Military history seldom recognizes or, for that matter, rarely mentions the loyal services of those outstanding staff officers who, working skillfully as mere unknowns, have put such a large measure of brilliance into the careers of their successful seniors. Actually, history records merely the successes and failures of military figures, disregarding almost entirely the personalities of those who have moved with such influence behind most military commanders. The role of Lieutenant Safford as the first Lieutenant-Governor of Guam is an outstanding example in American Naval History where a Captain, fortunate enough to have the efforts and competence of a loyal aide, successfully completed a difficult mission.
After the U.S.S. Charleston seized Guam from Spain in June 21, 1898, the Commanding Officer, Captain Glass, carried off to Manila the Spanish Governor, the members of his staff, and all the Spanish soldiers who had been stationed on the island of Guam. Only the civil servants were allowed to remain.
Shortly after the Charleston put to sea again on June 22, 1898, virtual anarchy commenced to reign on Guam. The accounts of the reaction of the native Chamorro population to the seizure of the island by the United States forces are widely divergent. According to many natives of Guam who witnessed the event, the poor and more timid families began a hasty migration into the jungle and to other uninhabited Marianas Islands as they had been told that Americans were savages and would inflict all sorts of harsh treatment upon captives. The account of the surrender of the Spanish military group on Guam states that the Chamorro militia (who surrendered to Lt. Braunersreuther of the U.S.S. Charleston but were not held as prisoners) “were overjoyed at the overthrow of Spain,” while Father Francisco Resano wrote in his diary in 1898: “There are many Chamorros who felt sad to see the ownership of the island pass from one nation to another, and I personally know of many Chamorros who actually cried over the separation from the mother country.”
These varying reactions to the new situation were aggravated by uncertainty concerning the administration of the affairs of the island after its capture. Since all the chief Spanish officials and military force had been taken to Manila, the government of the island was left to the civilian population and the clergy. Immediately two contending claims to the governorship were set up, and the island was soon on the verge of civil war.
Francisco Portusach, a naturalized citizen of the United States then residing in Guam, had reported to Captain Glass on board the U.S.S. Charleston. In describing this interview, Portusach declared that the captain, before he set sail from Apra Harbor, directed him to look out for the affairs of the island until an American governor could be sent out, since he was the only United States citizen there. This commission, not being in writing, was not recognized by the only Spanish official permitted to remain on Guam, Jose Sisto, the island treasurer, who claimed, as senior civilian official, the right to assume charge of the administration of the island government. Furthermore, because Captain Glass, in his proclamation of siege, failed to include all of the sixteen Marianas Islands, Sisto promptly appointed himself provisional Governor of all of them, except Guam, and paid himself in advance a large salary out of the island treasury.
For several months the dispute between Portusach and Sisto continued until the treasury was empty. The two leaders, with their respective followings, were on the point of resorting to force to settle the argument over the governorship when the U.S.S. Brutus arrived in Apra Harbor. Both Sisto and Portusach appealed to the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Vincendon L. Cottman, U. S. Navy, for support of their side in the matter of the governorship of Guam. The decision was that Sisto continue as governor until the status of Guam should be finally decided between Spain and the United States. Portusach was thus compelled to retire with as good grace as possible.
This matter of ownership of Guam along with other Spanish possessions involved in the Spanish-American War was finally settled on December 10, 1898, by the Treaty of Paris. The Capture of the island was ratified and it was ceded to the United States. As a result of this treaty, on February 1, 1899, the cruiser, U.S.S. Bennington, commanded by Commander Edward D. Taussig, U. S. Navy, arrived in Apra Harbor with orders to take formal possession of Guam in the name of the United States of America. At 10:00 A.M. on the same day the Stars and Stripes were hoisted on the Government House at Agana to the music of the “Star Spangled Banner” played by a band brought from the ship and with a salute of 21 guns. An interesting comment on this occasion was recorded by Father Resano in his diary:
“The Americans were sparing in their demonstration of joy for they omitted on this occasion the cheers to the flag which were required by regulations on occasions of this kind, and with the exception of two officers who remained behind, the rest went back very quietly to their ship which was in the harbor.”
Captain Taussig was informed immediately of the difficult and uncertain state of the affairs in the civil administration of the island and especially of the impoverished state of the treasury. After examination of the treasury books and coffers, he forced Sisto to refund the money which he had appropriated from that source, or at least as much of it as he had left, and directed him to turn over the government of the island to Don Joaquin Perez y Cruz who had been for some time Gobernadorcillo (Mayor) of Agana. At the same time, to assist Acting Governor Don Joaquin, Captain Taussig appointed a junta consisting of four laymen of diverse backgrounds and a native priest. This representative group had the warm support of the Chamorro population and encountered no difficulty in conducting the island affairs until Acting Governor Don Joaquin turned over certain ordnance stocks to ex-Captain Durante of the Spanish army in accordance with one of the provisions of the Treaty of Paris that all war material on the island of Guam was to be delivered to Spain.
Pedro Durante, who had been military aide to the last Spanish Governor of Guam, had been evacuated to Manila with the other Spanish officers but resigned his commission and returned to Guam as soon as he could in order to be with his wife and children. The Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Nanshan, then in Apra Harbor, criticized the action of the acting governor in turning the war material over to Durante. Feeling that the criticisms were unjustified, Don Joaquin asked to be relieved of his duties, whereupon William Coe, a half-caste Samoan who came to Guam shortly before the seizure of the Island by the Charleston and whose father was Captain Billy Coe, for many years pilot of the Harbor of Apra, was appointed the new acting Governor.
After Guam was ceded to the United States, the problem of the government of this newly acquired tropical island had been receiving consideration in Washington. The President finally decided to make the Department of the Navy responsible for the government of Guam, and he issued the following Executive Order under which the island was administered until August L 1950:
December 23rd, 1898
The Island of Guam in the Ladrones is hereby placed under the control of the Department of the Navy. The Secretary of the Navy will, take such steps as may be necessary to establish the authority of the United States and to give it the necessary protection and Government.
Acting under this order, the Secretary of the Navy, Hon. John D. Long, appointed Captain Richard P. Leary, U. S. Navy, to the post of Governor of Guam. In the letter of instructions which he sent the new executive, he refrained from giving any detailed orders for procedure on the island, but he did make one statement which may be said to embody the ideals upon which the American Naval Government of Guam has been built during the entire fifty-two years of its existence.
“It should be the earnest and paramount aim of the Naval Administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Island of Guam, by securing them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberty which is the inheritance of all free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation, substituting the mild way of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”
And if the Government of Guam has ever fallen short of attaining these high aims, at least it has been motivated from the very first by philanthropic ideals whenever the welfare of the Chamorro people has been concerned.
When the U.S.S. Yosemik arrived in Guam on August 7, 1899, for duty as the island’s station ship, Captain Leary was aboard, and a week later the U.S.S. Brutus brought his aide, Lieutenant William E. Safford. Governor Leary did not wish to set up his office ashore and elected to live on the Yosemite, for he found far from ideal conditions existing on the recently acquired tropical possession. The former government had accepted poverty, unhygienic conditions, disease, lack of a safe water supply, illiteracy, and many other situations which led him to realize that the task of establishing even low American standards of living would be a difficult one. Consequently, he directed Lt. Safford to establish himself in Agana, the capital, and to relieve the Acting Governor, William Coe, and, in effect, carry out the naval mission on Guam. In addition to his assignment as Lieutenant Governor, Safford was directed to perform the duties of Judge of the First Instance, Recorder of Deeds and Titles, and Auditor of the Treasury. Governor Leary’s directives to his aide were broad and direct. Wrote Lt. Safford, in his diary, “in administering the affairs of the island, the governor has told me to use my own discretion and to call on him only in emergencies. As he does not understand Spanish, he does not wish to be annoyed by accounts and documents in that language; and if the natives have any complaints or requests to make, I am to dispose of them as I think best, unless something unusual should present itself and I be unwilling to assume the responsibility of acting.”
When he began his tour of duty on Guam, Lieutenant Safford, born in Chillicothe, Ohio, on December 14, 1859, was a mature naval officer with 22 years’ service. Reared in a community where there were a large number of Germans, he attended a German school, and by the time he entered the Naval Academy in 1876, he spoke another language as fluently as his native tongue.
Although his family were all Episcopalians, Safford became interested in Catholic theology and was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church when he was 16, but later forsook that faith because he could not believe in all of its dogma. His sojourn in Catholicism, however, gave him a sympathetic understanding of the natives on the island of Guam who were all Roman Catholics, their ancestors having been converted by the Spanish sword.
Cadet Midshipman Safford was a serious student at the Naval Academy although not an academic grind. One of his classmates, Joseph S. Brown, remembers him as a studious, above-average student, always ready to help others and who was never in trouble about breaking the regulations. “I am quite sure,” wrote Brown, “that he was never with me on the Saturday afternoon drill squad, nor did he ever meet up with me on some of my unhappy sojourns on the old Santee—on those long Saturdays and Sundays of lonesome meditations.”
The Naval Academy course disclosed what Safford must have already known—that he had a natural aptitude for languages. During his last year as a cadet midshipman he led his class in Spanish and by the time he completed a tour of duty in Peru and Bolivia getting material for the first World’s Fair in Chicago, Safford had a masterful command of the Spanish language and a firsthand knowledge of native peoples who spoke it. All of this background served him well in the first months of his administration of Guam, where 14 months of governmental chaos plus two centuries of dictatorial but largely indifferent Spanish rule resulted in a situation which had no counterpart in the annals of American government, much less naval experience.
Safford’s grasp of the major problems he faced was comprehensive and quick. He saw that Spain, finding the Marianas largely an unprofitable responsibility because of their lack of natural wealth, had taken the line of least resistance in government so long as peace was maintained. As a result, at the time the U. S. Navy, through his offices, took over the task of administering Guam, major reforms in every field of governmental activity were imperative. A few natives possessed great power and vast tracts of land while many natives were bound to the land owners in a tight peonage system. Taxation was sporadic and unfair, church feast days were far too frequent, illiteracy and intoxication altogether too prevalent, land holdings had not been registered, marriage relations were openly violated by concubinage, and some of the priests had so far forgotten their vows that they were living with the native women and had many children by them.
There were few sources of pure drinking water on the island; sanitation and sewage disposal were primitive; and even the local laws in Agana, the capital city of over 6000 inhabitants, were so lax that the pigs and other animals were permitted to roam and root as they pleased among the house refuse. In addition to appalling and contagious diseases of leprosy and gangosa, there was a dearth of living quarters, a shortage of fresh food—more factors to make the task of establishing anything approaching American minimum standards most difficult. And furthermore, these bad conditions were to be improved on the basis that the island government was to be self-supporting, for the new naval administration was to teach the peoples of Guam how to help themselves without direct cash appropriations from Washington—no mean feat in any day or age!
Personnel problems were complicated by the Filipino political convicts who had been exiled to Guam and also by the open hostility of the Spanish friars who “believed that any disturbance in the order of things which had governed the island for so many years would cause them to lose their despotic hold on the natives.”
These then were the problems to be solved by Lieutenant Safford with carte blanche authority of a Governor who was separated from him by five miles of almost impassable road and by two miles of water.
Before any attempt could be made to reorganize the government of the island, Lt. Safford found that his first problem was the re-establishment of law and order themselves and the introduction of elementary sanitary improvements. Since the Governor’s Executive Orders constituted the law of the land, the first orders issued were for the protection of the American forces—to prevent them from complicating an already disturbed situation. In General Order Number One dated August 16, 1899, the sale of intoxicants to “any person not a resident of this island prior to August 7, 1899” was forbidden, and in General Order Number Two, importation of all intoxicants without special licenses from the new U. S. Naval government was prohibited.
“These orders became necessary,” wrote Lieutenant Safford, “because of the cheapness of the liquor distilled by the natives from the fermented sap of the coconut palm, the supply of which is practically unlimited, and which had a very' bad effect upon a number of the Yosemite's crew visiting the shore.”
The next legislative measure, General Order Number Three, was aimed to protect the natives against land speculators. Some of these were native and some unscrupulous “carpet-baggers” who had come to Guam within the year of the disturbed interregnum and who by various means, honest and dishonest, were attempting to acquire as much land as possible for probable future profit. Consequently, according to this regulation, the sale or transfer of land was absolutely prohibited without the consent of the government. In spite of this order more land continued to be acquired by large land holders and to be held out of use for speculative purposes. Under the Spanish system of taxation, still in force on the island, unused land was not taxed. Moreover, certain plots of land which had been held by the same Chamorro families for years were surrounded frequently by holdings of one of the large land owners, and because their land was unenclosed, their crops were not protected from depredations of grazing animals. In addition, the large land-owner, frequently a Spaniard, disputed the ownership of such small cornfields or pastures and was often able to dispossess the occupants illegally. These poor and distressed “ranchers” fearfully brought their sad situation to the new government for solution.
Lieutenant Safford, in his efforts to solve this problem, rode over practically all of the 206 square miles of the island, studying this complicated land situation, for he realized that ownership of coconut groves or plots of farm land bore directly upon the survival and contentment of the inhabitants of Guam as well as upon their ultimate prosperity. In his Journal he wrote:
“Several citizens of this island own vast tracts of land for which they pay no taxes. They keep out deserving young men who wish to utilize a spot here and there for growing maize, cacao, coconuts, or tobacco. If a tax were levied on this land, it would not be held unless it could be made to pay. It seems wrong that this land should he idle, and that young men eager to work it should be prevented from doing so.”
As a result of the distressing situation in regard to ownership of the land in Guam, the first American government issued two important General Orders; namely,—to the effect that all persons were required to register, or to re-register, the title to their land holdings; and that the Spanish system of taxation upon real estate was abolished, in order to institute a new system whereby all land, unused as well as used, was taxed according to specific flat rates. These new taxes were payable twice a year and where taxes were seriously in arrears, the land reverted to the government which could then allot it to new settlers.
As there were no adequate surveys of the island, Lieutenant Safford began the system of registration by calling all the large land owners and many of the smaller ones to the “palace” where he drew a map of the island in chalk on the floor and asked each man to identify his holdings. When everyone was in general agreement, the office of the Registrar of Deeds began to function, ownership was legally established and recorded, and over 1000 official titles were granted. These titles are still the basis of land ownership on the island, and over the years have been of untold benefit to the Chamorro population.
Another pressing problem faced by Safford was to prevent the failure of food supplies on the island. A food shortage caused by the interrupted shipping during the Spanish- American War was already menacing the Chamorros, and to provide for an increase in foodstuffs sufficient to supplement the rations of the recently arrived American contingent of seamen, Marines, and civilians required effective stimulation of agricultural activities. Two factors had worked against the production of a saleable surplus of food by the Chamorros. The first was an almost continuous public celebration of religious feast-days or patron saint’s days when practically the entire population would stop all work to observe the proper rites and festivities, frequently prolonging the original holiday two or three days. Of them Safford wrote:
“These religious celebrations, so dear to the hearts of the Chamorros and in accord with their temperament and inclinations, had been supported by the Spanish government of Guam.” In studying all that was legible of the old Spanish Letter Books stored in Agana, Safford recorded, “I turn over page after page . . . and find nothing but reports of proper observance of saint’s days, royal birthdays, and fiestas.”
The other factor which hindered the production of an adequate local food supply was indifference, if not actual unwillingness, on the part of the Chamorro population to raise a surplus quantity of corn or rice, or vegetables, or poultry, and fish, the basic item, which had to be caught fresh each day just before the main evening meal because of lack of refrigeration facilities. In fact many families seemed to lack even sufficient stores for their own needs. Safford, while working on this food problem, recorded in his Journal:
“They [the Chamorros] say that their com and rice will become mouldy or will be infested by weevils if kept long, and then all their labor of cultivating and harvesting it will be wasted.”
Unfortunately these people failed to see the benefit of a surplus which they did not store but which, through exchange, they could turn into money as an indestructible surplus. This situation existed because the majority of Chamorros had never handled currency and were not accustomed to make purchases or to think in terms of a monetary’ economy. Over fifty years earlier, Don Felipe de la Corte had recognized and recorded this evil of a lack of accumulated capital on the part of the Chamorros, especially in the periods following typhoon or earthquake disasters, and yet the situation had remained unchanged. In fact, the unwillingness of the Chamorros to work for any wages was another indication of their ignorance of, or indifference to, the benefits of a money economy; and without the effective customary’ inducement “to make money,” Safford was at a loss for means to stimulate farming. After close perusal of such old Spanish records as were legible, he found enough old paternalistic orders to establish a sound precedent for General Orders Number 6 and 7, which dealt with the control and increase of food supplies on the island. Accordingly, the exportation of food or its delivery to visiting ships was prohibited without a permit from the government; and every inhabitant of Guam “without a trade or habitual occupation by means of which he is able to provide for the necessities of himself and his family, must plant a quantity of corn, rice, coffee, cacao, sweet potatoes or other fruits or vegetables sufficient for that purpose, and must also have at least twelve hens, one cock, and one sow.” In order to make this order effective, citizens who possessed no land for planting were permitted to solicit from the government an amount sufficient to accomplish this object. Thus by such measures was the infant government able to increase slowly both the food supply and the area of cultivated land on the island. The judicious distribution of useful fruit and vegetable seeds and plants obtained from the Botanical Gardens of Honolulu by Lieutenant Safford also helped to stimulate agricultural interest and enterprise.
Along with the problem of obtaining adequate food supplies which confronted the new naval administration, arose the problem of public health. Not only was there pressing necessity to safeguard the health of the American contingent on the island who were not acclimated to the trying tropical conditions or to the unsanitary, unhygienic practices which they found, but there was also a great need to protect the entire population of Guam from the dangerous and contagious diseases which ran unchecked throughout the island.
Because of the unsanitary conditions found in Agana, it was decided to allow the American sailors and Marines ashore to drink only water distilled on the Yosemite and sent to them daily in barrels. Because of the shallowness of the boat channel from Apra Harbor to Piti, the seaport of the capital, and dependence upon the tides, no regular boat schedule could be followed, and often it would take a good part of a day to deliver the water to Agana where thirsty men, not acclimated to the tropical heat, waited for a drink. Consequently, the building of a distilling plant was one of the first projects undertaken as soon as materials could he landed and delivered in Agana by bull cart. Although this distillery was a great improvement since it assured a continuous and adequate supply of safe water at the Government House and Marine Barracks, yet, before it was in working order, typhoid fever broke out among the men detailed to work ashore and a number of deaths resulted.
Since it was practically impossible at first to hire any of the Chamorros to work as day laborers for wages to which they were utterly indifferent, Safford had to draft sailors and Marines from the Yosemite for all sorts of emergency work in order to effect as rapid a transformation as possible of the worst menaces to good health on the island. Since there were no combat duties for the Americans to perform, they were able to turn their full energies into a peace-time house-cleaning, especially in Agana. Squads of Marines assisted special details of Navy carpenters, plumbers, machinists, and other skilled workmen whose duties were, in general, to make the city safe and habitable for service personnel. The Marines spent weeks digging trenches for the water and sewer systems; they helped to rebuild and repair the Government House and their own nearby barracks: they laboriously cleared the central plaza which had been used as a common dumping ground, even hauling sand from the beach to fill in the holes and low places that it might be used as a parade ground. Native carabao carts and drivers were engaged to transfer this sand, but they usually failed to appear, explaining that they were detained by feast days.
Considerable difficulty was experienced in landing the valuable cargo, especially medical supplies and special equipment of all kinds on the Yosemite at Piti. Due to lack of a deep boat channel, the crew of the ship was employed at any time, day or night, whenever the tide was high, to get the loaded boats from the harbor to the beach. As there were no lighters, the cargo was transported in the ship’s boats which were towed by a pulling boat. When extremely shallow water was reached, it was often necessary' to transfer some of the cargo into the pulling boat and then to pull and push both boats to the shore. At low’ tide these men were employed clearing the channel of rocks, deepening and widening it by using whatever tools were available. Many of the men who engaged in this work developed bad coral sores, and the work was finally discontinued until more efficient mechanical aids could be obtained from the States. But the precious supplies and equipment eventually reached the island in safety’ and contributed much to the success of the major improvements then in progress.
On the 15th of October, 1900, an ice plant, brought out on the Yosemite, was officially opened and, a limited space for cold storage ashore was introduced to Guam. The opening of this ice plant meant a great deal of increased comfort to the Americans working so strenuously in the unaccustomed tropical climate, but the large gathering of Chamorro people who gazed at the first cakes of ice made on the island showed very little interest in the new phenomenon, as few of them had ever seen ice before and did not know of its use. Many of them were unable to ascertain whether their souvenir piece of ice was hot or cold and were completely surprised to have it disappear before they could display it at home.
Safford found the Chamorro people on the island far from generally healthy. “Fevers” of various kinds and infections were frequent, and often epidemics would rage unchecked through the towns or villages. The only doctor, a Spanish army officer, was completely inadequate to cope with the wide-spread ill- health and epidemics, being unwell himself, and without any medicinal supplies. As a result, the Navy doctor on the Yosemite and his corpsmen with their limited medicines from the ship worked ceaselessly to combat the illnesses which, because of poverty, ignorance, or lack of care, frequently were fatal. In Governor Leary’s first official report to the Secretary of the Navy, he urgently requested that at least two resident doctors with a large corps of assistants be sent out to Guam as soon as possible in order to improve the public health of the natives of the island and to lower the abnormally high death rate.
In addition to the familiar diseases found in Guam, leprosy, gangosa, and yaws were also prevalent, and practically no effort was made to isolate the cases or to check their spread throughout the entire population. It is probable that these diseases were introduced into Guam from the Philippine Islands, where they were common, by the soldiers or convicts who were sent to the island during the first years of the Spanish occupation. The Chamorros proved very susceptible, and the diseases continued to spread among them since little by way of treatment or segregation was done for them. About 1890 a leper colony was established at Pago, but it was destroyed two years later. In 1894 another attempt was made to establish a leper colony at Asan, near the entrance to the village, but Safford wrote in 1899: “There is only one leper in the colony now; the rest are scattered over the island, living with their families who apparently have little fear of contagion.”
The Naval Government of Guam instituted rigid segregation of these contagious diseases, and, as soon as supplies could be shipped from the United States, undertook such strenuous measures for the suppression of leprosy, gangosa, and yaws that within 25 years there was none to be found on the island, —a blessing which only those who recall the old situation could appreciate.
Closely allied to the problem of health was the question of legitimacy which arose to vex Safford’s early administration. Numbers of children were found on the island, often a part of their mother’s families or clans, who possessed no legal father, he being, in most cases, a foreigner temporarily resident of the island. These children were loved and cared for by the Chamorro families who have a truly oriental affection for children; and, where the standard of living was extremely low and nature supplied the simplest foods without much exertion, one mouth more or less to feed made very little difference. There were also large numbers of other children whose parents, still living together, had neglected to register their marriages or, because of high fees involved, to have any marriage ceremony performed. Moreover, since the Catholic Church did not recognize divorce, the children of permanent unions contracted after unhappy marriages had been dissolved by mutual consent, were also held illegitimate. Little could be done by the new government to improve the status of the children of the first group, but in order to meet the latter situation, so incompatible with American morals and customs of the time, Safford induced Governor Leary to issue General Order Number 5. By this edict he commanded a civil (or religious) marriage for all persons living together in order to legitimatize the children. Moreover, to facilitate such proceedings, Lieutenant Safford, by virtue of his position as judge, was empowered to grant divorces wherever necessary, and arrangements were made for dispensing free licenses and free civil ceremonies from September 15 to November 3, 1899, to all persons not legally married. Later governors had occasion at different times to revive this regulation, or to institute one day each week or month when marriage ceremonies, including religious ones, were required to be performed free of charge, in order to protect the poorer members of the island community and their offspring.
Following to a logical conclusion the Administration’s concern for the rising generation of Chamorros, General Order Number 12, dated January 22, 1900, established a system of free public education on the island. The school work was planned to cover only the most elementary subjects—arithmetic and reading and writing of the English language—as soon as sufficient instructors in that subject could be obtained. Attendance at these schools was compulsory between the ages of eight to eleven, and all religious matters of any nature whatsoever were excluded from these day schools. This order was a great surprise to the native population, both in respect to its stress on education and its abolition of religious subjects. The great proportion of people on Guam were illiterate at that time, since the Spanish Government had discouraged all formal education among the natives, except religious instruction, on the grounds that it rendered them “unfit for future usefulness,” and often obliged the government to impose “correctional punishment” upon the more ambitious. Such was the scarcity of text books that at one time shortly before the American occupation, there was reputed to have been but a single grammar on the island which was owned by Don Silvestre Inocencio Palomo, the father of Padre Jose Palomo, and this precious grammar was passed from boy to boy until it was completely worn out. To further stress the idea of adopting English as the official language on Guam, orders were issued directing every adult to learn to read and write his name in English (before July, 1900), and strongly-recommending the general study of that language, as well as its gradual use officially.
With the advent of a new public school system, the question of finances loomed large before the new administration. Such schools as had existed formerly had been held by the priests or by a few schoolteachers who received only three dollars Mexican a month (about $1.50). These men were obliged to neglect their schools for several days each week to work on their little farms in order to raise food enough to support themselves and their families. Such intermittent instruction, although unsatisfactory to Safford, could not be remedied until an adequate and regular income for the island government could be provided, since the small appropriation from the Navy Department was insufficient to effect even the most necessary improvements and reforms. Insight into this educational financial problem was given in the following entry in Safford’s Journal on October 4, 1899:
“Some school teachers get only three dollars Mexican a month, equal to one dollar fifty cents of our money. I shall double their wages, but even then it will be a miserable pittance. No wonder they have to suspend their teaching frequently to Work in their garden patches and cornfields. The only trouble is, we have not income enough from the island to pay higher salaries; and we want the island government to be self-supporting. I myself have started a night-school for teaching English three nights a week. I have about fifty pupils ranging from the age of five to fifty.... To meet the increased expense of the schools we are to have a custom house. The governor has asked me to prepare a tariff. This I am trying to do in such a way as not only to bring in revenue, but to encourage the cultivation of rice, coffee, sugar, and to discriminate in favor of American goods which will come in free.”
Lieutenant Safford, in addition to teaching English to the natives three nights a week, worked on alternate nights with Father Palomo and Don Juan de Torres to write a Chamorro grammar.
The first import tariff was established shortly after this entry was made, and throughout the following years it served both as a source of revenue for the island government, although frequently a distressingly irregular one, and as a method of encouraging local production by means of prohibitive duties on competing imports. As late as 1902 Governor Schroeder who relieved Captain Leary had occasion to appreciate this customs revenue when, in one instance at least, the island treasury was completely empty, and disgrace seemed inevitable because of failure to meet obligations to the government employees, especially schoolteachers and clerks. The arrival of a Japanese schooner and a comparatively bountiful harvest of import duties which was reaped just in the nick of time, saved the Treasurer of the Island from defaulting, and the Chamorros from a loss of faith in that early administration.
The new taxes, so necessary to pay the wages of teachers and clerks, to keep up the roads and bridges, and to finance improvements bearing directly upon public health and welfare, were not popular with the native Chamorros. Most of the residents of the island considered them excessive, partly because they were unused to many of the licenses established, and partly because they had thought that freedom from Spain meant freedom from taxation and from the responsibilities of citizenship in the new order. One Chamorro who had been completely disillusioned concerning the glorious “American freedom” he had been led to expect at the capture of the island, remarked to Lt. Safford:
“But Senor, we now pay more taxes than ever before; we are taxed for the guns we carry, for the fields we cultivate, for the houses we live in, and even for our dogs! Besides this we have to work on the roads or pay the equivalent in more taxes.”
The disgruntled taxpayers failed to realize that the sources of income on Guam had considerably increased with the advent of the United States Naval Government. Wages which had been about eight cents gold a day when the Americans first arrived were doubled, and the demand for unskilled labor continued to far exceed the supply, due to the unpopularity of such work. The market for agricultural products of all kinds had increased tremendously, and public land was available for any ambitious citizen who would undertake its cultivation and profit by the new situation. There were no regular craftsmen such as shoemakers, carpenters, tailors, blacksmiths, etc., who depended upon their trade for a living, although with the new pressing need for their services, such men might have profited financially had they been willing to work regularly and to forego long sojourns at their ranches. Few seemed to have any money for taxes for few were willing to earn the money, although the opportunities for so doing had increased greatly. Thus the difficulties faced by the government in making and collecting the first taxes were due largely to the transition from a barter to a money economy. This transition was especially slow due to the almost oriental reluctance of the Chamorros to adopt new ways and customs, even though their leaders, at least, appreciated the need for such changes.
In order to encourage further the practice of wage earning and the development of a money economy, and also to get vitally necessary public work done, Safford found it necessary’ to eliminate the almost continuous general celebration of religious feast and saint’s days, and accordingly an Executive Order was issued prohibiting all holidays except those prescribed by the laws of the United States. Thereafter the obstacle to regular and continuous economic activity was removed. When, however, a small store with articles for sale from the States was established, the pressure upon the heads of the Chamorro families to work for a currency which would purchase the fascinating articles for their wives proved a more effective stimulus to productive endeavor than any official prohibition or prodding.
Eventually it was necessary to issue a General Order (Number 18) whereby barter was prohibited, the use of copra or service as a means of payment was condemned, and the coin of the land, U. S. currency, was authoritatively set up as the only medium of exchange. This order served a further purpose of protecting poor and unsophisticated ranchers from piling up debts at the few stores on the island, which were supposed to be paid, little by little, in copra, but which were allowed to drag along indefinitely in order to keep the debtor in the power of the creditor. Such a situation could exist only where imprisonment for debt and a recognized system of peonage flourished, and the Americans were surprised to find both institutions in Guam. As a result of such customs, if a person was so unfortunate as to get into debt he might be cast into jail until relatives paid off his obligation, or, more likely, he was liable to be held in the condition of a virtual slave by his creditor.
Within the first two months of the first American administration on Guam, a number of complaints were made to Lt. Safford concerning “the escape of servants.” Investigation uncovered a rigid system of peonage which was supported by a willingness of merchants and others to permit the poorer natives to go deeply into debt in order to be assured a constant supply of copra or of services. Safford recounts at length in his Journal on November 15, 1899, this typical case of peonage:
. . . “The other day one of the principal ladies of the island came to my office asking that I cause her servant, Benigno Acosta, to be arrested for violation of her contract with him. He had left her ranch without permission and refused to return, although he was in debt to her and was required by his contract to work for her until his indebtedness should be cancelled. On being questioned by me, Benigno stated that he had entered the services of Dona Luisa in order to obtain enough money to pay the funeral expenses of his mother; he had no other way of getting money. He said that he had expected to repay her in a short time, but that she kept him indebt by charging him for various things and that it seemed to him he would never be free again. He did not see how he could be held accountable for utensils and animals missing from the ranch, for Dona Luisa repeatedly sent him to the city upon errands; the things disappeared during his absence. Though he was allowed by the contract one-third of all the com, sweet potatoes, and other things he might raise, yet Dona Luisa kept him busy burning lime, and this gave him no time to do agricultural work, and as nothing was said about lime in the contract, she would not let him share in the profits she received from it, although he collected both the wood for the kiln and the limestone.”
The outcome of this incident was that Safford paid the boy’s indebtedness let the overjoyed Benigno work for him. Dona Luisa did not like this solution at all, and her question at the conclusion the interview reveals the state of mind’ as well as of affairs, on the island.
“But, Senor,” she demanded, “he signed this contract and I wish to hold him to it,— how am I to get anyone else in his place?”
On January 1, 1900, the system of peonage was abolished from the island by government proclamation and furthermore a letter was sent to all merchants prohibiting them from encouraging or even permitting Chamorros to go into debt for merchandise to be paid for at some future time in copra not yet harvested, or in prolonged service. In such a manner this system, so incompatible with American ideals and practices, was eradicated from Guam.
In the general house cleaning which Safford had initiated, numbers of persons were deported from the island. Worthless Filipino ex-convicts were sent away and all of the hostile Augustinian Friars were sent to Manila or neighboring islands, leaving the venerable Padre Palomo to minister to Guam. Later Spanish members of the Caputian Order came to Guam to serve as priests in the churches and chapels throughout the island, but in 1937 American Roman Catholic priests supplanted the Spanish order, and greater cooperation between church and state for the good of the native population was thereby effected.
Many of the Spanish residents moved to the Philippine Islands, Saipan, or Spain, and the stories that were spread by these dissatisfied ex-residents of the island concerning the reforms and changes effected by the Americans eventually were carried by the newspapers in the United States. Just as the Naval Government of Guam under Lt. Safford was beginning to produce order, system, and phenomenal improvements, complaints were made to the United States Government of the arbitrary acts constantly being committed there. As a result, an army officer, General Joseph Wheeler, was sent out from Manila at President McKinley’s direction, to investigate conditions on the island, —an unusual proceeding where an army officer was assigned to look into the affairs of a naval activity and probably the only incident of its kind in naval history. General Wheeler performed his mission conscientiously and thoroughly. He was given every facility to listen to complaints and to investigate conditions which had Prompted the official orders. In his official report to the President upon his return from Guam, General Wheeler completely absolved the Naval administration of any arbitrariness and credited it with the highest motives and the best of judgment. Thereafter necessary reforms were more easily accomplished; the cooperation of the leaders and gobernadorcillos in the towns and villages increased, and the confidence of the individual Chamorros in the American administration grew so great that Governor Schroeder, the second American Governor of Guam wrote, “It is amazing that so great friendliness for the Americans exists so soon.”
The difficulties of establishing an American government on Guam were not solved by Safford in the first years. At best the administration was able only to correct the most flagrant abuses and to improve the sanitation standards. But after such a sound beginning in complete governmental reform and innovation, each successive Governor worked to further the progressive campaign initiated largely by Guam's first Lieutenant Governor.
On July 30, 1900, Lieutenant Safford was relieved of all his duties and ordered to the United States. In saying his goodbyes to the island he deeded to Susanna, his housekeeper, a plantation of coconut trees and a small piece of land on which he had done some experimental planting of fruit trees; to Vicente who had worked as his houseboy without wages in order to learn English, he gave another small tract of land; and to Jose de Torres, who adopted a little orphan, he deeded a tract of land along the edge of the mesa “from which there was a fine view of the island and the ocean.”
In saying goodbye to Lt. Safford, the native leaders expressed appreciation for his work and interest in them, but they were “thankful above all things for the titles to their land which had been secured to them and their children.”
The most unusual tribute was not the hope voiced by leading citizens of Agana that he come back to them as their Governor or the massive silver cup presented to him, but the admiration of the people of the town of Agat who closed their farewell communication to him with “In the name of the inhabitants of this village, we respectfully kiss your hand.”