Haiti Haitian History In The News

Navassa Island: Secret Island Between Jamaica and Haiti Which Haiti Claimed in 1801

Courtesy of http://www.loopjamaica.com

Ever heard of Navassa Island?

Well don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. Although many people have never heard of this Island its recorded history dates back to Columbus’ time. According to online sources, the island is an uninhabited speck between Haiti and Jamaica, barely bigger than New York City’s Central Park and it has a very bizarre and bloody history. Its history, includes an ongoing territorial battle between Haiti and the US; it was also the site of an 1889 rebellion of African-Americans.

Want to visit the island, don’t start trying to book tickets just yet,  access to this Island is heavily restricted, those wanting to visit Navassa Island require a special-use permit that must be issued by the U.S. Military or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

According to Mongabay,

Navassa has been underwhelming visitors since 1504, when crewmen sent by Columbus arrived and promptly died from drinking contaminated water. An American sea-captain claimed the mesa-shaped islet for the U.S. in 1857 for its rich deposits of bird excrement, used to make fertilizer and gunpowder. Over the next three decades, African-American workers living in virtual slavery mined over a million tons of fossilized guano by hand (which the Navassa Phosphate Company of Baltimore shipped out on the S.S. Romance). In 1889, the workers rose up and killed five supervisors, sparking a legal battle over possession of the island that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The island and its animal inhabitants—mostly lizards and feral dogs today—were abandoned in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.

Haiti still claims Navassa in its constitution, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it a National Wildlife Refuge in 1999. Only researchers can drop anchor there today, but the interesting part is underwater anyway. This March and April, scientists with the Global Reef Expedition, a 5-year worldwide coral survey sponsored by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, made 212 data-gathering dives on Navassa’s reefs. They found a surprisingly rich coral ecosystem that has escaped much of the damage that overfishing, pollution and climate change have wrought on other reefs in the region. – Continue Reading Here

What an amazing piece of history, I have never heard of any of this before. I like this article from Loop Jamaica because they list 21 interesting things to know about the Island. I’m going to list a few and you can read the res on their site.

1. Navassa Island is a pear-shaped piece of land; limestone, corals and a bit of grass are present there.

2. Navassa Island was first recorded in history when, Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica during his fourth voyage. Columbus sent some of his crew members to Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic) to seek assistance, it is said that while on their way there they saw Navassa Island.They called it “Navaza” derived from “nava” meaning plain or field.

3. For about 350 years after Columbus’ voyage, the Island was not heard of again; until 1801 when the Haiti claimed sovereignty over the Island, by way of the country’s constitution.

4. Americans also claim sovereignty of the Island; citing Peter Duncan, a sea captain, who in 1857 claimed the Island as belonging to the United States, by way of the Guano Act.

5. Haiti protested the annexation of Navassa Island, but the U.S. rejected the Haitian claim.

6. Given that the Island was uninhabited for large parts of its recorded history, it was saturated with the excrement of seabirds, which later formed Guano phosphate which was deemed a “superior organic fertilizer that became a mainstay of American agriculture”.

7. An American guano businessman living in Jamaica began selling the guano phosphate found on Navassa Island to the Navassa Phosphate Company of Baltimore.  – Continue Reading Here

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