Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Francisco M. Portusach
in a newspaper depiction

When the Americans captured Guam and arrested the Spanish government officials, taking them away from the island on June 22, 1898, Francisco Martínez Portusach, a Spanish-Chamorro mestizo and only American citizen on Guam at the time, claimed he was given verbal authorization by Captain Henry Glass, in charge of the American capture of Guam, to assume responsibility for the island's government. This was also what newspapers said, shortly after the event.

For half a year, Portusach's rule over Guam was contested by José Sisto, the last official of the Spanish government of the Marianas. Others, such as Venancio Roberto, Joaquin Cruz Pérez and William Coe, put forward by local committees or by U.S. officials passing through, also held title.

Finally, in August of 1899, over a year after the U.S. took possession of Guam but without establishing a firm government, Captain Richard P. Leary of the U.S. Navy arrived as duly appointed Governor of Guam.

Leary was not a popular governor. He was considered an authoritarian, military man with no ability to win the hearts of his subjects, nor having any desire to do so. He issued executive orders and expected compliance, or punishment.

Capt. Richard P. Leary
First American Naval Governor of Guam

He issued orders against the sale of local liquor (tuba, åguayente) to American servicemen. Many Chamorros lived with partners without benefit of marriage, raising illegitimate children. It was said that people did this because they had no money to pay the church fees for weddings. Other couples lived together without marriage because one was, and sometimes both persons were, already married but that relationship went sour. Since divorce and re-marriage were not possible under Spanish and Catholic laws, many resorted to simply living together. There is also the human factor, widely seen today in domestic partnerships, that the easy route is often the one chosen. Leary wanted to put a stop to concubinage, and issued an executive order to that effect. Later, Leary was to allow the first divorces on Guam. But many Chamorros found themselves in a complicated situation with the Church because of it.

Leary also expelled the Spanish missionaries, removed crucifixes from the schools, drastically reduced the number of public holidays (which were mostly religious), prohibited the ringing of the church bell before certain hours and halted religious processions in the streets. Many Chamorros found all this too much! Leary actually had to issue another order to enforce the prior order ending all religious instruction in the schools, since the Chamorro teachers had ignored the earlier order.

With the force of the pen, Leary thought he could compel every adult Chamorro to learn to write his or her name, solve the stray dog issue by mandating dog licenses for a fee, get more people to work the land, stop gambling, including cock fighting.

Even his fellow Americans, at least the lower ranks of the Marines, resented Leary's forceful manner. The men once tried to go on strike, and Leary threatened to shoot them himself if they didn't continue their work detail.

Hawaii headline announcing Portusach's arrival
On his way to Washington to lodge complaints against Leary

Francisco Portusach also had his run-ins with Leary. Portusach shared the same complaints the others had about Leary's heavy handedness. According to a newspaper interview, Portusach said Leary fined him $100 and put him in jail for a week, for reasons Portusach doesn't tell. The stress was too much for Portusach's wife, who took sick with typhoid and died.

Portusach said that Leary claimed he was supreme on Guam; he was the law. When Chamorros saw Leary from a distance, Portusach said, they'd say to each other, "There goes God." Portusach himself said that the U.S. Congress might have a thing or two to say about Leary's claim to be a law unto himself, and, when Leary retired as Governor in June of 1900, Portusach traveled to the U.S. making known to the American press the discontent many felt with the ex-Governor. One report says he went as far as Washington, DC.

One of many news articles in the U.S. about Leary's negative reputation

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am Sarah Wilkinson. I am doing a NHD project on Richard Leary. You seem to be passionate about this topic so I would like to conduct an interview with you to include in my project. If you are able to assist me in any way or point me to other people who can, I would greatly appreciate it.