On this date in 1925, the United States annexed Swain’s Island. If your history or geography course somehow skipped over this event, here’s practically everything you need to know (and then some).  Swain’s Island is a 461-acre atoll in the Pacific (and not to be confused with Newfoundland’s Swain’s Island). A Portuguese navigator was the first European explorer to southvisit Swain’s Island, arriving in 1606, although it was not called Swain’s island then. It wasn’t called anything then, so he named it Isla de la Gente Hermosa, which in Spanish means “island of the beautiful people” (and some would say, a much nicer name than Swain’s Island).

Years later, Fakaofoan invaders (folks from a nearby island — no need to memorize their name) killed or enslaved all the gente hermosas. It was a Pyrrhic victory, however, since the island became infertile thanks to a curse placed on it by the chief of the gente hermosas (who evidently had a mean streak under all that beauty). Everyone died, and the island remained uninhabited until an American, Eli Hutchinson Jennings, founded a community with his Samoan wife, Malia, claiming to have received title to the atoll from a British Captain Turnbull for fifteen shillings per acre and a bottle of gin. The curse had expired, and the Jennings developed a thriving copra (coconuts, not snakes) business.

In 1907, Britain claimed ownership of Swain’s Island, demanding payment of a tax of $85. Jennings paid the tax, but he complained to the U.S. State Department, and his money was ultimately refunded. The British government also conceded that Swain’s Islands was an American possession, and it officially became part of American Samoa on March 4, 1925.

Because it is in the middle of nowhere, Swain’s Island is considered an amateur radio “entity” and has become a mecca for ham operators, straining the hospitality of the island’s 17 permanent residents, none of whom would be called gente hermosas.


He gave her a look you could have poured on a waffle. ~Ring Lardner


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