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Warren Terhune

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Warren Terhune

Warren Jay Terhune
13th Governor of American Samoa
In office
June 10, 1919 – November 3, 1920
Lieutenant Creed H. Boucher
A. C. Kail
Preceded by John Martin Poyer
Succeeded by Waldo A. Evans
Personal details
Born May 3, 1869
Midland Park, New Jersey
Died November 3, 1920(1920-11-03) (aged 51)
Utulei, American Samoa
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Alma mater United States Naval Academy
Occupation Naval officer
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Years of service 1889 – 1920
Rank Commander
Commands Seventh Naval District
Naval Air Station Key West
Dunwoody Naval Training School
USS Annapolis
Awards Order of the Bust of Bolivar

Warren Jay Terhune (May 3, 1869 – November 3, 1920) was a United States Navy Commander, and the 13th Governor of American Samoa. Terhune was born in Midland, New Jersey, and lived in New Jersey most of his life when not posted elsewhere. He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1889, and graduated as a Lieutenant in 1899. He was stationed on numerous ships, and held command of various ships and stations throughout his career. His most notable command posts include the Seventh Naval District of South Florida and the Naval Air Station Key West within his jurisdiction. His largest engagement came when President William Howard Taft ordered the United States Marine Corps to Nicaragua in an attempt to put down a rebellion there, primarily out of the city of Managua. Terhune commanded the USS Annapolis, which landed hundreds of troops to quell the violence and protect American civilians and property.

On June 10, 1919, Terhune became the Governor of American Samoa; his governorship was wrought with problems and controversy. He revamped taxation on the island. He also took a number of steps to limit the power of the indigenous Samoans, believing they were not fit to govern themselves. He removed several local leaders from power, and outlawed marriages between United States Navy sailors and Samoan women. His actions helped lead to the anti-imperialistic Mau movement, stemming from perceived racism and a belief that the marriage law promoted anti-Christian promiscuity. In addition, his two executive officers sympathized with the Mau, leading his first to file a complaint with the Secretary of the Navy. An inquiry was launched to the island, but before it could get there, Terhune, plagued with depression and health problems, committed suicide by shooting himself through the heart on November 3, 1920 at noon. He is the only Governor of American Samoa to have died in office, and it is rumored that he still haunts the grounds of the Government House.


Terhune was born in Midland Park, New Jersey on May 3, 1869.[1] He lived in Hackensack, New Jersey. Terhune was a vice-president of the Holland Society of New York.[2] He received the Order of the Bust of Bolivar from Venezuela in 1909.[3]

Naval career

Terhune entered the United States Naval Academy on May 19, 1885.[4] He became a Lieutenant on March 3, 1899.[5] He served on the USS Kearsarge from 1889 to 1891, the USS Cushing from 1891 to 1894, the staff of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy in 1894, the USS Terror from 1896 to 1899, and the USS Buffalo in 1901.[5] He fought in the Spanish–American War, but was teaching during World War I.[6]

He achieved the rank of Commander in 1911.[4] He commanded the Seventh Naval District until October 1917, when he became the Commandant of Dunwoody Naval Training School in Minneapolis.[4][7] While at the Seventh District, he also commanded the Naval Air Station Key West.[8]

On at least one occasion, Terhune acted as counsel in a court martial, for Captain Franklin Steele Wilste of the United States Marine Corps, who was accused of failing to pay for uniforms, clothing, liquor, and other items.[9]


During a rebellion against the United States armed forces in Managua, President William Howard Taft dispatched the Marines to the city. Terhune first landed a force of 365 men for the initial police action.[10] Later, his force of 40 sailors and 10 marines attempted to break out of Managua and back to their ship, the USS Annapolis, anchored in Corinto, Nicaragua.[11] From there, they were to reestablish contact between the fleet and Managua,[12] and protect the Americans and foreigners there.[13] However, on the way, his train was taken by rebel forces; he was reluctant to attempt to take it back, until Major Smedley Butler convinced him it was the correct option. Convincing the rebels they had dynamite, the force took back the train and made it back to the ship.[11]


Terhune was appointed Governor of American Samoa on March 18, 1919, and took office on June 10, 1919. Terhune faced many issues during his term, many involving economic issues like tax revenue. Other issues stemmed from race, like revising restrictions on intermarriages between whites and ethnic Samoans; controversy erupted when he banned marriages between navy sailors and Samoan natives. The religious Christian Samoans not only claimed racism, but that the law encouraged sailors to have sexual relations with young native girls, knowing they would never have to take responsibility for their actions.[14] He took further action against the native people of the islands by stripping a number of tribal leaders of power. As his rationale, he wrote, "The natives are very charming people, but very childish... of the STONE AGE and are not capable of managing their affairs with wisdom."[14] His actions helped lead to the anti-imperialism Mau movement. Terhune's executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Creed H. Boucher sided with the Mau, so Terhune had him replaced. Boucher was later found guilty of fomenting unrest among the Samoans. However, the replacement, Commander A. C. Kail, likewise proved not to work well with Terhune, and also supported the Mau cause.[14][15] Terhune's first run-in with the Mau occurred when a group of Samoans returned to the island from the United States, seeking to enter the land development business. He established the sixth American Samoan government department on November 15, 1919, with the establishment of the American Samoa Department of Public Works.[16]

Upon hearing of the multiple difficulties Terhune was having, Secretary of the Navy Lieutenant Commander Josephus Daniels ordered an inquiry after accusations from Boucher,[17] sending Captain Waldo Evans to lead the investigation. A few days before the probe reached the island, Terhune had a morning meeting with the island chiefs who remained loyal, and appeared "in good spirits".[15] However, later reports suggested that Terhune had been suffering from severe depression and heart problems.[18] Terhune then shot himself in the heart with a .45 pistol in a bathroom of the Government House in Utulei, American Samoa on noon November 3, 1920.[15][19] His body was found by the cook, Felisiano Debid Ah-Chica.[20] Terhune's wife and a group of doctors rushed to his aid, but found him already dead.[15] Upon arrival, Waldo Evans was appointed governor on November 11, 1920, taking over from Kail, who had temporarily taken the post;[15] and the court later exonerated Terhune.[20] In his two days as acting governor, Kail attempted to undo a number of Terhune's policies, including firing the head surgeon who had refused to declare Terhune insane.[21] Terhune's suicide makes him the only American Samoan governor to die in office,[16] and his ghost is rumored to wander the grounds of the Government House.[16][20][22]


  1. ^ "Commander Warren Jay Terhune". Executive Branch of the  
  2. ^ Year Book of the Holland Society of New-York.  
  3. ^ "Honor to Navy Officers: Venezuela Wants to Bestow the Honor of Bolivar on Eighteen".  
  4. ^ a b c Year book of the Holland Society of New-York.  
  5. ^ a b Hamersly, Lewis Randolph (1902). The Records of Living Officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. L.R. Hamersly Co. p. 312. Retrieved 27 February 2010. 
  6. ^ "Samoan Governor Commits Suicide".  
  7. ^ Connely, Willard (December 1918). "Training the Navy Hospital Corps".  
  8. ^ Year book - Carnegie Institution of Washington 15. Carnegie Institute of New York. 1916. p. 179. Retrieved 27 February 2010. 
  9. ^ "Capt. Wiltse on Trial".  
  10. ^ "More U. S. Forces Land in Nicaragua".  
  11. ^ a b  
  12. ^ Lenz, Lawrence (2008). Power and Policy: America's First Steps to Superpower, 1889-1922. Algora Publishing. p. 173.  
  13. ^ "Rebels in Nicaragua Inclining to Peace".  
  14. ^ a b c Chappell, David (May 2000). "The Forgotten Mau: Anti-Navy Protest in American Samoa, 1920-1935".  
  15. ^ a b c d e "Dramatic Events. Governor's Suicide in American Samoa". Poverty Bay Herald. XLVII (15381) ( 
  16. ^ a b c Sorensen, Stan; Joseph Theroux (2007). "The Samoan Historical Calendar, 1606-2007". Government of American Samoa. p. 138; 268-278. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ "Samoa Governor Commits Suicide".  
  19. ^ "Telegraph Briefs".  
  20. ^ a b c Sorensen, Stan (7 November 2008). "Historical Notes". Tapuitea ( 
  21. ^ "Find Navy Officers Incited Samoans".  
  22. ^ Michael Robert Patterson. "Warren Jay Terhune, Commander, United States Navy". Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
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