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Navassa Island Incident 1889-1891

Navassa Island in Haiti was an uninhabited island was claimed by the US in 1857 for its guano, and mining took place between 1865 and 1898. Guano phosphate was a superior organic fertilizer that became a mainstay of American agriculture in the mid-19th century. In 1889 the island's actual operation passed to the Navassa Phosphate Company of Baltimore, Maryland. The Navassa Phosphate Company mined Navassa with African-American laborers

Abusive conditions soon provoked a race riot and the workers hacked off the arms, legs and heads of some of the whites. Others had their heads bashed in with crowbars and axes. It was a bloody scene and it lasted over one hour. At the end of the battle, Five white supervisors were dead and others injured. US warships, including the brig Romance, gathered up the people and bodies and took them back to Baltimore. At the island of Navassa 06 October 1889, USS Galena took on board nine ring-leaders of the riot, then proceeded to Baltimore, MD, where they were turned over to the custody of the United States marshal 25 October 1889. A total of eighteen of the workers were returned to Baltimore for three separate trials on murder charges. An African-American fraternal society, the Order of Galilean Fisherman, raised money to defend the miners in federal court. Three of the miners were scheduled for execution in the spring of 1891, but a grass-roots petition drive by black churches, also signed by white jurors from the three trials, moved President Benjamin Harrison to commute the sentences to imprisonment. USS Kearsarge landed a party of Marines on the island 02 May 1891 through 20 June 1891.

All operations were abandoned in 1898, when the island became effectively uninhabited. Guano went the way of the buggy, and the island became uninhabited once more.

In September 1996, the Coast Guard ceased operations and maintenance of Navassa Island Light, a 46-meter-tall lighthouse built in 1917 on the southern side of the island. Administration of Navassa Island transferred from the Coast Guard to the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Coast Guard had determined that the lighthouse on Navassa was no longer of any value to the U.S. Government and was ceasing its exercise of any interest in the island. However, the U.S. Coast Guard's ceasing to administer Navassa's use did not have any bearing at all on United States sovereignty over the island, which remained constant regardless of the administering Federal agency or office. Consequently, under the provisions of Title 43, U.S. Code, section 1458, the Department of the Interior will assumed responsibility for the civil administration of the U.S. insular area.

It was first charted by Christopher Columbus and his colleagues as part of the 3rd and 4th voyages, but the lack of potable water on this remote island led to its rapid abandonment. A 1998 scientific expedition to the island described it as a unique preserve of Caribbean biodiversity; the following year it became a National Wildlife Refuge.

Navassa island is a 3.5 km^2 limestone atoll located in the Caribbean region at 18 24'N, 75 01'W, about 70 miles east of Jamaica. It lies about one hundred (100) miles south of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, between Haiti to the west and Kingston, Jamaica, to the east.

It is mostly exposed rock, but enough grassland to support goat herds; dense stands of fig-like trees, scattered cactus. Navassa's climate is marine and tropical. Its terrain is a raised coral and limestone plateau, flat to undulating, ringed by vertical white cliffs, approximately nine (9) to fifteen (15) yards high. Navassa's environment is mostly exposed rock. However, it has enough grassland to support goat herds as well as dense stands of fig-like trees and scattered cactus. Only one tenth of the island's land is meadows or pastures. Navassa has no ports and only off-shore anchorage.

The island is an unincorporated territory of the US, but it is still claimed by Haiti. Every constitution except the one written by the Marines [which occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934] mention that Navassa is part of Haitian territory.

There has also been a private claim advanced against the island. It is administered from Washington, DC, by the Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior. Fishermen and others (especially ham radio operators) occasionally camp on the island for very brief periods. Guano is the island's only natural resource. Navassa is one of only two jurisdictions under United States sovereignty not within the ordinary ambit of a U.S. District Court. The other is American Samoa.

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