George Handy Bates Samoan papers

Biographical and Historical Notes

George Handy Bates was born November 19, 1845, at Dover, Delaware. A lawyer and politician, he visited the Island of Samoa at the request of President Grover Cleveland and helped to settle which nation could legally claim it.

Mr. Bates was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School. After being admitted to the bar in 1869, he opened a law office in Wilmington, Delaware. He became a successful attorney and was considered an expert on international and constitutional law.

Bates was also active in Delaware politics. In 1881, he was elected to the Delaware Legislature as a Democrat and by 1882, he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

In 1886, President Grover Cleveland appointed Mr. Bates as a special agent to investigate the conditions in Samoa. Bates was subsequently appointed as a United States Commissioner to the 1889 Joint Conference on Samoan Affairs held in Berlin. As a special envoy he participated in the negotiations with England and Germany over the ownership of the Island of Samoa.

George Handy Bates died at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 31, 1916, at the age of 73.


"George Handy Bates Dead." The New York Times, November 1, 1916. p. 11.

Scope and Content Note

The George Handy Bates Samoan papers are comprised of correspondence, documents, memoranda, clippings, photographs, and other material relating to George Handy Bates's tenure as a special investigator into Samoan affairs beginning in 1886, and as a commissioner to the 1889 Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs.

Correspondence from the Berlin Conference in 1889 includes letters from the U.S. Secretary of State James G. Blaine as well as copies of letters from Bates and an abstract of the correspondence between the U.S. Secretary of State Blaine and the U.S. commissioners. The documents from the Berlin Conference include protocols for ten sessions of the negotiations, minutes of the meetings taken by Bates, drafts of Bates' remarks at the sixth session, reports on the negotiations, and drafts of the treaty on Samoa.

The material gathered by Bates in his investigation of the Samoan situation prior to the Berlin Conference includes publications by the Samoan government and financial records for the Apia Agency and the Deutsches Handels and Plantagen Gesellschaft. Newspaper clippings, a proposed constitution for Samoa under King Malietoa, correspondence with U.S. Secretary of State T. F. (Thomas F.) Bayard, lists of exports, imports, and land holdings are also present. A photocopy of Jan Thurston's Report of the Condition of the Samoan Islands , issues of the Tonga Government Blue Book and Samoa Times , and a copy of Arthur Gordon's British Despotism in the South Sea Islands are also included in these papers.

The papers also include over one hundred and forty photographs of persons and scenic views of Samoa, Pago Pago, Fiji, and Hawaii.

These papers are valuable for studying the culture and history of Samoa, particularly during the 1880s. The issues of colonialism and foreign intervention are chronicled in these papers. In addition, the material related to the 1889 Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs provides insight into diplomatic relations among Germany, Great Britain, and the United States during the late 1880s.