|Swain's Atoll (Photograph by Kerry Grimshaw)|
It is thought that the first European to discover the island was Pedro Fernandez de Queiros in 1606 and named it Isla de la Gente Hermosa (“island of the beautiful people”). After that the island was unvisited by Europeans until 1840 when Capt. W.C. Swains of New Bedford, Massachusetts visited and thinking he was the first to land there, he named it Swain’s Island. The British Capt. Turnbull also claimed to have discovered the island and sold Swain's Island to the American Eli Hutchinson Jennings Sr. In 1856 Eli and his Samoan wife Malia moved to the island and claimed it with the US flag (as a semi-independent proprietary settlement of the Jennings family). Swain's Island was also claimed by the US Government under the Guano Islands Act in 1860. The ownership of the island was passed down to Eli Jr. who managed the copra plantation which was established by his father. Upon Eli Jr.’s death, the US government on March 4, 1925 granted the right of administration jointly to his children Ann (the estate) and Alexander (the island) while concurrently making it officially part of American Samoa by annexation. The island is currently inhabited by 4-30 people at any given time in order to retain private ownership by the Jennings family and as part of the Territory of American Samoa.
|Swains Island as seen from space|