AfriGeneas Western Frontier Forum
THE FAR-FAR WEST
FROM AFRICA TO THE AMERICAN WEST
THE FAR-FAR WEST APRIL 2005
The Far-Far West and the continental American West had a cultural exchange that goes beyond that of the narrow view of imported Chinese railroad labor. Some Pacific immigrants were descendants of Africans who found themselves there by way of Spanish colonialism or Euro-American maritime ventures.
Early Black historian Kenneth Porter mentions in the Journal Of Negro History in the 1930's about how Portuguese Blacks in Hawaii were recruited to work on ships like the Forester as early as 1813. The Azores Islands off the West African Atlantic coast and Hawaii in the Pacific were the primary island hubs for whalers and many Portuguese immigrants in the west originated from the Azores. Kenneth Porter discusses in his 1930's article how one of those Hawaiian Portuguese whalers was known to be familiar with the Northwest, a point I believe demonstrates that people of African descent traveled between the North American West coast and Hawaii even before certain territories became U.S. lands.
Attorney and former professor Andre' S. Wooten and Daphne Wooten also discuss Blacks in Hawaii in a web article entitled A Ripe Idea. Two notable people of African descent in Hawaii during the days of the Far-Far West according to Wooten were Anthony Allen and Betsy Stockton. Anthony Allen settled and farmed several pieces of land in Waikiki before the missionaries landed in 1820 and he is also credited with digging the first fresh water well in Hawaii. Betsy Stockton, a Black schoolteacher, started the first school for non-royal Hawaiians in Lahaina in 1824. The Wooten's identify these subjects as Afro-Americans, not Black Portuguese. Hawaii was still under the rule of native royalty, not becoming a U.S. territory until 1898 and a state in 1959.
On this brief discussion about Blacks and Hawaii I found an ideal article while reading about Utah history that brings African lineage into a family of Mormons via Hawaii. The article presented a controversy over a presumed White descendant at a Hawaiian Mormon Mission in the 1930's who discovered through genealogy research that a grandparent was an offspring of a Negro that migrated to Hawaii in the 1820's. At the time it was forbidden by Mormon law for anyone with Negro blood to hold positions of authority in the church and John Lono Pea was encouraged to give up his position as a Priest. Even more interesting is how African blood got into Mormon society at all, as the same article mentions that one of the originating Mormon Prophets had demanded a death sentence on the spot for anyone engaged in an inter-racial marriage. The story of John Lono Pea was ironic in that he was a secretary of Mormon genealogy
Finally, on the subject of Hawaii and cultural exchange, I’d like to offer the following web excerpts and though they do not specify people of African descent as being part of the migration, one should consider the likelihood that they were included in both the Portuguese and California Mexican population based on the information available.
My next topic is Micronesia, specifically the Federated States of Micronesia and the main island of Pohnpei, not to be confused with Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mt Vesuvuis in A.D. 79. Micronesia is a broad expanse of South Pacific islands closer to Australia than any other continent. The Micronesion Seminar, a research institute of the Catholic Church in Micronesia, provided most of the information for this segment and is an excellent Website. The Micronesian Seminar identifies Blacks during the 1800's who came from such diverse places as Philadelphia, the West Indies, the Azores Islands , and Virginia to live at Pohnpei. The stories of these Far- Far West people are as interesting as anything out of Tombstone or Dodge City.
The two characters I will discuss from Pohnpei were both Americans, one from Philadelphia, the other from Virginia. The Philadelphia subject, Edward Johnson, was born in Philadelphia and taken to New Hampshire when he was a boy. Edward Johnson , who became a whaler, was accused of inciting a mutiny on a ship around 1851. He was set ashore on one of Charles Darwin's Galapagos Islands, but was picked up by another ship a few days later. Again Johnson found himself in trouble and was placed in irons until he was set ashore on Pohnpei Island. I always pay close attention to Black Westerners from Philadelphia, I grew up in the area, and I have to smile about this tough luck story, as I think Will Smith and Bill Cosby, also from Philadelphia ,would do in knowing the few rough edges of Black Philadelphia and perhaps agreeing with me that, "Some things never change!"
While the first of the Oregon Trail immigrants worked there way west in the early 1840's, a Black man on a separate journey from Virginia decided to tack on a few extra thousand miles and found himself in Pohnpei. Charles Thomsan apparently was a little more industrious and better behaved than his Philadelphia brother, being credited with building nine pin alleys on the island in 1852 and piloting a ship called the "Novara" into Pohnpei in 1858. I'm sure Virginians could also use my "Some things never change," axiom to describe Charles Thomsan's self-application, as Virginia is the only state in modern times to elect a Black Governor. (L. Douglas Wilder, 1990-1994). Though the Micronesian Seminar notes those who have died on the island, it is not clear whether Charles Thomsan stayed until the end or left Pohnpei, all that is said is that he apparently stayed a long time.
Thanks for reading, Allen L. Lee
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