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How quick thinking by a U.S. official saved thousands of lives from disease in an American territory — despite its non-American counterpart being decimated.
John Martin Poyer, the U.S. Navy-appointed governor of American Samoa, heard the news of the risk from this disease and immediately took steps to coordinate ships from the U.S. mainland to assist with what was expected to be a dramatic outbreak.
His strategy, effectively, was to quarantine anyone with the disease on the Navy ships, with the goal of isolating the problem. He was successful — not a single person in American Samoa died of the Spanish flu, one of just a few areas in the would where that could be said.
It certainly wasn’t the case in nearby Samoa. Robert Logan, Poyer’s counterpart, had similarly been appointed to his role by New Zealand
But unlike Poyer, he failed to control for the flu, allowing ships to dock unencumbered, leading the disease to quickly overtake Samoa. Within the span of just a few weeks, a fifth’s of the territory’s population had died.
Poyer’s work was so impressive, especially in comparison to what Logan had done, that people living on Samoa had decided that they’d rather have the U.S. controlling their territory, rather than New Zealand.