Hawaiian Colonists on Jarvis, Howland, and Baker Islands

Nancy Morris, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society


In March of 1935, in great secrecy, six young men, all graduates of the Kamehameha Schools, boarded the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca bound for bleak, uninhabited equatorial atolls, Jarvis, Howland, and Baker Islands. Their mission, a successful one, was to establish colonies in order to cement U.S. claims of ownership. The air age had arrived, and the benefit of Pacific way stations was becoming increasingly obvious. From 1935 to 1948, twenty-six cruises to these islands were carried out.

This adventurous tale is notable for the resourcefulness of the young men. Assisted by military personnel, they set up camps, kept careful scientific logs, and proved they could exist without modern comforts. One even wrote a literary spoof on the love life of the birds there, which was eventually read to President Franklin Roosevelt, to the president's great amusement.

An especially exciting time came in 1937 when the colonists prepared for a visit from Amelia Earhart, the great aviator. A shower was erected and curtains installed, but Earhart never arrived. Part of the saga of the equatorial islands is the mystery of Earhart's disappearance.

The records compiled by the young men about Earhart also disappeared. The record of the Kamehameha graduates’ achievement on the Pacific islands, however, remains well documented.