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Samoan Incident

Samoan Incident (1888–89).The Samoan Islands, which lay on an important sealane, were the site of a war scare in the 1880s between Germany and the United States as both nations expanded into the Pacific. Some historians see the crisis as a critical turning point in U.S. foreign policy, a harbinger of American overseas expansionism.

In 1878, Washington secured a coaling station at the harbor of Pago Pago on Tutuila in exchange for protection against other foreign powers. However, Berlin also sought territory, particularly Apia Harbor on Upolu, and in December 1888, when German ships shelled Apia, British and American warships confronted them. Expansionist secretary of state James Blaine threatened Germany, and Congress voted $500,000 to protect U.S. interests. But early in March 1889, the three nations agreed to a conference in Berlin.

On 16 March, a hurricane hit Apia, destroying all three U.S. ships and the three German vessels, with heavy loss of life. Consequently, the Berlin conference agreed on 14 June 1889 to a three‐power protectorate over the Samoan Islands, with nominal Samoan rule.

After the Spanish‐American War and U.S. acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, the Samoan archipelago was formally divided in 1889. The United States obtained Tutuila, administered by the U.S. Navy, and all except two of the western islands, which went to Germany. New Zealand seized the German islands in 1914 and held them until their independence in 1962. The other islands remained under American control.
[See also Navy, U.S.: 1866–98.]


G. H. Ryden , The Foreign Policy of the United States in Relation to Samoa, 1933.
John A. C. Gray , American Samoa: A History of American Samoa and Its United States Naval Administration, 1960.
Paul M. Kennedy , The Samoan Tangle: A Study in Anglo‐German‐American Relations, 1878–1900, 1974.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

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