modification. The cultivation of breadfruit, bananas, and various tubers would have provided an adequate staple diet. Rice was adopted relatively late, sometime between 1000 and 1521, probably as a prestige food rather than as a stable (Hunter-Anderson et al 1995). The upper classes lived in grander dwellings than those of Mexican, Filipino or Japanese natives. The wooden structures were erected atop latte stone platforms.
The Chamorros appeared robust and healthy to European visitors, and were larger than contemporary Spaniards. These accounts seem to have been biased by the selection of Chamorros – specifically the chamorri – who would venture out on boats to meet them. Even they were sometimes begging as much as trading. Archaeological records do show that the Chamorros were larger in stature than contemporary Europeans. However, numerous skeletons exhibit diet insufficiency. The Marianas Islands may have been a population sink – receiving immigrants while experiencing intrinsic population decline. In the 16th-17th century, they suffered under the strain of the Little Ice Age.
Chamorros suffered from diseases like dropsy, yaws, arthritis and anemia. Chamorro healing practices were a mix of herbal and spiritual treatments. The functional efficacy of Chamorro herbal medicines is pretty dubious, but the provision of green leafy vegetables could have provided a useful dietary supplement, and the healers appear to play a beneficial psychotherapeutic role (McMakin 1978).
Chamorro body modification included tooth staining for prestige. The staining process took up to two weeks per tooth; the subject could not eat or drink during this time except via a funnel, causing great torment. A more invasive procedure was tooth etching, but it was rare. One account describes the Chamorro as sharpening their teeth as well.
Christoph Carl Fernberger, visiting in 1623, reported being told by a Chamorro that they would kill eight of their own people in a ritual sacrifice. Without a central authority on the island, this would presumably have been done at the village or clan level, but may not have been a practiced by others.
It is unclear how many of these practices were shared by early Chamorro society, and more difficult to say what caused changes. The adoption of rice (Hunter-Anderson et al 1995) and other intensive agriculture seems to have initially been a result of population growth rendering older techniques insufficient given the limited space of the island, although of course this could have turned into a mutually reinforcing trend as food begat fertility. The net effect was that both population size and (presumably) labor requirements grew; it is unclear if nutrition and health changed. The intense use of land and marine resources in turn required social stratification, with a caste system to divide fishers and farmers. Still, the proximity and competition led to an increase in warfare. The combination of labor demands, social hierarchy and violence could be expected to worsen average quality of life. Still, Chamorro quality of life was probably superior to that of Europe in the 1400s and 1500s, which was not only afflicted by famine and plague (due in part to the European climate and geography), but also saddled by a more oppressive set of norms and hierarchies.
“They be outside the faith of Jesus Christ”
Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet arrived at Guam in 1521 after an extremely taxing four-month journey across the Pacific, part of his famous circumnavigation voyage. In their first encounter, Chamorro men swarmed his ships and took a variety of items including a rowboat, in what they held to be a regular agreeable custom. Europeans unfortunately could only view this as plain thievery, and drove them off with crossbows. The next day, Magellan’s men went ashore in armor to burn 40-50 huts and several boats in revenge while retrieving their own; they killed eight locals who resisted. Still, they traded with the Chamorro, taking food in exchange for goods, before leaving. A Spaniard in the fleet named Gonzalo de Vigo later deserted elsewhere in the Marianas and made his way back to Guam in 1522.
Guam was located squarely on the route from Mexico to the Philippines, which the Spanish were forced to use due to Portuguese control of the Indian route. This led to a number of additional visits.
A Spanish ship captained by Toribio Alonso de Salazar passed by Guam in 1526, and found the surprising occurrence of one of the locals – de Vigo – speaking fluent Spanish. Chamorros bought and stole as many iron items as they could. De Salazar departed with de Vigo and eleven Chamorros who were kidnapped to work the water pumps. The ship was later destroyed in the Spanish-Portuguese conflict and the Chamorros were probably killed.
This was followed by a 1527 visit by Álvaro de Saavedra, who traded offshore but did not make landfall.
The brief barbarities of early contact were part of a pattern of European contact with native peoples. The conquistadors and their parties were fierce, ambitious, opportunistic, hardy, highly skilled and pious individuals, and braved extreme dangers to carry out the most extraordinary feats of the period. Of 270 men in Magellan’s expedition, only 18 returned alive; Ferdinand himself was killed in violence in the Philippines. When these kinds of men encountered natives, a combination of greed, cultural misunderstandings, and ghastly moral indifference to the heathens often led to cruelty and chaos.
The explorers were not a monolithic group, and dissidents among them spoke for fairer treatment. The most prominent controversy happened back in Spain. The most prominent critic was Bartolomé de las Casas. After he returned from the Americas, his influence helped lead to the Sublimus Deus, a brief 1537 papal encyclical maintaining that God had endowed all men with the capacity for faith and, therefore, the Indians must be treated with a basic level of dignity – not to be deprived of their life, property or freedom. In 1542, King Charles issued the New Laws for good treatment of the Indians. Governors were given an obligation to look out for the well-being of the Indians, slavery and forced labor were forbidden, and governance was centralized towards viceroys and the Crown.
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda criticized the New Laws, arguing that the Indians were inherently inferior and better suited for slavery. His derogatory view was not widely accepted in European academia, not least because it was secular and not well supported by theology. In 1550, King Charles ordered a halt on military expeditions and established a commission to hear both sides of the debate (Hernandez 2001). Las Casas argued it out with Sepúlveda; they made applications of Aristotlean thought, medieval and Renaissance theology. The results were inconclusive.
The mood among Spanish elites and the monarchy was frequently in favor of better treatment of Indians, partly due to the desire to restrict the growing power of colonial governors. However, it was difficult to exert control over oceanic distances at that time, and compliance was mixed. Overall, the advocacy for better treatment of the Indians had a modest impact on Spanish ventures, both in the Americas and in the Philippines.
Guam meanwhile was ignored for decades. Soaring spice prices eventually motivated another attempt to colonize the Philippines; a fleet had to be constructed in western Mexico to attempt another crossing of the Pacific. It was led by Miguel López de Legazpi, who had explicit instructions from the king to select sites in the Marianas for colonization, but not to take the property of the Indians. In January 1565, three ships arrived at Guam, a sight familiar to the elder Chamorros.
The sailors traded iron items, mainly nails, for food. Chamorros cheated Spaniards by filling containers with stones and water and passing them off as provisions, and again made off with a Spanish rowboat. This time however it did not lead to violence. Spaniards went ashore, gathering more water and food. In a ceremony which the Chamorros could not even understand, let alone agree to, Legazpi declared the island a possession of Spain. This would however be an entirely symbolic gesture for the time being.
Skirmishes did occur during Legazpi’s excursions. It was a mild matter until they inadvertently left a cabin boy ashore. Chamorros tied him, stabbed him with spears and mutilated his face. Spaniards discovered his corpse the next day and were met with jeers. They exacted vengeance by burning Chamorro proas, then ambushing and wounding men who showed up. Three were hanged; a fourth was saved when Spanish priests intervened.
This violence did not prevent Legazpi’s men from trading with other clans; the decentralized system localized the hostilities. Legazpi’s fleet weighed anchor and left with one Chamorro abductee.
In August 1566, neighboring Rota was subject to an unfortunate visit by a lone ship sent to resupply Legazpi in the Philippines. Chamorros were killed and houses were burned by undisciplined Spanish soldiers. Another ship arrived in August 1568 and was dashed against reefs in a storm. Chamorro warriors descended upon the survivors but were fended off. Chamorros continued to trade and perhaps extract tribute from the castaways. The 132 Spaniards, led by their eighteen-year-old captain Felipe de Salcedo (Legazpi’s grandson), then amazingly constructed a barque out of the ship’s boat and pieces of the wreck and sailed it to the Philippines without losing a man.
Guam was now firmly on the European map. Spanish galleons en route to the Philippines became a somewhat routine occurrence. Typically they traded offshore without making landfall. Following their riches, the English privateer Thomas Cavendish also stopped by Guam in 1588, trading with Chamorros offshore and then firing muskets at them when they followed his ship. Guam’s cosmopolitan credentials further expanded when four Dutch ships arrived in September 1600, trading and then departing. Subsequent contact would be a mix of Spanish and Dutch visitors.
As Guam and the Chamorros became recognized by the Spaniards, missionary interested ensued. Three Spaniards appeared in 1596: the friar Antonio de Los Ángeles, trying to bring Christianity to the islanders, and two soldiers who had been trying in vain to retrieve the priest. They remained unharmed for a year and departed on the next galleon. They were followed in 1602 by the friars Juan Pobre de Zamora and Pedro de Talavera, who deserted Spanish ships to be taken ashore on Rota. De Zamora was picked up in the next year. De Los Ángeles and de Zamora both shared written accounts of the Chamorro people.
In 1638, an enormous galleon with 400 people was wrecked by Saipan. Most were killed either by drowning or by the depredations of Chamorro warriors who descended upon the wreck and looted its contents. The survivors made their way to Rota and Guam, where they were well treated. Some eventually departed to the Philippines; others stayed, married Chamorro women and raised families.
The impact of European contact with the Chamorros is unclear due to the lack of Chamorro records, but visitors’ tales indicate that there was little influence in the century and a half following Magellan. Scores or perhaps hundreds of chamorros were killed, mostly needlessly, in violent confrontations; this number could have been a little higher if not for the influence of Spanish reformers and clergy. Cats, dogs, rats, flies and mosquitoes were introduced to the island – however, malaria would not arise.
Chamorros were exposed to Old World diseases, but it’s difficult to say how much damage they caused. The Chamorros seem to have experienced a major population decline between the 1500s and the late 1600s. If this was indeed the case, it is possible that it was caused by devastating epidemics, but it may have been driven by the peak of the Little Ice Age. A contemporary illustration of Chamorros’ encounter with Oliver van der Noort (1600) seems to show the majority of them bearing pock marks. Fernberger’s account mentions licentious Chamorro women dying from veneral diseases transmitted by Europeans. However, if there was a massive epidemic problem, we would expect to see more evidence from other contemporary accounts.
The main benefit of early European contact was the opportunity for Chamorros to acquire iron. They held this in very high regard, as evidenced by how readily they made risky encounters with Europeans in order to obtain it. They would have lacked blacksmithing tools and knowledge, but obtained implements like nails, knives and scissors that could have greatly simplified daily life. At the same time, their determined pursuit of any iron item (including the simple hoops used to bind casks) suggests that there may have been an element of prestige or at least hyped overexuberance in their business.
The introduction of metal also seems to have given rise to a practice of genital piercing. Fernberger’s account mentions that boys’ penises were pierced through the head, apparently to preserve virginity, and the piercings were removed when they grew older. While similar piercings were traditionally practiced in southeast Asia (Harrisson 1964), those seem to have served an opposite function. Fernberger’s use of the word nögl and the description of the pins being bent so as to prevent boys from removing them suggest that they were made of metal, although Fernberger elsewhere uses nagel to specifically refer to metal nails, so it is unclear exactly what he meant by nögl. While Magellan’s chronicler described penis piercings in the Philippines, he made no mention of having seen them at Guam, despite chamorro men being fully nude. There isn’t indication that this phenomenon became widespread on Guam, but insofar as it was practiced, it would have presumably been painful and possibly very traumatic. Xygalatas et al (2018) observed that painful ritual ceremonies actually subsequently increase subjective well being, but looked at willing men (age μ = 45, σ = 16) rather than boys.
The decentralized nature of Chamorro society enabled some clans to continue trading even as others were aggrieved in violent confrontations. Chamorros also adapted fairly well to the dangers of European explorers as they learned to refuse to go aboard the new ships, preferred to keep them offshore, and simply traded from boat to boat. Chamorro trickery and cruelty led to retaliations; a more centralized and diplomatic system could have averted this. However, most conflict was due to either the inherent aggression of their visitors or unfortunate differences in cultural norms.
Diego Luís de San Vitores
Father Diego Luís de San Vitores was born an aristocrat and schooled by the Jesuits. Possessed of a fervent missionary calling, he traveled to Mexico and then to the Philippines. Along the way, he observed the Chamorros and regarded them among the poorest people (both spiritually and materially) that he encountered. San Vitores petitioned authorities for support to launch a missionary endeavor on Guam, but was initially rebuffed. It was deemed impractical, and unnecessary for the Spanish empire. The galleons were already getting all they needed from Guam by way of offshore barter.
San Vitores was not so easily discouraged. In an audacious 1664 letter to King Philip, he quoted the deceased Saint Francis Xavier to remind the king of his impending death and divine judgment for his sins. He described the way that Spaniards in the Indies were neglecting to convert the natives and mistreating them. He then enlisted his connections to add letters from an archbishop, an admiral and Queen Mariana of Austria. The petition circumvented the failing Spanish bureaucracy and succeeded in persuading the king. A royal decree made its way to Manila, but the decree only covered the construction of a ship, not the provision of funding for the voyage (apparently an oversight). San Vitores had to set sail in 1667 to Mexico and try to raise funds there, but the viceroy of Mexico refused. In the midst of a heated conversation, an earthquake struck Mexico City. Shaken by divine providence at his implacability, the viceroy and a number of citizens donated ample funds and provisions to support San Vitores’ voyage. Finally in June 1668, after a three month voyage from Acapulco, San Vitores’ ship arrived at Guam. The ship also carried Esteban, a Filipino survivor of a Guam shipwreck who had learned the Chamorro language and taught it to San Vitores.
Chamorros performed their customary proa swarm for trade. But this time the Spaniards implored them to come aboard, and they landed the next day. They were greeted pleasantly and provided gifts. They brought rams, sheep, cows and parrots ashore, a bewildering sight to the Chamorros. They were also joined by a couple of shipwreck survivors who had made a living in Chamorro society. San Vitores held mass and preached a sermon entirely in the Chamorro language. All was going well, and the ship departed for the Philippines, leaving fifty men ashore: five priests, a scholastic brother, three Spanish officers, thirty-one soldiers, and about ten catechists and servants. They were at the village of Agana under the protection of the chieftain Quipuha.
San Vitores set about performing large services of doctrinal instruction, conversion and baptism. Chamorros were enthusiastic, not least because trinkets and biscuits were awarded for participation – some snuck back to be baptized again and again. San Vitores was a source of prestige for the nearby chamorri chiefs, who endeavored to keep him in the same village. The centralization of the Spanish mission in Agana would lead to it becoming the capital and largest city, which was unfortunate as its distance from the island’s harbor and its location on contaminated soil near a swamp would later cause logistics and disease problems.
The first tension arose when chamorri leaders sought to restrict the prestigious conversion rites to their own caste. Not only was the caste division an important component of Chamorro society, but – as Rogers notes – knowledge was considered a form of property and transmitting the knowledge of Christianity to the manachang could have been considered too much of a giveaway. But San Vitores, both strong in character and dismissive towards the cultural norms of the indios, was adamant that all be treated equally. Eventually the chamorri gave in to what would be the first of many erosions of their traditional governing rights.
San Vitores began to destroy ancestor skulls and other idols of the Chamorros, no doubt creating a good deal of cultural grievance. A Chinese resident named Coco who had lived on Guam for two decades spread rumors that baptism would lead to death – and for a few babies, this seemed to be true. In reality, Christian doctrine held that infants near death should receive the highest priority for baptism, so they were disproportionately taken to early ceremonies and it was only inevitable that more of them would die. Still, Chamorros became suspicious of the priests. They initiated hostilities in August, killing a Spanish soldier and his servant.
San Vitores sailed right to Choco’s village to win him to his side, accompanied by four armed men. They held a three-day public debate, witnessed by a crowd of Chamorros. One of San Vitores’ own Filipino men tried to assassinate him, but he survived and the assassin fled to the hills. Choco was humbled, converted and renamed Ignacio, but it did not stick. He continued to agitate, and Chamorros often threatened the Spaniards. However, the missionary work continued on Guam as well as elsewhere in the Marianas. San Vitores was an ascetic, a penitent self-flagellator who was seemingly unfazed by threats.
Quipuha died in February 1669, and was buried in a new church over Chamorro protest.
Another galleon arrived in June, providing supplies and six soldiers. San Vitores reported a dubious figure of 13,000 Chamorros across the Marianas being baptized in the first year of missionary work.
San Vitores visited Saipan, and was almost executed by his hosts there. A fellow catechist was then blamed for the loss of a newborn child, and murdered. San Vitores was waylaid by captors on another island, but saved when another act of divine geology – a volcanic eruption – frightened them into letting him go. His next stop was Tinian, where a major war had broken out between two clans for dominance of the island. The two Jesuits on Tinian had tried to mediate but were swept up in the hostilities; San Vitores left them to defend the church as he went south for reinforcements. He brought up ten soldiers with two little cannons, which so frightened the Chamorros that they were able to negotiate a tenuous peace.
Not a week later, Chamorros on Saipan – stirred by Choco – attacked and killed two missionaries on the island. San Vitores was urged to exact retribution, but he refused. Others on Tinian attacked the Spanish encampment, only to scatter after two were killed by firearms.
There was no galleon in 1670, and a drought led many Chamorros to relapse into their traditional beliefs. Filipinos deserted to join Chamorro villages and had to be convinced to return. By the time the next ship arrived with minor reinforcements in 1671, the little venture was practically under siege. Soon after the ship left, Chamorros killed a servant, and Spanish soldiers exacted revenge by killing a man who later turned out to be one of the high-status chamorri. Now his clan desired revenge. A headman named Hurao began mobilizing Chamorros for war, taking time to go through the customary alliance rituals. One of the Chamorros tipped off the Spaniards, who immediately began preparing their mission as a defensive fort. They ventured out to take Hurao captive. San Vitores wanted the soldiers to release him as a gesture of goodwill, and tried to negotiate with Hurao, but was rebuffed both times.
About 2,000 Chamorro warriors attacked in September. They almost succeeded in overwhelming the fort after a week of assaults, aided by Choco and better gumption in the face of gunpowder weapons. But on the eighth day, a typhoon miraculously struck the island, destroying almost every man-made structure except the stockades and towers of the fort. Chamorros attempted a final assault, which failed. Their survivors petitioned for peace, asking for the release of Hurao; San Vitores agreed.
This was a miscalculation, as Hurao promptly gathered warriors to mount another siege. The Spaniards defeated them with a raid outside the fort, and the Chamorros once again petitioned for peace. Their leader Quipuha – relative of the other Quipuha, buried in the church – agreed that the Chamorros would be converted to Christianity, send their children to Catholic school and help rebuild the church. Peace returned, although resentment festered. The fate of the agitator Choco is unknown, possibly killed in the fighting.
The missionary venture now expanded, receiving increased Spanish attention and no small amount of support from his personal beseechments to Queen Mariana, but it was still fragile due to logistical difficulties and stubbornness among the officials in Manila. New churches brought Chamorros into the faith, but to varying degrees. Part of the disparity was due to social class; the manachang were attracted to the way that Christian membership could elevate their status, whereas chamorri (especially the women) feared the loss of status entailed by Spanish norms. The priests declared that women had to renounce the unusual liberties of Chamorro society in order to become Christians.
Quipuha was now seeking vengeance for the humiliation of his former defeat. He arranged for the murder of San Vitores’ favorite catechist on March 31, 1672, and made a failed attempt to destroy a sentry box. San Vitores then ordered all personnel to return to their base in Agana; returning Spaniards and Filipinos were caught and killed by Chamorro warriors. San Vitores himself himself was tarrying elsewhere on the island, searching for Esteban. A chamorri named Mata’pang hosted San Vitores and a companion on April 2, but angrily refused a request to baptize his infant daughter. Mata’pang went to fetch a warrior and persuaded him to help kill the missionaries. When he returned, he saw that San Vitores had gone ahead and baptized the daughter anyway (it has been alleged that the mother sanctioned it). Enraged, the two Chamorros set upon the Spaniards, killing Vitores’ companion first. Indefatigable to the end, San Vitores said “May God have mercy on thee, Mata‘pang” as the Chamorros stabbed him with a spear and cut his head with a machete. San Vitores was still alive as the Chamorros stripped him, tied stones to his feet and tossed him into the sea; he rose but was knocked under with a paddle.
San Vitores was one of the minor great men of history who was subservient to structural trends but nonetheless left an indelible mark on local affairs through personal character. His skilled diplomacy, resolute religious will, political connections and surprising luck (or divine intervention) facilitated a permanent Christian presence on Guam that achieved thousands of conversions. His patience and piety ensured that the mission was relatively benign in comparison to Spanish conquests elsewhere in the world and on Guam after his death. He probably stumbled by making an uncompromising attack on Chamorro social structure. Religious conversion was more successful when it could be co-opted by local elites as an element of their social power; baptism for the masses could follow in time once Christian governance had been established more securely. This however would have been difficult on Guam, where society was decentralized and the matrilineal power lineages clashed with European orthodoxy. A more flexible doctrine than early modern Catholicism might have been more easily spread among the Chamorros. By taking his bold final venture – searching for a friend – he precipitated his own death, jeopardizing the restraint he had worked to maintain among the Spanish military. But he was not immortal, and by establishing the permanent mission presence on Guam in the first place he made it highly probable that domineering military authority would follow sooner or later.
The Chamorros, for their part, failed in their relations with the Spanish due to lacking centralized authority on the island. A leader could have been able to prevent or make restitution for individual acts of violence, or could have quickly mobilized the population to overwhelm the aliens – it should have been easy given that the Chamorros could gather thousands of warriors against perhaps fifty Spaniards. San Vitores would have had to bargain with a much more powerful leader for limited missionary privileges. Instead, the Chamorros followed perhaps the worst possible course of action, where individual clans variously reinforced Spanish presence (eager for the prestige they could obtain over their rivals by working with the missionaries) or provoked them with violence, until finally the murder of San Vitores would open the door to a still less tolerable kind of Spanish leadership. The Chamorros also suffered from the lack of modern weapons and armor, even 150 years after first meeting the Spaniards.
San Vitores’ mission brought maize to the island, and presumably some degree of general European knowledge and technology. The immediate downside was the series of fights and turmoils that ensued; probably hundreds of Chamorros were killed. The venture also inadvertently brought diseases to the island, though we don’t know exactly which contacts might have caused devastating early plagues. The Spaniards also introduced alcohol and tobacco over Jesuit disapproval, and both caught on among the Chamorros. This was a recreational boon, but some alcoholism arose and the long-term health effects of tobacco smoking would be bad.
In any case, the most significant consequences of San Vitores’ mission were still forthcoming.
Incensed Spanish soldiers soon killed Hurao and an innocent Chamorro woman in retaliation for the martyrdom of San Vitores. The new Jesuit superior, Francisco Solano, ordered restraint, but small-scale violence from both sides continued intermittently.
Chamorros were still divided between those who tolerated Spanish presence and those who considered them enemies. The Spanish were also able to exploit old rivalries among the Chamorros to garner allegiance, and extended their reach with new churches. Converted Chamorros often supported Spaniards in their confrontations with the more rebellious clans on the island.
A military officer named Damián de Esplana was stranded on the island in 1674; as the highest ranking Spaniard, he took command of the garrison for the next two years. Esplana executed a Chamorro who had killed a Spaniard two years previously, then burned his entire village. He sent expeditions which burned numerous villages: the one where Choco had lived, one where San Vitores’ crucifix and bloodstained clothes were recovered, and several on Rota where the still-rebellious Mata’pang was hiding. In December 1675, Chamorros in another village killed a priest and his assistant when they tried to interfere with bachelors’ activities; they fled before the predictable burning of their village.
The Spanish advantage in guns and steel was by this time augmented by a couple of horses, a frightening novelty to the natives. Chamorros seem to have been using a mix of Spanish blades and their traditional weapons; a particularly tall Spanish priest wrote that the locals wanted to make spears from his bones, before his limbless corpse was recovered from a northern village. Chamorros devised shields out of wood and bark, but these probably would have been useless against 17th century muskets.
Spanish settlement grew with families, some immigrating and some due to local marriage with Chamorro women. Esplana was replaced by Francisco de Irisarri y Vivar, who made church attendance mandatory for Chamorro converts and had them send their children to church school. Orphaned and straggling children were also taken away to be raised by the priests.
Irisarri continued to prosecute rebels. Five Chamorros were killed in August 1676. An uncoverted Chamorro was then captured attempting to kill a priest who was marrying his converted daughter to a Spanish soldier; Irisarri had the man publicily hanged and demanded that all nearby Chamorros watch. In a further morbid spectacle, he allowed converted child Chamorros to drag the corpse along the beach while shouting taunts. Near the end of the month, a nine-strong Spanish expedition to protect the church at Orote was lured into a trap by a baptized chamorri named Cheref; all were killed and the church was burned down.
A chamorri named Aguarin began to organize Chamorros into an alliance to more firmly resist the Spanish. Informant converts tipped off the Spaniards, who retreated into their beach fort. Aguarin led a siege beginning in October. Irisarri turned back a major assault in January with clever tactics to amplify his firepower advantage. When the warriors returned, he placed a flag outside the fort on its strongest side, knowing that audacious Chamorro warriors would endeavor to capture it, and mowed them down with musket fire. The siege was lifted, but guerrilla fighting and reprisals continued into 1678. The Chamorros had now begun to fortify their villages.
When the next galleon arrived in June, Irisarri departed and was replaced by Juan de Vargas y Hurtado. Under his guidance and aided by converted Chamorros, the Spanish carried out a brutal campaign throughout the hostile areas of Guam, destroying houses, burning food stores, killing any hostiles and stealing any children they found. They then established a policy of rewarding Chamorros who could present them with the heads of dissidents, which quickly bore results. Still, much of the island remained hostile, and missionaries had to be escorted by soldiers.
Campaigning continued in 1679 as Cheref was killed and Aguarin was forced to flee to Rota. One of the last rebel holdouts on Guam was assaulted and burned down after a fierce battle. Resistance on the island soon faltered, and villagers variously fled to caves and other islands or gave up and entered Spanish dominion.
The veteran military officer Don Joseph de Quiroga became governor in 1680 with instructions to root out all remaining resistance. Bolstered by twenty new soldiers, he built a new base at Macheche in the center of the island and sent out parties to pursue dissident Chamorros across the island. Captured leaders were publicly executed. Fearful Chamorros captured Mata’pang and sent him to Quiroga to win his favor; Mata’pang died of his wounds enroute. Quiroga invaded Rota, burning down rebel villages and capturing Aguarin. He was taken to Agaña and executed. Some dissent continued on Guam as a church was burned in 1681; Quiroga pursued the locals to Rota, burned their village there and made them return.
Guam was divided into five parishes containing churches and connected by new roads. The chamorri were supplanted by principalía, the families of converted Chamorros who were given civil duties (principales). Quiroga was succeeded by Antonio Saravia, who built a stone fort that contained perhaps the last large catapult in military history. Saravia elevated the power of principales and had them make oaths to the king of Spain. Abandoned lands on Guam were taken and distributed to loyal Chamorros and Filipinos.
Spanish influence had by now caused a proliferation of iron implements like hatchets and swords among the natives. A special supply route was established to and from the Philippines; each year a small ship would make a round trip, to supplement the intermittent passage of the Acapulco galleons. Guam received greater amounts of basic provisions, but much of the profit was extracted in rents by Guam’s governors as they had monopoly control over local trade. The Spanish were now raising hogs on the island. Some Chamorros were suffering from disease, something looking like leprosy.
Saravia died and was replaced by Esplana, who was almost killed in an 1684 uprising while most of the Spanish soldiers were away on an expedition to Saipan led by Quiroga. Native warriors killed priests and soldiers and burned buildings in Agaña before being driven away by group of friendly Chamorros.
The rebels mustered for another attack. But they were too slow to organize and their assault on the fort four days later was repulsed. A stronger attack in August was stopped only with help of sympathetic Chamorros. In these confrontations, it appears that the rebels were chamorri and the Spanish received help from the manachang.
Quiroga finally returned and lifted the siege in November. He then mounted another campaign raiding rebel villages across the island, ending organized resistance and causing many Chamorros to flee to other islands.
The English privateer John Eaton landed on Guam in March 1685, and some of his men were attacked by Chamorros. He subsequently went off killing more Chamorros before leaving.
Diseases continued to harm the Chamorros who lacked natural immunities: a ship from Acapulco in 1688 started an epidemic that may have been smallpox, and the 1689 galleon brought an unknown disease that killed eighty people in three months. This was the end of a precipitous population decline catalyzed by warfare, village destruction, and the generally demoralizing disintegration of Chamorro society and norms. Diseases, food shortages, battle injuries, and mental stress could combine to create heightened degrees of mortality and suffering. Prospects were so grim that women conducted sterilization, abortion and infanticide to prevent kids from having to grow up in the new dominion. Many Chamorros emigrated to other islands in the Marianas where the Spanish lacked permanent power. The population on Guam fell to just 1,800, which included 130 soldiers and a number of other Spaniards and Filipinos.
Thus, while Spanish authority had succeeded in bringing the island under fully Christian governance, the actual number of converts was likely lower than it had been after San Vitores’ initial efforts. The cost to Spain for this spiritually senseless conquest was over a hundred men killed in the various confrontations.
The Spanish decided to relocate the inhabitants of the northern Marianas Islands to Guam; the political and military leadership needed farmers to supply the galleons and garrison, and the Jesuits sought to convert them. Rumors of an expedition led Spanish sailors to attempt an escape from the island; Esplana had twenty-three of them executed. Fortunately, Esplana had tired of war and was more concerned with profiteering and embezzlement than with organizing any military ventures. But Guam’s troubles continued as another epidemic – probably smallpox – and a typhoon swept the island in 1693.
Esplana died in 1694, and Quiroga became governor again. He immediately took fifty soldiers to secure Rota, building roads and leaving behind a missionary. He then gathered the inhabitants of Saipan and Tinian, killing the few who resisted, and returning survivors to Guam. Another expedition in 1698 finished the job, with many refugees dying in a typhoon enroute. Several others chose to kill themselves rather than be captured. The Marianas were now essentially unihabited except for Guam and Rota. Guam’s own inhabitants had been resettled too, away from traditional villages and into the new parishes where clans were more intermixed.
Devastating epidemics in 1700 and 1709 capped the disaster of Spanish conquest. Most Chamorros had died in the recent chaos. Some Chamorros still rejected Spanish rule, living naked in the hills. For the remainder, even assuming that they adjusted to the social shocks, quality of life had almost certainly declined relative to the pre-contact period – most obviously due to the persistence of diseases like leprosy and syphilis, and the introduction of mandatory schooling and church attendance.
Chamorro men disfigured by tuberculoid leprosy, 1819
Spanish rule on Guam was milder than the encomienda system used elsewhere in the empire. Chamorros were generally untaxed and retained control of their land, now through the principalía rather than the chamorri. But they were soon drafted to work two days a week or more for poor wages. Jesuits were indignant at this forced labor, but had little power. A petition to King Philip yielded stern instructions for reform, which were promptly ignored by local authorities.
The Spanish forbade ocean sailing in order to prevent Chamorros from escaping, and fishing suffered. Instead, chickens, cattle and pigs were raised by the islanders. Wheeled transport, ploughs, and beasts of burden eased farming and transport. Still, many Chamorros died of hunger in 1706. Meanwhile, Spanish elites lived in masonry houses and hunted feral hogs and cattle on Tinian.
The island was economically depressed by the corruption of Spanish leadership and, in 1710, the demands of a flotilla of English privateers. Resupply was intermittent, for galleons sometimes opted to sail on by and the special replenishment ship from the Philippines did not always arrive. Whatever supplies did arrive were basically monopolized by the governor and sold at exorbitant prices. A Chamorro would have to work 4-6 months to purchase a pair of trousers. Finance began to take root, but in usurious fashion.
There is little to be said for Spanish leadership during the conquest: it was callous, destructive and immoral. The Chamorros meanwhile suffered again from their inability to coordinate. Decentralization is not necessarily a disadvantage, as splintered guerrilla groups can resist very well. But the latent class division and competitions in Chamorro society and the allure of Spanish religion and items made it all too easy for the Spanish to gather sufficient numbers of Chamorros onto their side. And again, their military technology remained well behind that of the Spaniards.
“They are called free Men, but I think contrary”
The pure-blooded Chamorro population continued to decline. A ship carried Filipino immigrants in 1748, but sank enroute with no survivors. Some migrants did settle, a few at a time.
The Spanish toyed with proposals to end or reduce their presence on Guam – including forcibly relocating all its inhabitants to the Philippines or to a couple major settlements on the island. These were rejected as the Pacific trade route was of high strategic importance to Spain, especially with increased French and British ventures into the Pacific. New forts were built in the 1720s and 1730s. Leadership mildly improved as a number of Navy officers – more liberal than Army ones – held governorship of the island.
Guam was largely untouched by the wars of the mid-1700s, and geopolitical shifts undermined its importance. Ship visits became rarer. The next change for the island occurred in 1768 when a new governor named Henrique de Olavide y Michelena arrived with news that King Charles III had decreed that all Jesuits be expelled from the empire and that their properties be confiscated. The old religious order, once a source of imperial zeal, was now considered a threat to the national integrity of Spain. Jesuits were imprisoned and shipped away, replaced by Augustinian friars. This hurt the Chamorros, as the Jesuit farms were abandoned and livestock turned wild. Schooling also declined in quality. The Augustinians were at least less stringent in their religious doctrine.
In 1771, an industrious Army officer named Mariano Tobías became governor of the island. He immediately set about improving local affairs. He introduced new crops from Mexico and the Philippines, a simple textile industry, and salt production. He brought instructors to teach blacksmithing.’ He set loose deer for hunting – they are still present today, but have sometimes made a nuisance of themselves by destroying crops. He ceased forced labor, replacing it with a paid volunteer militia that worked on crops, road building and other projects.
He also gave assistance to French survivors of a Maori cannibal massacre, who subsequently wrote about his generosity as an exception to Spanish imperial greed. This description outraged the Spanish. Tobías – now serving in Manila after a routine transfer – found himself demoted, divorced and returning to Spain in obscurity.
Another effective governor, Joseph Arleguí y Leóz, improved the economy and government during his tenure from 1786 to 1794. A royal edict put some Chamorros in secondary administrative roles.
Natural disasters struck the island in 1793-1794, but the next governor – Manuel Muro – mitigated the crisis by buying food and clothes and distributing them freely. He ordered the reconstruction of Agana but provided double rations for shorter hours to keep the populace strong. He also protected the wild deer and cattle from being hunted to extinction. He subsequently constructed a bridge and a number of forts to protect the island. The unending docket of forced labor led the Chamorros to view him as a tyrant.
The population began to slowly increase in the late 1780s, but other than that there was scant empirical evidence that the standard of living had improved from 1700 to 1800. Chamorros – who were by now very much a mixed group containing Spanish and Filipino blood – still mainly lived in one-room wooden houses. Animals for meat, dairy and leather were common; ocean fishing and even swimming had largely become lost arts. Some found success by diving for sea cucumbers, which were demanded by Chinese markets. Agriculture was a mix of tobacco (to pay rent) and subsistence crops – the latter being similar to those raised before European contact, but with the addition of watermelons and citrus. Chamorros owned clothes, but they were so expensive to replace – the governor was marking them up by factor of 9 – that most of the time they went naked. The island’s cash economy basically consisted of the governor paying the militia followed by the militia buying goods from the governor-owned general store.
Chamorros were still badly afflicted by disease. Hereditary syphilis was a major problem. Spanish authorities seem to have done little or nothing to staunch epidemics. There was no doctor and no medicine. Spanish elites, naturally immune to Old World diseases, lived in good health and built as much of a luxury lifestyle as the occasional ships from Manila could support. Education was oriented around the church: most children learned to read prayers but little else.
The island was still ruled by martial law. The church also had the nominal authority to try and even torture people, but didn’t exercise this power.
Due to a combination of imperial neglect and communication difficulties, the nearby Carolinian islanders were even by this time under the impression that visitors to Guam would be interred or killed by the Spanish. A local Army officer named Captain Luís de Torres finally had a chance to visit Woleai in 1804 and established a trade route serviced by fleets of up to 18 proas.
In the early 1800s, Spain was in political turmoil. A progressive 1812 constitution made subjects out of all free men in Spanish territories. There was renewed interest in colonies including Guam, so statistics began to be recorded of inhabitants. But noble dreams were overcome by political realities. The empire was faltering, and the Pacific galleon trade finally ceased in 1815. Guam, now a nearly vestigial outpost, saw its government support shrink drastically due to the crown’s fiscal problems. The island wallowed in poverty, still burdened by an overbearing colonial government. The whaling industry of the 1820s provided some relief as sailors visited to purchase supplies, alcohol, and sex. Prostitution unfortunately spread disease to local women, both veneral strains and deadly influenza. People also died of tetanus, dysentery, and a variety of other afflictions. However, local life expectancy (42 after age 5) was generally similar to that of wealthy northern countries like Sweden and the United States. One woman lived to the age of 109.
Governor José Ganga Herrero was relatively liberal and locally popular: he allowed free trade with non-Spanish ships and legitimized bastard children. When he opted not to intervene against a mutiny aboard passing Spanish warships – it seemed too risky and difficult—Manila authorities replaced him with a strongly loyalist former governor named José de Medinilla. Medinilla was an unpopular figure who reasserted a monopoly on trade with visiting vessels. He tried to avert discontent by canceling alcohol debts and distillation fees, but still had to quell a minor uprising in 1829.
Guam still had strategic utility as a link to the Philippines. Manila authorities debated plans for improvements to the island, until in 1828 they selected one proposed by Ganga Herrero. Unused government land would be redistributed to locals. The governor’s commerce monopoly would be abolished and free ports would be established. A new militia would maintain security and a royal treasurer would maintain finances. Similar reform proposals were devised in Madrid in 1829. Then in 1829-1830, an Army officer on Guam named Francisco Ramón de Villalobos sent reports with proposals to Manila. They responded by appointing him governor.
Villalobos reorganized troops into the urban militia, fostered small industries including a kiln for tiles, and improved roads and bridges. He gave some of the crown lands to local families. He also introduced vaccination against the dreaded smallpox. He started collecting port fees from ships, but discontinued the governor’s monopoly on import sales.
The reforms had also been intended to reduce the cost of maintaining the colony, so the Spanish subsidy to Guam declined. Cash became scarce on the island, but non-Chamorros still had to pay a 10% tax on farm produce, license fees, church tithes and other duties. Declaring Chamorro identity became a way to avoid charges, resurrecting a form of ethnic prestige.
Villalobos’ reforms fell short of their intended effects. Despite them – or perhaps because of the subsidy reduction – an 1839 visitor considered Guam to have declined from its previous condition, the populace being burdened by filthy poverty and leprosy. A primary school had been repurposed into a farmhouse. There was still little reason to believe that the health and material standard of living for most residents were better than they had been prior to the Spanish permanent presence nearly two centuries ago. Only 8,000 people lived on Guam – a fair recovery from the lowest point, but still less than the 10,000-50,000 existing previously.
Visitors from other countries perceived this as a symptom of oppressive Spanish administration. Entrepreneurial governors like Tobías could make a positive impact, at least temporarily, but they were the exception to the rule. The logistical limitations and local authoritarian structure created an all too easy opportunity for corrupt governors to make profits by controlling trade.
There were other views. Governor Don Felipe de la Corte in an 1856 report attributed poverty to the local culture and environment. He noted that despite the great productivity of the tropical land, the people were reluctant to work and accumulate any more wealth than they needed on a daily basis. They were often accused of laziness, but de la Corte noted that in the isolated island economy with so few buyers, surplus grain had little use and would invariably rot or be destroyed by a typhoon before the next time it was needed. Chamorros had correspondingly developed a rational culture of dismissiveness towards plans for storage and preparation. (This may have arisen in pre-contact Chamorro society.) His planned solution was to have maize be farmed and placed in long-term cave storage, but this doesn’t seem to have been implemented.
Villalobos attributed weakness to the presence of the Catholic school founded by San Vitores, the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán. Children became accustomed to easy food and board while learning no useful skills, turning them into discontented misfits. Villalobos wanted to repurpose the building and use its funds for other government purposes. De la Corte similarly wanted to limit education to be more rudimentary, because students’ “pretensions… to be men of education” could make them troublesome to authorities. But Manila (where the trust fund for the school was located) did not permit either proposal. Catholic authorities meanwhile discouraged the Protestant faith, apparently burning baskets of Bibles in 1856 to prevent the Chamorros from reading them.
600 Carolinian refugees, fleeing natural disasters, were allowed to settle with a farm labor contract in 1848 and 1849. Most crops were then consumed by worms in 1849; the Filipino government and citizens sent aid to relieve the crisis.
In February 1856, a passenger on the American merchant Edward L. Frost died of smallpox shortly before arriving at Guam. The ship was quarantined, but only for three days, and two passengers with influential connections on Guam were permitted to go ashore immediately. These two developed smallpox and died in May; soon the whole island was stricken with the disease.
A brief note about smallpox is in order. While rigorous comparisons of welfare and disability burdens were not made in the early modern era, smallpox had been popularly considered “the worst of human maladies.” It caused excruciating pain. Within a few days of contracting the illness, the victim became a weak and hollow shell of a person, as if they had been suffering for years. The victim had trouble swallowing or speaking; eventually they would entirely lose the ability to swallow. The victim developed scabs all over the face and extremities; sometimes the scalp itself became a massive scab entangled with the hair. Those who survived would be immune for life, but would often be permanently disfigured or blinded. Smallpox vaccinations existed, but the artificial immunity wore off after 10-15 years; this epidemic started three decades after Villalobos’ program. Spanish authorities tried in vain to isolate and vaccinate people against the disease. It ran its course by November, killing 63% of the population.
Political convulsions in Spain led to hundreds of political prisoners being deposited in Guam in the 1870s. There was no easy escape from the island, so many were left loose to live among the regular populace; others were freed in an 1876 royal decree. Some of these were Filipinos with radical beliefs for native independence, who subsequently influenced some of the otherwise passive Chamorros. In 1884, the governor was assassinated by a militiaman. Authorities immediately disbanded the militia and replaced them with a regular Filipino infantry company. Forty-seven suspects were sent to Manila for trial on suspicion of a conspiracy for rebellion; four were executed and thirty-one imprisoned. One local priest would later claim – maybe spuriously – that confessions had been extracted by the governor via torture to create a false narrative of Chamorro insurrection.
Guam’s population grew but remained poor as Governor Olive y García took control in the 1880s. The literacy rate was 10-20% (compared to 20% globally and 85% in America), and the Spanish language was actually dying out; the colegio had faltered due to “misappropriation and dishonesty.” Whalers were scarce and the Carolinian trade had stopped, though Guam now became prominent as a coaling station. Most men still had to work for the government forty days a year, or pay an exemption fee. Ordinary Chamorros fell into debt, which was usually paid off by labor in a peonage system that further increased Chamorros’ aversion to manual labor. Many emigrated.
In 1885, limited democracy began as principales were elected to local office. Similar reforms elsewhere in the colonies were insufficient: in 1896 a number of Filipino insurrectionists had to be interned on Guam. Some of them had been imprisoned on Guam before, and managed to escape. Panicked guards opened fire, killing eighty.
Aside from this, Guam had been generally peaceful for two centuries, with a stable government and judicial system. Ordinary Guamanians were still poor, but their wants were simple and they seem to have been untroubled by the state of affairs. A greater proportion of people now lived in houses of stone rather than wood and thatch, so they could better withstand typhoons. They had little furniture; the poorest slept and ate on mats. It was common to have a main house in Agana (over two-thirds lived there) and a separate hut elsewhere on the island to stay for ranch work. There was still not a reliable food supply on the island, subsistence farming was still the chief occupation, and people still had to forage for wild nuts and yams in times of hardship. There were accomplished blacksmiths, woodworkers, shoemakers and other craftsmen, but the island’s economy was so weak that most still had to grow their own food. They mainly consumed maize, rice, breadfruit, taro, yams, beans, squash, bread (from imported wheat flour), fish, venison, pork and chicken, and cooked with coconut oil. Nearly everyone was addicted to tobacco. Roads were in poor condition, most becoming very bad in the wet season.
Trade had slowly increased; copra was exported, mainly to Japan but also to the United States. Residents paid a small annual $1.50 poll tax plus taxes on livestock, real estate and industry. Forced labor was still practiced intermittently. There was a doctor, and the military had a health officer and a surgeon, but hygiene was atrocious and a whooping cough outbreak killed 100 children in 1898. Hereditary syphilis persisted and a few lepers still inhabited the island.
The Chamorros were not rebellious, but possessed no small amount of cultural pride. All given names were Spanish, but they had done an impressive job of preserving their indigenous language and many customs, augmented now by a strong devotion to the Catholic faith. Illegitimate children were accepted, unmarried mothers were treated with pitying kindness, and the elderly were taken care of. Families worked together on each other’s farms.
It could be said that life had improved. However, the population remained smaller than it had been pre-contact. At the turn of the century, there were about nine thousand residents. Half the land was considered viable for cultivation, but only 0.7-1% was actually used that way. One-fourth of the island belonged to the crown.
In the final assessment, Spanish governance after the conquest was not effective. Guam was (somewhat understandably) neglected, and subject to Spain’s very hierarchical imperial system. This meant the local administrators were poorly selected and poorly supervised, often downright corrupt. When they were competent men with ideas for improvements, they received little support and were not retained, with the exception of Villalobos. Tobías and Ganga Herrero were unfairly disparaged due to the political competition of the time. The governors took labor and taxes, but much had to be funneled into coastal defenses. And when reforms were really implemented, they just seem to have performed poorly for whatever reason. Healthcare, education, and infrastructure were never impressive. Overall there was little to show for two hundred years of colonial management, save for peace and an enduring religious faith.
“The natives in short should be given the benefit of an enlightened civilization”
The second-most pivotal event in Guam’s history occurred in 1848, when California – once a Spanish colony – was admitted as the 31st member of the United States of America. Washington now had Pacific ambitions. While Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s “black ships” were cracking Japan open for American business, a much less impressive mission was taking American interests to Guam.
In 1854, an American named Samuel J. Masters arrived with a secretary as the official United States merchant consul for Guam. He lacked formal approval from the authorities in Manila, but asserted his position to Governor Pablo Pérez anyway. Rogers writes that Masters “showed the newcomer syndrome commonly found in Pacific islands whereby the recent arrival has immediate insight on how to solve all local problems, if people would only listen,” and proceeded to feud with Pérez. He did manage to achieve the release of several shipwrecked American sailors from the Sarah Mooers who had essentially been held as prisoners on the island. De la Corte then succeeded Pérez and was greeted by a surprise visit from the 600-ton USS Vandalia, bristling with cannon. Commander John Pope and the merchant consul bullied de la Corte into apologizing for the imprisonment of the sailors.
American imperial ambitions – fanned in no small part by moral outrage at European treatment of colonial subjects – turned to hostilities with Spain in 1898. While an American fleet subdued the Philippines, three troop transports and the powerful modern cruiser USS Charleston, captained by Henry Glass, were dispatched to support the operation. They were also ordered to stop at Guam enroute, capture its authorities and destroy any military installations.
Arriving at Guam in June, Glass found the island to be totally incapable of resisting an attack; Fort Santa Cruz was abandoned and the only artillery pieces on the island were four useless saluting cannons. Moreover, the Spaniards had no idea that America and Spain were at war. The Americans took Spanish officials prisoner, except for the civilian treasurer José Sisto Rodríguez. Chamorro militia were disarmed and released. Villagers were terrified of the invaders, and fled into the wilderness. Glass asked a local American merchant named Francisco Portusach to take care of American interests on the island, but didn’t leave any personnel or appoint any formal authority. The bloodless transfer being completed, Glass’s flotilla departed.
Sisto promptly declared that the American acquisition was unlawful given the absence of any American personnel, set himself up as acting governor, gathered a gang of pro-Spanish individuals, and paid salaries to Chamorro militia (he possessed the sole key to the official safe).
Crime broke out under Sisto’s watch. But Portusach and several other prominent locals had formed a pro-American group, and in January 1899 figured it was time to depose Sisto. Right before any confrontation happened, an American collier arrived, and everyone gathered aboard the ship. Commanding Lieutenant Vincendon L. Cottman ultimately decided to leave Guam in Sisto’s hands, and proceeded to make a general survey of the island.
Later that month, a second American ship captained by Commander Edward Taussig arrived with news of the conclusion of the war. Spain had given up the Philippines and Guam to the United States. Americans had had mixed feelings about taking the Philippines; there was little strategic purpose, and many Americans idealistically hoped for Filipino independence. But the government went ahead and took advantage of the opportunity. Some senators supported it under the false impression that the Philippines would be granted independence after the acquistion.
Now that the Philippines would be the capstone of American power projection into the Pacific, Guam had a purpose as a coaling and watering station enroute. Guam was vulnerable by itself, so Americans also made overtures towards purchasing the Carolines and possibly the remaining Marianas islands north of Guam. However, these efforts were rebuffed and Washington did not press the matter. The islands would later be sold to Germany.
In an attempt to stabilize local finances, Taussig declared a set of fixed currency exchange rates. He discovered that Sisto had embezzled money and replaced him with Joaquín Pérez y Cruz. The Americans left; Pérez subsequently arrested Sisto. The battleship USS Oregon stopped at Guam for coal, but no one went ashore. An American officer named Lieutenant Louis Kaiser arrived on a collier in March and became active on the island, improving sanitation in public buildings. Unable to personally take charge because he could not speak Spanish, he bickered with Pérez and then deposed him in favor of a personal friend named Willie Coe in July. Some Chamorros meanwhile decided to establish their own government: a bicameral legislature, with three in the upper house and six in the lower. Kaiser informed them that they had no legal authority.
The mild chaos of this interregnum period was a consequence of Glass’s failure to arrest Sisto or establish credible leadership on the island. He presumably would have acted differently if his orders had been to permanently secure the island rather than to merely capture Spanish authorities and destroy their military infrastructure; American authorities who expected a stronger Spanish presence perhaps wished to avoid the violence and struggle of trying to control of the island. However, Glass could have observed the generally pliable and lackadaisical nature of Guam society and then taken initiative to establish authority with just a few personnel and empowered locals. He might have believed the islanders capable of managing their own affairs, but should have predicted that a leadership vacuum would lead to someone taking power.
Any of the succeeding American visitors could have done more to encourage self-government. Cottman might have at least done well to install Portusach. Anyway, his main contribution was to convey a set of recommendations to his superiors for making Guam “a self supporting island and a creditable colony.”
The first was to evict Spanish priests, who Cottman considered a detriment to Guam’s society with too much political influence. They could be replaced with American Catholic priests. He also wanted to evict the Filipino convicts back to Manila. Cottman then prescribed forced labor as a cure for male idleness and alcoholism, recommending that “a good carriage road” be built all around the island.
Cottman pressed to evacuate the lepers to Molokai, to create a hospital colony on Guam for syphilitics, and to build a pharmacy with compulsory medical exams and free treatment. He recommended mandatory public schooling and wanted to replace the old religious instruction with enlightened texts of art and science. He suggested an industrial school, support for local agriculture, and woodworking equipment.
Cottman’s report made its way to Captain Richard Phillips Leary, who was appointed the first U.S. governor of Guam. Leary arrived aboard the auxiliary cruiser Yosemite in August with a battalion of Marines and Lieutenant William Edward Safford who became the de facto lieutenant governor. They established a government under Navy authority with a collection of military men, locals, onetime acting governor Willie Coe (now in charge of the port), and a former Spanish captain who had previously been taken off the island as a prisoner on the Charleston. The Yosemite was weak as a warship, but it was a large, handy vessel, featuring distilling equipment, an ice plant, medical facilities, a machine shop, and ample space for headquarters and storage.
Leary took a variety of actions to try to push Guam’s people into a higher standard of development. He hired Chamorros for projects at $0.24 a day (contemporary unskilled wages in the US were $1-1.50 per day), but found them unwilling to do manual labor, so he used Marines for both civil and military construction. This was strenuous given the heat and the lack of timely water supply, and the Marines attempted to refuse the orders, but Leary put a stop to the mutiny. Leary also required forced labor of fifteen days per year from the Chamorros, and restricted the ability of wealthier locals to buy exemptions from the labor. Civilian laborers from America and the Philippines were later brought in. A sawmill was soon built to ease construction.
The most obvious improvements were health related. Leary built the first drainage systems, water distillation, and water storage tanks on the island. Garbage was collected and defecation was confined to outhouses. Leary had medical personnel from the Yosemite treat locals free of charge and a makeshift hospital was established in Agana. A hospital for the remaining lepers was established, but they were not forced to stay away from other people. Locals in Agat and Sumay built hospitals at their own expense; the naval administration would run them with free services. A typhoid outbreak happened in December 1899, but infections declined overall. The government began to keep statistics of deaths on the island.
The administration fixed dilapidated roads, bridges and public buildings. Leary also installed a telephone line from Agana to Piti. At the behest of President McKinley and Congress, work began on a San Francisco-Honolulu-Guam-Manila telegraph line, which would be opened in 1903 (the early oceanic surveys for it near Guam revealed the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the world). The harbor was improved, though there was still no pier and goods had to be laboriously transferred by boat. The Navy began planning further harbor improvements including a proper naval station with a new coaling facility, but Congress did not appropriate the necessary funds ($2 million). The naval station was relegated to a more modest set of new facilities, including a department for repairing American vessels. Marines had to perform daily drill and parade, although their schedule was made to avoid the hottest part of the day. Recreational facilities were established, but military life was generally hard. Since they were stationed overseas, military personnel on Guam were entitled to an additional 10-20% pay, but missed this in the first year due to a Congressional oversight. Rotations in Guam were kept short due to the hardships. To improve quality of life and reduce consumption of the local drink, the governor wanted to allow beer for the personnel, but this idea was not adopted.
Most local families owned land. Leary placed a moratorium on land sales while every resident’s land ownership could be properly registered. Then Safford, who had studied the works of Henry George, attempted to incentivize redistribution and better land use by replacing the old property tax with a land value tax. The rate was fixed by the location and potential productivity of the terrain, to encourage idle large landowners to sell more of their property to people who would make improvements to it. Both Leary and visiting Army general Joseph Wheeler were confident the tax reform would be effective, and at least one large landowner subsequently sold off excess properties. In time however, the rates would prove to be too high for many ordinary Chamorros to pay. Some would sell their land to Japanese migrants, others would see the naval government seize it when they failed to pay the taxes.
More revenue was still needed for the government, so import tariffs were established. Unfortunately it was a long and confusing list with separate tax rates for more than 150 different types of goods. It was presumably intended to encourage healthier kinds of industry and consumption, but still seems like excess of market micromanagement. Some goods were taxed by quantity and others were taxed ad valorum. Washington criticized and adjusted some of the rates. The government began to run a tidy surplus.
Agricultural supply on the island was inadequate. The Americans required that domestic animals be restrained to stop them from ravaging crops. Safford discovered records of an old Spanish policy of restricting food exports, and re-implemented it. Leary required that every man without a trade maintain a farm plot, and established a process to provide land to those who needed it. A refrigeration plant was constructed in 1900, providing cold food storage. But food still had to be imported in the short run. The Marines planted a six-acre farm for agricultural experimentation, and Safford tested American cattle and vegetable seeds, but the new breeds were unsuccessful.
Leary banned the exploitative peonage system. Land fraud was common, including minor officials defrauding the people; the land registration partially suppressed it. The judicial system was partially updated, and Safford did his inexperienced best to serve as a judge. Policing was delegated to a company of natives, contracted by the government.
Leary tried in vain to restrict the alcohol excesses, gambling, and racism which were causing disorderliness among the locals and visitors. He also attempted to stop racism and assaults perpetrated by soldiers against the locals. In 1899 drunk seaman insulted a local’s wife. Then in 1900 a gang of Marines mobbed a local official’s house in retaliation for an arrest he had made of another drunk Marine. Another dispute arose when a native’s wife and sister-in-law invited Marines to their house while the husband was doing farm work; the husband noticed and complained to the American officials, so the Marines seized him and “threw him into a bed of lilies.” Leary established a military commission and then a civilian criminal court, and ordered the Marines to treat locals with more respect.
Chamorros were upset when Leary cracked down on certain Catholic practices, including the concubinage which was condoned and practiced by many priests. The Spanish priests were expelled from the island, splitting their families. Festivities interfered with economic activity and early morning church bells woke up hospital patients, but the locals were attached to these practices and disappointed when they were banned. Leary dissolved religious schooling and made public education mandatory from the ages of 8 to 14, promoting English. Even many mainland Americans were upset by his treatment of the Catholic Church, and a public controversy arose. In a notable contrast to Spanish management, the United States government dispatched Wheeler to inspect Guam. He reported that Leary’s administration was overall doing quite well, so no action was taken.
Safford meanwhile learned Chamorro and taught English to the locals in his spare time. He studied local flora and sent rotting Spanish documents to be preserved at the Library of Congress. At the request of locals, he deported Filipino ex-convicts, excepting some who were judged to be more useful to the community. Safford “regarded his position as an opportunity to do something for the inhabitants and to ameliorate the conditions under which they lived,” opened his doors to Chamorros with problems, and was well liked: Chamorros circulated a petition for him to be chosen as the next governor.
Just as with Spanish rule, Guam suffered from administrative neglect. Priority was given to other American holdings, and funding for installations on Guam was inadequate. Leary’s request for additional soldiers was refused, and he then requested to be stationed elsewhere. Both Leary and Safford were reassigned. Leary, in his final edict, banned nudity (still practiced by the hundred remaining Carolinians) and cockfighting. Safford, who had developed an affinity for the island and its people, gave away personal property before departing.
Succeeding governor Seaton Schroeder gave high praise to Leary’s yearlong administration, and the Chamorros seem to have been contented. But properly judging its impact is difficult due to the lack of data or written accounts from the Chamorros. Some actions imposed hardship; others had all the appearances of good progress. It is easy to believe that the health and sanitation improvements were significant. The measures to change Chamorro society and culture seem to have had little impact.
Safford could even be considered a prototypical Effective Altruist – intellectual though not academic, multitalented, and quietly committed to a variety of benevolent projects. He later resigned his military commission to work at the Department of Agriculture, and would publish books on the language, botany and history of Guam.
Commander Schroeder became Guam’s next governor in July 1900. Ensign Alfred Pressley took the place of Safford.
Occupational licensing with an instruction course was established for midwives, which apparently reduced infant and maternal mortality. American military wives formed a new social elite on Guam; Maria Schroeder raised 1800 pesos from citizens on the mainland to help the island government build a new hospital in Agana with free services. Chamorros were reluctant to accept Western medicine, but many did make use of the hospital. The leper hospital meanwhile was replaced with a proper colony at Tumon Bay. Mortality and worm infections declined. The main deadly diseases at the time were dysentery, puerperal fever, tuberculosis, tetanus, asthma, and influenza. The first death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) was recorded in 1902. Marines also still faced a high rate of disease. To prevent another typhoid outbreak, Schroeder wanted to build a dam to provide a permanent water supply for Agana, but the Navy Department refused to provide funds (an estimated $32,000).
Schroeder established an ice plant on the island to ensure cold storage of meat and other foods. Ice could only be sent to natives when a surgeon requested it; otherwise it was delivered to military housing and the hospital. In any case, the natives seemed to lack American enthusiasm for cold drinks and ice cream. To encourage farming, Schroeder also distributed unclaimed land for free, turning some Chamorro families into landowners for the first time. And agricultural experiments provided new information on which plants could or couldn’t be successfully grown. But the food problems were not immediately solved: a typhoon in November 1900 caused terrible agricultural damage (it also killed thirty-nine people and destroyed the Yosemite, forcing the Americans to rely on an inadequate collier as their headquarters ship), and in fall 1902 the island was still not self-sufficient. New roads promised to help citizens farm in more parts of the island, but progress on them was slow due to the need to repair typhoon damage first and the limited finances, which themselves had to be drained for immediate aid after the typhoon. Schroeder refused an American business initiative to bring Chinese contract laborers to drain and cultivate new land, because he regarded the Chinese as “objectionable” and worried that their presence would diminish the work ethic of the Chamorros. Also, the expansion of the higher-paying public sector reduced the supply of farm labor. Thus, the island remained reliant on food imports. When transports did not arrive on schedule, Marines were put on restricted diets.
Schroeder attempted to properly establish public schooling, but was limited by funds and it took some time for a system to be worked out. $42,400 was requested from Congress to build schools and infrastructure, but they appropriated nothing. Local monetary donations and schoolbooks donated from the mainland helped, as did new missionaries – Schroeder was not as tough as Leary on the Catholic Church. A Protestant church was established, angering some Catholic locals: they threw stones at the building and attacked churchgoers in the street.
The Carolinians were ignoring Leary’s order to wear clothes, and both Americans and Chamorros were apparently embarrassed by them – visitors rushed to take photos with the “Guam ladies” and share them stateside, giving a very primitive misimpression of the island. Describing the Carolinians (who also happen to be darker skinned than Chamorros) as a “very low order of human animal”, Schroeder deported them to join fellows in German-ruled Saipan, where they were placed under forced labor.
In a repeat of Spanish history, America suppressed a Filipino rebellion and deposited dozens of captured insurrectionists on Guam. First they were housed in tents, then the leper hospital was burned out and repurposed into a prison. Most of the Filipino prisoners later accepted America’s July 1902 offer granting amnesty to rebels who pledged allegiance to the country, and the remainder had their imprisonment on Guam commuted to exile from the Philippines in 1903.
The typhoon was followed by an earthquake in September 1902, which caused extensive damage and one fatality. It destroyed buildings and broke the bridges between Agana and Piti. The administration spent $11,000 on repairs. New regulations were passed for earthquake-resistant construction.
To raise money more effectively and possibly make life easier for the locals, Schroeder simplified the tax code. Both taxation and public spending were now higher than they had been under Spanish rule. The government ran a slight deficit over 1900-1902.
Problems with unruly Marines continued. In 1901, a small gang of Marines stole a barrel of whiskey from the hospital and robbed a local man of clothing and money. Others were generally guilty of obscene language, dereliction of duty and resistance to arrest. Schroeder required all enlisted men to stay in the barracks after taps, and tried fourteen suspects by courts martial, though Schroeder’s superiors slowed and complicated the process by demanding that the courts be held in Washington.
Schroeder also improved the court system by adding new civilian personnel and abolishing all ecclesiastical authority and privileges. He asked for a commission to study Guam’s laws and recommend improvements in the legal code: the retention of Spanish laws had eased the transition to American administration, but they were antiquated and poorly suited for the island. However, Congress did not meet the request. In December 1901, Chamorros presented a petition for Washington to establish a commission to investigate the possibility of permanent civilian government for the island, claiming that they had even fewer rights under Navy occupation than they had under Spanish dominion; Schroeder endorsed the petition. It helped lead to a 1903 Senate bill to establish a new government, but it died in the House of Representatives, mainly because the Navy objected.
Locals also wanted to opportunity to become US citizens. By the treaty ending the Spanish-American War, such rights had to be determined by Congress, which failed to act on this. Therefore, they were relegated to being citizens of the U.S. territory of Guam – which, per the Supreme Court ruling in Downes v Bidwell, was not subject to constitutional limitations on congressional power. The majority opinion argued that it could be impossible to administer “Anglo-Saxon principles” to territories inhabited by “alien races” which had entirely different societies, policies and laws. Congressional laws still did not extend to Guam, so the result was to place it fully under Navy authority.
Schroeder’s administration lasted two and half years – it had been extended at his request. In February 1903 he left behind a record of respectable progress. In an early visit to Guam, Leonard M. Cox had found that islanders wanted the US government to provide a new civil government, a new code of laws, judiciary reform including a right to appeal capital cases to a higher American court, US citizenship, school funding, subsidized shipping between Guam and Manila, a facility for agricultural experimentation, roads, water supply and sewers, and a training school with a library in Agana. By the end of Schroeder’s administration, the first had been supported by the governor and Senate but denied by the Navy Department and House of Representatives. The second had been supported by the governor but denied by Congress. The third had been partially implemented. The fourth and fifth were ignored by Congress. It is not clear what came of the sixth. The seventh, eighth and ninth were implemented. The tenth doesn’t seem to have been implemented. Overall, the primary political obstacle to progress at this time was neglect and callousness in Washington. Limitations in the local administration’s finances – which also could have been rectified by Washington – also held back some of the development. But they were still able to achieve major improvements in healthcare and sanitation. American administration also maintained careful procedures for reducing disease outbreaks from arriving ships.
Schroeder also seemed to take bad actions influenced by racism, though not towards the Chamorros themselves. American officials seem to have regarded them as a good group of people, although soldiers could be rowdy and disdainful. A resident Reverend Francis Price was quoted as not knowing of a single case of injustice on the island.
It is not clear exactly how well the Chamorros approved of the administration overall. Beers wrote quite a rosy picture under the supervision of the Navy Department, saying that the Chamorros had “a friendly and appreciative attitude towards the American government.” This was more or less echoed by the independent accounts from Wheeler and Safford, and does seem to have been true for the most part. However the locals were still dissatisfied by infringements upon the Catholic establishment and by the lack of civil self-government.
Schroeder was succeeded by Commander William Sewell, who formalized Guam’s judicial system. There was still no trial by jury or appeal process to escape island authority.
George Dyer took command in 1904 and revised the police system. The Chief of Police in Agana oversaw a group of Marines and a group of Chamorros, each of about a dozen men. The Marine policemen also found themselves working as teachers and principals in village schools. Dyer’s wife obtained a $10,000 endowment from the Russell Sage Foundation to build a new hospital wing for women and children. The Navy meanwhile established a local civil service.
Properties were poorly demarcated, so Dyer requested a proper survey of the island. It progressed slowly through the rest of the 20th century, and land fraud would continue.
In 1907, the Navy instituted a policy forbidding Marines (and later Sailors as well) from marrying Chamorros, although many disregarded it. English was also increasingly promoted, and would soon replace Spanish as the language of education, public affairs and most businesses, but Chamorro endured in homes and local gatherings.
Governor Edward Dorn (1908-1910) expanded the court and appointed an attorney general, but it was still inadequate to meet the caseload generated by the kludge of Spanish laws and Navy civil orders. The first newspaper – the Guam News Letter – was launched in 1909.
Dorn aimed to Americanize Guam, so he made the American dollar the sole currency, prohibited foreigners (except Americans) from making land purchases or long-term leases, and instituted official observance of American federal holidays. Congress meanwhile authorized duty-free import of Guamanian products into the United States and other territories. These efforts happened in the context of increasing US-Japanese tensions and fears over Japanese influence in the Pacific. Japanese traders were the primary buyers of the island’s growing copra exports; for some reason the Americans did not allow it to be shipped to Manila on the routine Army transports.
Chamorros meanwhile were fighting a different kind of alien: the Vatican removed the Marianas from the Philippine diocese, and organized them into an apostolic prefecture under a German Capuchin order. There was a local uproar at the prospect of German religious authority, and Dorn denied the new clergy permission to stay on Guam. The matter ended in 1911 when Guam was turned into an apostolic vicariate under a Spanish Franciscan Capuchin order. The island’s Protestant mission also closed due to lack of funds in 1910, but Baptists arrived in 1911. Catholic Chamorros organized religious societies, and Protestantism remained marginal.
In 1911 the Navy established an oil-burning generator to provide power for a radio station and streetlights in Agana. A few wealthy people owned automobiles and motorcycles, whereas natives took great pride in owning ponies for pulling carriages. Roads were still paved simply with gravel.
Agriculture was in a relatively poor state. The American scientists at the agricultural experimentation station were dismissive of local practices, disparaging their methods and “superstitions” with a bluntness that could be considered haughty in the 21st century. But their experiments did frequently disprove local assumptions and they found numerous ways to improve farming practice.
One of their reports noted, “One of the most striking evidences of the unprogressive state of agriculture in Guam is the absence of many of the important tropical fruits and the scarcity and general inferiority of those in cultivation… This backward and undeveloped condition is not due entirely to lack of enterprise on the part of the people, for other causes, such as the lack of good transportation facilities, past and present, the isolated geographical position of the island, necessitating the long voyages between Guam and outside points, have rendered the introduction of live plants, and even of seeds, a matter of difficulty… The people are fond of fruits of every kind, and many times the quantity now produced would be consumed if available. An abundance of fruit would not only better the present food supply of the Chamorro and add directly many pleasures to his life, but it would also save him many a dollar which now leaves the island in exchange for expensive canned foods.” An ordinary copra rancher earned 40 cents a day; mangoes cost 5-15 cents each and lemons cost 3-5 cents a dozen.
There was no nursery, and grafting and air layering were unknown among the locals. Fortunately the station tested and distributed limited amounts of successful new seeds and plants, including avocado, persimmon, banana, and luffa (which had been formerly prized by the islanders before disappearing). A new corn variety promised to mature faster, which was important for minimizing the losses caused by dry seasons and storms. A new breed of pineapple plant produced fruits more than double the size of the previous variety. New types were distributed as plants and as seeds. In 1912 the station distributed 2,500 infant plants; in 1916 they gave out over 33,000 and in 1917 they gave out 50,700. They also taught grafting to natives and built up a modest library. Distribution and education were aided by the governor’s office.
Plant diseases were a problem, exacerbated by crude farming practices and the absence of a relevant scientist during the Spanish and early American occupations.
Insects damaged many crops, and imports of new plants posed a risk of introducing new crop-eating insects. Plant imports were managed carefully, and Governor George Salisbury implemented new regulations against them. The researchers meanwhile set loose a few species of beetles and parasites to try and control the various local pests. Honeybees were successfully introduced, free of “foul brood and all other serious hive pests,” and local honey promised to replace expensive sugar imports. Honeybee colonies were shipped to Manila, but apparently were unsuccessful there.
The station tested and introduced several excellent sources of forage for livestock, including the hardy para grass. But animal welfare was dubious. Bull castration was sometimes performed by crushing the testacles between stones. Milk cows, though rare, were “almost invariably tied to a stake and neglected, often being allowed to remain unchanged for an entire day upon closely cropped pasture, to depend for feed upon such grass or leaves as may be reached within a radius of 25 or 30 feet.” During the dry season, cattle often lacked proper food or fresh water and suffered from serious tick infestations. The ticks stunted growth and caused abnormal elevations in body temperature. Nearly all cattle suffered from fasciolosis, which generally had little impact aside from stunting their growth, but one native animal badly afflicted by both fasciolosis and ticks had “watery discharge from the eyes, appetite impaired, coat staring, mucous membranes pale and anemic, general attitude dull and listless, gait uncertain, lymph glands swollen, feces at first blood-stained with subsequent diarrhea, breathing labored, heart action weak with a jugular pulse.” Both ticks and fasciolosis were increased by the native practice of keeping animals loose in wild and swampy spaces rather than in fenced pastures or stables. The ticks and lack of quality pastures caused death among calves and elderly cattle. Still, native cattle had relatively mild disease problems overall. Carabao were used for draft labor in addition to meat and milk, but they appeared to suffer in the heat.
Swine (there were over three thousand on the island) were undernourished due to parasites including fasciolosis, and owners often failed to provide proper food and water. One parasite caused hogs to suffer and die from something like an asthma attack. Chickens were “poorly fed and poorly cared for;” for instance, most were fed grated coconut which could cause diarrhea and death. They were also beset by diseases. Chicken pox was the most common one, creating scabs on the chicken’s head, sometimes causing blindness and subsequent starvation. The spread of the disease was probably accelerated by the native cockfighting tradition, a poor practice in its own right. Cholera was also common and caused the most damage to the industry. The very unfortunate affliction of fowl diphtheria was present across the island, causing thick discharge filling the eyes and nostrils, ulcers in the mouth, and diarrhea, making the bird “weak, dull and emaciated, with impaired appetite and drooping wings,“ and sometimes rendering swallowing impossible. Tapeworms and roundworms sapped chickens’ energy and caused diarrhea.
Salisbury provided grazing land to the station and they began to experiment with livestock breeds and treatments hoping for generally better health and productivity, with somewhat positive results. Arsenical dips removed ticks from cattle.
Robert Coontz became governor in 1912. The historic but unsafe Spanish church in Agana was torn down.
Japanese commercial dominance on Guam caused consternation to American officials. In 1912 President William Taft issued an executive order preventing foreign merchant ships from visiting the island, which subsequently harmed the local economy. The Navy encouraged the San Francisco traders Atkins, Kroll & Company to establish a branch on the island. In 1914 they established an office in Agana and a warehouse in Piti. They grew copra, imported American goods and soon became the largest private business on Guam.
A measles outbreak in 1913 afflicted over two thousand people and killed about forty. Then in 1915, sixty Chamorro children were killed by whooping cough. Flies, cockroaches, bedbugs and lice were common infestations. However there was still progress. Gangosa was almost eliminated. A Navy dentist now served the local population, and a Red Cross chapter and a free sanitarium were both established in 1916. Schoolchildren and prostitutes (there were sixteen, supported by the military men) received regular medical checkups.
In 1914, Governor William Maxwell created a retirement fund for the Guam civil service. Employees could use their retirement accounts as collateral for loans, so more Chamorros were now able to make major purchases and investments. The Chamorros had become less occupied with farming, and the island was dependent upon the American government. Maxwell wanted to open the island to foreign commerce and allow the residents to become U.S. citizens, but the Navy refused.
With the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, Japan – allied with Britain – moved to evict the Germans from Micronesia. The German colonies were isolated and barely defended, and fell to Japan in October 1914. The German vessel SMS Cormoran, an auxiliary cruiser, dodged the Japanese Navy and steamed into Apra Harbor on December 14. Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt requested large amounts of coal and provisions so that he could take his ship to German East Africa, but Maxwell did not have enough. Zuckschwerdt had to give up the ship and crew for internment. The 373 crewmen stayed on the ship as there were no facilities for them on the island, but they were able to go ashore, unarmed but in uniform. The Germans were highly disciplined and gradually settled into life on Guam.
They also outnumbered the Marines, a poignant reminder of the inadequate state of Guam’s defenses. The island was vulnerable in the event of war with Germany, so the battery at Orote was upgraded to eight 6” and twelve 3” new guns.
Navy officials including Coontz and famed strategist Alfred Mahan had recognized a greater risk from Japan, and pressed to heavily fortify the island, but Congress repeatedly refused as they did not perceive much risk of war with Japan. All the Navy was able to achieve was expansion of the single Marine battalion by 200 men and the creation of an Insular Force of thirty-eight locally enlisted personnel. Meanwhile, War Plan Orange estimated that 8,500 Marines would be required to defend the island, assuming that surrounding reefs would inhibit major amphibious operations. And in 1915, Captain Earl Hancock Ellis – who was both the police chief and the Office of Naval Intelligence officer on Guam – demonstrated the practicality of amphibious assaults, taking a squad of Marines and a howitzer by boat over a reef to land in Apra Harbor. He later produced a report concluding that a Marine battalion might hold out for a time on Guam if they retreated to inland strongholds.
Copra exports to Japan grew during the war, and cotton production began. Maxwell encouraged and supported the efforts of the agricultural station. He also established an official Bank of Guam which opened in January 1916. It would provide loans to help locals open new businesses. But Maxwell was short-tempered and high-strung, and soon became autocratic and petty. He angered locals and feuded with the German guests. Maxwell ordered the first execution on Guam since the American takeover, a murderer who was hung in February despite local citizens petitioning to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. In April he was placed on the sick list and removed from command by a lower-ranking officer; he may have had a nervous breakdown, but it seems to have been a deliberate oust, for Maxwell would later turn out to be fine. He was succeeded by a couple of brief acting governors, then Roy C. Smith became governor on 30 May.
The vulnerability of the island to major amphibious assaults was now recognized, and Smith recommended a defense force of 37,000 men on Guam backed by a considerable fleet. This too was ignored. Chamorro leaders petitioned for military training for all the local young men, and Smith agreed. Universal military training started in March 1917, placing all fit males between the ages of 16 and 23 in the new Guam Militia. In June they numbered over 900 men. They were unpaid, but zealous.
In 1917, Smith established the First Guam Congress, a unicameral legislature consisting entirely of people appointed by Smith, mostly Chamorros. They demanded American rights, but were created as an entirely advisory body for the governor, and the Navy rejected their pleas. They would continue to meet once a year to discuss local affairs, but had no real authority. Chamorro men also founded a nonpolitical civic organization, the Young Men’s League of Guam (YMLG), which sought to preserve Chamorro culture and identity. The Navy soon banned the Chamorro language, but the order had little effect and few Chamorros spoke English. Chamorro society was still ultraconservative, between native traditions and Spanish Catholic influence. Most unmarried Chamorros gave their earnings to their fathers, and marriages were often arranged. They were still divided by caste, with a social hierarchy based on wealth, ancestry, marriage, and generosity to the church. However, the old Spanish-Chamorran elite was being disrupted as Americans married into other local families and elevated them.
In February 1917, US-German relations soured, and war became a likely possibility. Smith placed firmer restrictions on the Germans. Zuckschwerdt secretly ordered improvised explosives to be hidden in the Cormoran so they could scuttle the ship. In April, Smith learned of the outbreak of war, and sent men to demand the surrender of the Cormoran. They encountered a group of Germans enroute and took them prisoner (firing the first American shots of the war in the process). They boarded the Cormoran and presented Zuckschwerdt with the demand of surrender. He stated that he would surrender the crew but not the ship, and asked the Americans to return the message to Smith. They obliged, leaving the Germans alone in the Cormoran. Zuckschwerdt promptly had the ship’s secret documents burned, gave the order to abandon ship, and scuttled the vessel. Seven German sailors were killed in the sinking. The remainder were taken prisoner and sent back to the United States within a few weeks. The Cormoran’s machinery and armament were salvaged by divers, but the Americans’ failure to definitively seize the ship resulted in unnecessary loss.
The island was otherwise left out of the war. Chamorros and Americans alike enjoyed a baseball league and the new annual Guam Industrial Fair. The fair was similar to county fairs in America. The agricultural experimentation station held informative exhibits at the fair, and general education in farming practices continued. Small steel plows were replacing wooden ones, and locals were urged to use more animal-driven farming equipment. Smith promoted education and government services for bull castration, while placing a $15 fine on anyone who didn’t perform it properly, in an attempt to end crude and risky native practices. Smith attempted to encourage Chamorros to return to farming, but this had little result. Copra exports suffered when Japan restricted trade with their Micronesian colonies, but the State Department was able to pressure Tokyo into partially relaxing the controls.
A typhoon struck in July 1918, causing great damage and killing two. Then the influenza pandemic reached the island via an Army transport; 858 people died. While it was raging, Smith – deeply stressed by this point – was replaced.
As stated previously, for reasons of time and changing interests, I stopped this history at about 1918. I decided to post what I have, and if I get enough positive feedback, I will complete this project with 1919-2019 history, plus some more detailed evaluation of the American administrations of 1899-1918.
Beers, Henry P. (1944). American Naval Occupation and Government of Guam, 1898-1902
Fernberger, Christoph C. (1623). Vienna Manuscript
Ganga Herrero, José (1823). Vital Statistics Report
Government Printing Office (1947). Codes of Guam
Guam Agricultural Experiment Station (1911-1921). Annual Report
Haswell, William (1917). Remarks on a Voyage in 1801 to the Island of Guam
Rogers, Robert F. (2011). Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam, Revised Edition
Safford, William E. (1905). The Useful Plants of the Islands of Guam
Wheeler, Joseph (1900). Report on the Island of Guam