Notes on the pandemic: American Samoa escaped the Spanish flu with no deaths

March 31, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

The last pandemic to sweep the world was that known as the Spanish flu, which killed people everywhere from 1918 through 1920 — everywhere except American Samoa. That’s because of its governor, John Martin Poyer, a Naval officer who had retired because of ill health but was called back to service in 1915 to serve as governor of the territory.

Poyer had heard about the pandemic through a radio report and moved quickly to seal off the territory. which was the southeastern part of the larger island of Samoa. No ships were allowed to dock during the pandemic. The western part of the island was controlled by New Zealand, and Poyer’s actions infuriated the governor of that part of the island. He believed there was little danger from the pandemic.

He was wrong, dead wrong. The people in his territory suffered a 90 percent infection rate, and 20 percent of the population died. Poyer was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions as administrator of the territory.

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