Just after noon on January 4, 1900, the ancient city of Nuevitas, Cuba, lazily basking in the midday sunshine, witnessed a sight which had not been paralleled in the four hundred years of its existence. A steamer was dropping anchor in the placid water of the harbor a mile off shore, and her decks were thronged with a crowd of more than two hundred eager and active Americans. They wore no uniforms, nor did they carry either guns or swords; and yet they had come on an errand of conquest. . . . It was the vanguard of the first American colony planted in Cuba.

—James Adams, Pioneering in Cuba

Thus begins the narrative of James M. Adams, a native of New Hampshire, who was among the passengers on the steamer Yarmouth. Adams was one of the many Americans who had bought stock in the Cuban Land and Steamship Company of New York in return for a ten- to forty-acre land plot or a town lot in the soon-to-be colony of La Gloria, located some 40 miles west of Nuevitas, in today’s province of Camagüey.1

By 1903 there were 37 American colonies in Cuba; a decade later there were 64.2 And by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century there were approximately 80 foreign colonies in Cuba, the vast majority made up of American farming families, but also including English, Canadian, Scandinavian, and German settlers. The great majority of these farming settlements were located in eastern Cuba, in the relatively sparsely populated provinces of Camagüey and Oriente (see map 1).3 There was also a dense concentration of colonies and colonists on Isla de Pinos.4

Most of the literature on United States economic expansion into Cuba has focused on the sugar sector, the sector that United States capital came to develop and dominate in the early decades of the twentieth century. Given the importance of sugar to the Cuban economy, the interest in this sector is understandable. Nonetheless, relatively little scholarly attention has been given to the flow of United States immigrants to Cuba after 1898, to the farming communities that they created, or to the migrants’ impact on Cuban economy and society.5 Most of the colonies were established with the objective of producing citrus and winter vegetables for the American market.

This article explores the reasons behind American immigration to Cuba as well the conditions that led to the demise of the foreign colonies. In concert, it explores the rise and fall of the early-twentieth-century movement supporting United States annexation of Cuba. The annexationist movement is generally considered to be a nineteenth-century phenomenon. I argue that annexationism continued to be an important force up through United States involvement in World War I, and that as a movement it both stimulated and responded to American immigration to Cuba in the early decades of this century.

The article is organized as follows. In the first two sections I locate the annexationist project historically and consider those actions of the United States Government of Occupation during 1899–1902 that facilitated both the flow of United States capital and of United States emigrants to Cuba. Subsequently, I proceed to examine in greater detail how and why colonists were attracted to Cuba and the magnitude of American emigration to the island. In the fourth section below I offer a case study of the development of the citrus colony of Omaja in the province of Oriente. This case study allows me to explore, in the subsequent section, the differing reasons for the decline of colonies in eastern Cuba as compared to those on Isla de Pinos. I then examine the quantitative impact of the development of the citrus colonies on the Cuban economy, which turns out to have been minimal, in part because of the protectionist policies of the United States government. I conclude with some thoughts on why both United States annexation of Cuba and the project of Americanization failed.

The Annexationist Project

In 1898 the United States became an empire, acquiring from Spain control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Nonetheless, at the time public opinion in the United States was divided over the appropriateness of an American empire that would include noncontiguous colonial territories. When in April 1898 President McKinley asked Congress to intervene militarily in Cuba “as a neutral to stop the war” between Cuban insurgents and Spain, many United States citizens supported the call for “Cuba Libre,” the Cuban right to independence.6 Sentiment in Congress, in fact, favored political recognition of the Cuban insurgents. Moreover, many of those from the sugar beet producing states were vehemently opposed to annexation of Cuba. As a result, the Republican administration was only able to declare war on Spain by accepting a disclaimer.

This disclaimer was the Teller Amendment (named after the senator from the sugar beet producing state of Colorado) to the declaration of war against Spain. It stated that the United States “hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.”7 But only a few months earlier the McKinley administration had attempted to purchase Cuba from Spain in order to deny Cuban insurgents their final victory.

Dreams of United States annexation of Cuba went back almost a century. After the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and Florida in 1819, which expanded the borders of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba became the focus of United States commercial objectives and strategic concerns. In 1923, for example, John Quincy Adams wrote that it was “scarcely possible to resist the conviction that the annexation of Cuba to our federal republic will be indispensable to the continuance and integrity of the Union itself.”8 During the 1840s and 1850s, annexationist movements were strong in both the United States and Cuba. The southern states, in particular, were keen on incorporating another slaveholding state, while in Cuba plantation owners favored annexation to the United States as a strategy to help preserve slavery on the island. President James K. Polk attempted to purchase Cuba from Spain in 1848; his efforts were echoed by Presidents Pierce (who carried out negotiations between 1853 and 1854) and Buchanan (who sought to purchase Cuba between 1857 and 1860). None of these presidents met with success. Also unsuccessful were a number of American filibustering expeditions to Cuba. The victory of the North in the United States Civil War eventually precluded the addition of another slaveholding territory to the Union; but the issue of annexation was again briefly revived at the beginning of Cuba’s first war for independence from Spain (1868–78).9

Once the United States defeated Spain and actually took control of Cuba through the terms of the Treaty of Paris, public opinion in the United States became quite divided over the destiny of the island. Taking the terms of the Teller Amendment to heart, anti-imperialists would remind the McKinley administration: “Get out of Cuba. You made a promise and you’ve no intention of keeping it. You are going to make one excuse after another to stay in Cuba. Get out, get out, get out!” And at the same time the annexationists would counter: “Don’t be a fool. You’re in Cuba. Stay there. The American flag has never been pulled down where once it has been raised. If you get out there will be chaos anyway. Don’t be a fool!”10

Although the United States honored the Teller Amendment and the military occupation of Cuba officially ended in 1902, many Americans and Cubans continued to believe that the United States would eventually annex the island.11 In part, this belief was based on skepticism that Cubans could govern themselves. In addition, many in the United States envisioned a process similar to that which had led to the acquisition of Texas: once there were sufficient Americans in Cuba they would petition to join the Union. As noted in the Louisiana Planter in 1903: “Little by little the whole island is passing into the hands of American citizens, which is the shortest and surest way to obtain its annexation to the United States.”12 A cartoon caption in the Havana Telegraph sums up this expectation: “Hoeing an orange tree? Yes—and shaping up a new state for the Yankee Union, that’s what he’s doing.”13

Voices in the United States Congress echoed this sentiment. For example, in 1903 Senator Chauncey M. Depew suggested that “with the opportunities which Cuba offers investors, look for such an immigration from the U.S. . . . that within five years from now there will be from two to three million Americans in that Island.”14 And Chairman Sereno E. Payne of the House Ways and Means Committee predicted that “the time will come when Cuba will be annexed to the United States.”15 One of the most enthusiastic proponents of American emigration to Cuba and United States investment on the island was the second American military governor, Leonard Wood.16 Nonetheless, he envisioned that the process of Americanization and subsequent annexation of Cuba would take time. Once he assumed responsibility for the fate of the island, he became steadfastly committed to the goal of Cuban independence; he wanted Cuba’s eventual annexation to be a Cuban idea.17 Thus in his arguments to President Theodore Roosevelt for the passage of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1902, he noted:

This is a natural sugar and tobacco country and as we must, in any case, control its destinies, and will probably soon own it, I believe it sound policy to do what we can to develop it and make it prosperous. There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment. The more sensible Cubans realize this and feel that the only consistent thing to do now is to seek annexation. This, however, will take some time, and during the period which Cuba maintains her government, it is most desirable that she should be able to maintain such a one as will tend to her advancement and betterment.18

As a contemporary observed, conservative Cubans wanted independence “not because they have confidence in its permanency, but because they see that the trial must be made, and they look upon it simply as a necessary step to final annexation or control by the United States.”19

The Preconditions for United States Expansion into Cuba

The preconditions for the expansion of United States economic interests in Cuba and for American emigration to the island were largely laid in place during the period of military occupation, from 1899 to 1902. Five measures taken by the United States Government of Occupation paved the way for American capital and emigrants: the creation of a land market; changes in Cuba’s land tenure system; the expansion of the railways; the Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution; and the Reciprocity Treaty between Cuba and the United States.

In regard to the creation of a land market, by the time the United States defeated Spain the Cuban economy was in ruins, having suffered the effects of a particularly destructive war for independence for almost four years. Cuban property owners were heavily in debt, without capital or credit to revive plantations and farms. U.S. Military Order No. 46 of April 1899 did provide them with some relief by ordering a two-year moratorium on the collection of debts contracted under Spanish rule. But United States military rule did not provide financial assistance, which was the measure most needed to revive agricultural production.20 The debt moratorium expired in April 1901 and was replaced by Military Order No. 139, which allowed creditors to take action against their debtors. All debts were to be settled within four years. This second decree led to massive bankruptcies and forced sales of property and thus established one precondition that facilitated American expansion into Cuba: the creation of a land market.21

A second precondition was “cleaning up the mess of titles” and conflicting land claims that had developed under Spanish colonialism.22 From the American point of view the most anachronistic type of holding was the hacienda comunera. This was a large tract of land jointly held by any number of individuals. The title of possession, known as pesos de posesión, guaranteed a co-owner rights to a certain portion of the estate, but not a good and clear title, by United States standards, to any specific parcel of land.23 Over the years the pesos de posesión underwent constant division and redistribution. Many of the hacienda comuneras, particularly in Oriente, were based on early colonial hatos and corrales, circular land assignations measured from a fixed central point. These circular assignations often overlapped. Compounding this problem was the fact that these tracts of land were rarely surveyed, leading to vague and imprecise boundaries.

U.S. Civil Order No. 62 of March 1902 authorized surveys to fix boundaries, determine the legitimacy of the pesos de possesion, and ratify new deeds of titled ownership. Historian Louis Pérez argues that this decree had devastating consequences for peasants and small farmers, particularly in Oriente, where the hacienda comunera was most common.24 The destruction of many towns in Oriente during the 1895–98 war meant that most public records, property titles, and land deeds had been lost or destroyed. As a result, thousands of peasants lost all proof of ownership or prior possession. Thus, in his opinion, Civil Order No. 62 all but guaranteed the creation of a land market that would exclude peasants while facilitating the consolidation of ownership in a few hands, developments that favored American interests on the island.

According to Pérez, “well-financed North American syndicates and land companies retained teams of attorneys, foreign and Cuban, and descended on local communities to press new claims to title, challenge existing property deeds and boundaries, assess new land values and taxes, and inaugurate judicial surveys.”25 Some of these land companies were linked to new syndicates formed to develop sugar and banana plantations on the virgin soils of eastern Cuba. Other land companies were simply interested in buying land cheaply and selling it dearly. And given the high level of bankruptcy, land was indeed very cheap. In Oriente large tracts of defunct or defaulted estates or public land could be purchased for as little as two to three dollars an acre.26

A third precondition for the expansion of United States economic interests in Cuba was the development of the railroad system, particularly through the relatively isolated eastern end of the island. In this regard, United States policy initially thwarted United States capital. In 1899 Congress passed the Foraker Amendment to the military appropriations bill, a measure that prohibited the Government of Occupation from granting franchises or concessions of any kind. Apparently Congress was in a moralistic mood at the time and did not want to get involved in any scandal regarding Cuba.

Sir William Van Horne, who built the Trans-Canadian railway, became interested in Cuba at this time and was eager to build the first railway to run from Santa Clara (in Las Villas) to Santiago de Cuba (in Oriente), thus linking up the eastern and western ends of the island for the first time. Normally, in the United States and Canada, a railway builder would get a franchise or the right of eminent domain to expropriate land along the planned route. Van Horne reasoned that while under the Foraker Amendment he could not get a franchise, it would not be illegal for him to buy land and build a railway; it is said that most landowners gave him the land for free, they were so thrilled to have a railroad built connecting central Cuba to Oriente.27 In order to cross public highways and streams, however, it was necessary to obtain official permission. Military Governor Wood ended up stretching the terms of the Foraker Amendment and granted Van Home “revocable permits” for this purpose.

It was not until Van Horne completed the railway to Santiago that the Government of Occupation issued U.S. Civil Order No. 34 of February 1902, which removed the existing obstacles to the establishment of new railroads and the expansion of existing ones. Now investors could identify tracts of land and have the government expropriate them to expedite the building of public and private railways and facilitate the development of Cuba’s sugar industry.

The fourth major act of this period that created conditions favoring American migration and investment was the Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution of 1901, later embodied in the Permanent Treaty between the United States and Cuba. According to Article 3, “the Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris.”28 As Pérez argues, the Platt Amendment was “an adequate if imperfect substitute for annexation,” given the lack of consensus in the United States favoring imperial expansion and, in particular, the acquisition of Cuba.29

The fifth precondition that facilitated the flow of United States capital to Cuba (both in large and small quantities) was the United States–Cuban Reciprocity Treaty, which was finally concluded in 1903. This treaty, which favored Cuban exports with a special 20 percent reduction in United States tariffs, was negotiated in 1902 by the departing military government. But due to strong opposition from sugar beet interests in the American West as well as sugarcane producers in Louisiana and Florida, the United States Senate did not approve the measure until the following year.30 For many Cuban planters, the Reciprocity Treaty offered too little, and came too late. For by the time the treaty was signed, many Cuban landowners were already bankrupt.31 But it did encourage increasing United States investment in the Cuban sugar industry while also stimulating the development of new, nontraditional exports from Cuba to the United States, such as citrus and winter vegetables. And it was to produce these crops that the majority of colonists migrated to Cuba.

The Development of the American Colonies

There is little question that the land and real estate companies played a major role in promoting American migration to Cuba and Isla de Pinos. Their widely distributed prospectuses claimed that “not only could one make a living but a fortune from five to ten acres.”32 A United States newspaper echoed this claim, editorializing that “nowhere else in the world, we believe, are there, just at this time, the same opportunities for profitable investment that are offered by Cuba. The productivity per acre in all parts of the island is simply wonderful, and the price of land is much lower than the least productive soil in the most favored portion of the United States.”33 At this time, virgin land along the Cuba Railroad Company’s tracks in Oriente could be purchased for $25 an acre; in contrast, land in California was worth $750 to $1,500 per acre.34 The editorial suggested that in a good citrus grove investors could expect a 1,000 percent return on their investment within five to ten years.

It was not simply low land prices and the expectation of easy returns that lured American settlers to Cuba. The land companies themselves heavily promoted their colonies in the northern United States. According to Chicago publisher William Boyce, “the advertising literature called attention to the hard winters, then made the contrast. Cuba was described as a land of perpetual sunshine, flowing with milk and honey twelve months of the year.”35 And the Munson Steamship Line, which held a monopoly on ocean transportation between the eastern end of the island and New York, publicized Cuba by asserting that “Cuba is an ‘all-the-year-round’ country. There is no unproductive season. There is no snow, no frost, no time when vegetation refuses to grow or to bear fruit, no month when livestock must be housed and cared for.”36 Many North Americans responded by buying land in Cuba before even visiting the island. As Boyce observed upon his return from Cuba, “Cuba has been a rich field for sharpers. Their victims have been of two kinds—those who came to Cuba and settled, and those who remained at home and sent money for the ‘development’ of their land.”37

Isla de Pinos, in particular, was widely advertised and immoderately praised “as a Paradise on earth, a veritable mine of wealth for all who journeyed there.”38 Pointing to the fact that one-third of the isle was virtually worthless swampland, another contemporary observed that “the island has been grossly overestimated and overadvertised and its possibilities, resources and fertility have been greatly exaggerated by unscrupulous land-sharks and promoters.”39

Isla de Pinos presented a special situation with respect to American colonization and annexation efforts. The Treaty of Paris, which concluded the Spanish-American War, had left the status of the island unclear, since in Article 3 “Porto Rico and all other islands now under Spanish sovereignty in the West Indies” were ceded to the United States.40 By encouraging the assumption that Isla de Pinos was United States territory, American land companies were very successful in luring settlers and investment to the isle. The status of the land in question was further confused by the fact that an official United States map of 1899 showed it to be part of national territory.41

Moreover, the Platt Amendment had left the status of the isle unsettled since it only stated that “the title thereto [is] being left to future adjustment by treaty.”42 Once it was apparent that Isla de Pinos did not offer good harbors for a United States coaling station (such as was provided for in the Platt Amendment), the American government lost interest, and between 1904 and 1906 negotiated a treaty that recognized Cuban sovereignty over the isle. The settlers who had already established themselves on the isle responded by eliciting the support of their senators and congressmen, who successfully blocked ratification of the treaty until 1925. The colonists even tried, unsuccessfully, to secede from Cuba in 1905.43

By the early twentieth century, approximately 90 to 99 percent of the land on Isla de Pinos was owned by American colonists and land companies.44 The number of foreign property owners (residents and nonresidents) increased from around 2,000 in 1902 to approximately 5,000 in 1910, when the value of United States investments was estimated to include $500,000 in buildings and homes and $2 million in fruit orchards.45 The island was thoroughly Americanized, and the Times of Cuba wrote that “the chief attraction of the Isle, in addition to an excellent system of roads and its natural advantages is the atmosphere of Americanism. The communal life is that of the United States. It is not necessary to speak Spanish. The schools are American, social life is American, people are stout, whole-souled hospitable Americans.”46

American emigration to Isla de Pinos was clearly motivated by the belief, promoted by the land companies, that it was United States territory. But emigration to the Cuban mainland also responded to the guarantees of the Platt Amendment and the expectation that Cuba would eventually be annexed to the United States. A pamphlet distributed by the Cuba Railroad Company noted that “in the treaty solemnized at Paris between the United States and Spain will be found: ‘The United States undertakes and does guarantee life and property and a stable government in Cuba.’ What more do you want?”47 As will be seen, by 1917 American settlers felt deceived by this promise.

Guidebooks to Cuba stressed how American colonists were particularly welcomed in Cuba:

The policy of the new government is to strongly encourage the influx of American capital and brains, and the visitor from the North, be he capitalist or laborer, professional man or sight-seer is assured a cordial welcome. Many opportunities await the American. . . . Particularly close and sympathetic ties exist between Cuba and the United States. The lesser country is attached to the greater by bonds of gratitude and by knowledge of her dependence upon the American Republic for her political entity. In no foreign country, probably, will American capital and enterprise be welcomed so warmly as in Cuba.48

American colonization of Cuba did not go unopposed. In 1903 Senator Manuel Sanguily introduced a bill in the Cuban Congress that prohibited selling land to foreigners and that required the authorization of Congress to establish a foreign settlement or town.49 The measure failed, but in 1909 a similar bill was again introduced, illustrating that the potential Americanization of the island was indeed a worry to Cuban nationalists throughout this period.50

The second American intervention of Cuba, in 1906, also served to encourage United States emigrants. The intervention was brought on by the supposedly fraudulent elections of 1905. The Liberals, who had lost the election, called for an insurrection. As a result business came to a halt. To prevent civil war, Cuban president Estrada Palma requested United States intervention as the lesser of the two evils. To many it proved what they had thought all along: that Cubans could not govern themselves.

There is now an increasing consensus that President Roosevelt was hesitant to intervene and tried to mediate the political crisis in Cuba. But he was under pressure from the jingoist national press, which was calling for annexation.51 The Platt Amendment set the norms for United States actions: intervention to administer the Republic of Cuba for the Cubans until they could govern themselves. This intervention lasted until early 1909. Expectations were high in both the United States and Cuba that if the Americans were again called upon to intervene, Cuba would be annexed once and for all.52 Newspaper editorials in both countries often spoke of a “third and final American intervention.”53

The magnitude of United States emigration to and investment in Cuba was significant. According to one estimate, 13,000 Americans had acquired title to land in Cuba by 1905, and the value of these purchases exceeded $50 million.54 The actual number of United States migrants to Cuba is difficult to estimate with precision, for many Americans arrived and stayed for only a short period, becoming quickly disillusioned and pulling up stakes.55 Monthly reports of correspondents from the American colonies published in the Times of Cuba reveal that many Americans visited their Cuban properties only during the winter months. Thus, the number of Americans who invested in Cuban real estate probably always exceeded the number of those who actually migrated to the island to work the land. Moreover, the land companies often managed citrus groves for absentee landowners for a commission.56

The census of 1907 revealed that there were 6,713 people born in the United States residing in Cuba.57 As table 1 shows, between 1903 and 1919 a total of 44,054 individuals whose last country of permanent residence had been the United States emigrated to Cuba. This figure probably overstates the number of American citizens, given that it included those who were born in Europe and elsewhere and had first migrated to the United States before being lured to Cuba.58 The data do confirm that the years of heaviest migration to Cuba were between 1905 and 1910.59

An official report estimated that there were 20,000 American, English, and German emigrants in Cuba in 1915, when the population of the foreign colonies was probably at or near its peak.60 This assumption is supported by census data. The 1919 census enumerated only 13,005 United States citizens residing in Cuba (of whom 3,450 were Puerto Rican-born individuals who had become citizens as a result of the Jones Act of 1917). A decade later, in 1929, the number of United States citizens living in Cuba was estimated at only 9,509.61

As noted earlier, the great majority of foreign settlers were from the United States, Great Britain, and Canada; but there were also colonies of Scandinavians and Scandinavian-Americans (Bayate, Guirabo, Mayarí, and Mir, all in the province of Oriente), and Germans (Palm City, in Camagüey province). In addition, some colonies, such as Manacas and Santo Domingo in Las Villas, included settlers from various other European countries, including several from Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, the largest group of colonists were from the United States.62

According to available data, the largest mainland settlement of foreign migrants was in La Gloria, located in the Cubitas Valley of Camagüey, which had a dense concentration of colonies. In 1911 La Gloria had an average year-round population of 1,000 residents. There were perhaps another 400 colonists in the other Cubitas Valley settlements that, at their peak around 1914, included perhaps 3,000 Americans plus scores of Europeans.63 The other great concentration of American settlers was in the 12 colonies of Isla de Pinos, where by 1910 there were an estimated 2,000 American residents, a figure that increased to about 3,000 by 1917.64

The vibrancy of life in the foreign settlements is indicated by the fact that by 1912 there were eight English language newspapers and magazines being published in Cuba. Two national agricultural societies had been formed and in 1912 four major agricultural fairs were held—in Havana, Isla de Pinos, La Gloria, and, for the first time, the Camagüey-Oriente fair in Camagüey.65

In the next section I focus on the colonies in the northern region of Oriente—since very little research has been done on the colonies in this part of Cuba as compared with Isla de Pinos or the Cubitas Valley in Camagüey—highlighting the development of the colony of Omaja (in today’s municipality of Majibacoa in the province of Las Tunas).

American Settlements in the North of Oriente

In 1901 Van Horne began building the central railroad, which in early 1902 had reached the region of Las Tunas. Based on his experience in Canada, Van Horne knew that for his railroad to turn a profit he would need to promote colonization in this underpopulated region, preferably with yeoman farmers who would produce large crops that would keep his railroad busy. His company, the Cuba Company, was among those actively involved in recruiting settlers from the United States and Canada and in encouraging land companies to develop colonies and citrus plantations adjacent to the railroad.66

Citrus production in the north of Oriente developed under four distinct arrangements. In the first, a United States stockholding company would be formed, which purchased land in Cuba that was then administered as a plantation by a resident manager. The Cuban Development Company, which developed the Vista Alegre plantation in Las Arenas in the municipality of Majibacoa, represented such an arrangement. This plantation comprised 12,500 acres; prior to the 1895–98 War for Independence it had been a cattle hacienda belonging to a Cuban rancher, Ramon Pastor, who had been forced to abandon it during the war before finally losing it to bankrupcy. In 1910 this plantation was still mostly natural forests and savannah land; only 150 acres were planted in citrus.67

Under a second type of arrangement, land companies developed citrus plantations that they then divided up and sold as small 10- to 40-acre parcels to absentee United States investors. To take advantage of economies of scale, property management remained in company hands and investors were simply given a share of the net sales of the citrus from their particular grove. Examples of this form were the Orange Park plantation, north of the city of Victoria de las Tunas, and the Buenavista Fruit Company near Omaja.68

A third system involved medium-scale American investors who worked their relatively small plantations directly. Near Las Tunas there were several such landholders: J. K. Comstock of the Comstock Grapefruit Company owned 1,000 acres, half of it planted in citrus; the Fisher brothers owned the Las Tunas Fruit Citrus Company, specializing in limes; E. E. Wesseler owned the Eastern Cuba Plantation Company and the Oriente plantation; and Charles M. Milligan, was the manager and co-owner of Van Horne’s plantation, Yurigua.69

Foreign settlements were the fourth modality under which citrus production developed. Two companies developed colonies in the region of Las Tunas: the Cuban Realty Company of Toronto and New York, in Bartle; and the Cuba Land, Loan, and Title Guarantee Company of Chicago, in Omaja. Both were situated alongside Van Horne’s railway, as were a number of other colonies, including Galbis to the north (in the province of Camagüey), and Samanazo and Mir to the south (in Holguín). Here, I describe the development of the settlement of Omaja, which within a decade of its founding resembled its namesake, Omaha, in sociocultural terms, though not in economic activity, given its tropical environment.

In 1903 D. E. Kerr incorporated the Cuba Land, Loan, and Title Guarantee Company in Chicago for $1 million; this company’s base of operation in Cuba was in the provincial capital of Camagüey.70 Subsequently, Kerr bought a large tract of land, approximately 12,000 acres, that was part of the hacienda comunera Majibacoa, and began the tedious process of clearing title to the land.71 He then brought in equipment for a lumber mill and began to clear the dense hardwood forest alongside the railway. He also began surveying the town and the plantation lots and actively recruiting settlers in the United States.

His plans for the town included 120 blocks, each comprising 12 housing lots; he thus envisioned that Omaja would eventually consist of some 1,440 residencies.72 He also planned a hotel on a large central plaza, across from the railroad station that was also being constructed.73 Surrounding the town were to be small ten-acre farms and, surrounding these, larger plantations that ranged from forty to several hundred acres in size.

According to Carrie Peirson, a young woman from upper New York state who arrived in Omaja in 1906 with her parents and two brothers, Kerr gave away ten-acre lots free of charge to attract Americans to the colony.74 Colonists who took advantage of this offer had to fence in the lots, build a house worth at least $250 (which would have been equal to the value of the land, at $25 an acre), plant 2.5 acres of citrus in the first year, pay $10 for a school fund, and work one day a month on the road connecting Omaja to Victoria de las Tunas.

Among the first colonists, besides the Peirson family, were the Arters and the de Hoffs, two families who in 1903 had previously migrated to Palm City in the Cubitas Valley of Camagüey. They had apparently become disgusted with this colony’s poor management and traveled east searching for a more prosperous settlement.75 Arter purchased a 400-acre tract from Kerr and became one of the most prosperous settlers in Omaja.76

When colonists first arrived, they would build rough wood-and-palm shelters, similar to the homes of Cuban campesinos. But by early 1909 there were at least fourteen “proper” houses in Omaja, two-story wood homes similar in structure to those common in the American Midwest.77 By the end of that year, there were 55 houses and a resident population of 263 Americans, Canadians, English, and Finns in the town and on the adjoining plantations. There was a school with two teachers, one American and the other Cuban, as well as three stores and a Brethren church. Services also were also offered by Seventh Day Adventists and by a Union (nondenominational Christian) pastor who visited every other week from the neighboring Canadian-American colony of Bartle.

By 1910 the citrus groves of the colonists and of the Buenavista Company already encompassed 710 acres, 46 percent of which were planted in grapefruit trees.78 By 1912 a contemporary estimate put the number of citrus trees in the Las Tunas region at about 180,000, two-thirds of the total number in Oriente, making this zone the most important citrus region in eastern Cuba. This estimate included 80,000 trees in Omaja (half of which belonged to the Buenavista plantation), 20,000 more on the Vista Alegre plantation, and an additional 80,000 in the area adjacent to Victoria de las Tunas.79

The largest operation in the vicinity of Omaja was the 3,000-acre Buenavista plantation, owned by a Boston syndicate, the Buenavista Fruit Company. Citrus was first planted there in 1908; by 1913, the year it began exporting grapefruit to the United States, Buenavista’s citrus orchards covered 1,300 acres.80 By then Van Horne had constructed a trunk line from the central railway to the port of Antilla, which was located 80 miles from Omaja. There, citrus exports were picked up by the Munson Steamship Company, which after a three-day voyage delivered the fruit in New York City.

A resident manager administered the Buenavista plantation for the stockholders who, in this case, actually owned their individually designated parcels. The stockholders regularly visited Cuba to check on their investments. Buenavista had a fairly large labor force, primarily immigrants from Jamaica but also including Hindus, Chinese, Germans, and Spanish workers, in addition to Cubans. Barracks to house the workers, generally single males, had been constructed on the plantation.81

The other major growers in the region included the Omaja Nursery Company, owned by the Peirson family, and Homer Arter and Son. William Boyce passed through Omaja during his visit to Cuba and observed that “the colonists at Omaja are of the hardy pioneer type that made the winning of our West a triumph of civilization. . . . How fortune can be wooed and won in Cuba is demonstrated by E. C. Pierson, a nurseryman of New York State, who moved to Omaja when his health became impaired. He has one of the largest nurseries in Cuba, with fifty-five acres in stock.”82 Pierson’s Omaja Nursery Company was so successful that it was exporting citrus cuttings to Isla de Pinos and Trinidad.83

In general, the colonists, particularly the Arters, attempted to develop diversified farming activities. They relied not only on citrus, but also produced corn and raised chickens and cattle for sale at the local market.84 This colony thus differed from others on Isla de Pinos and in the Cubitas Valley that were heavily criticized by contemporaries for being totally dependent on citrus production. Indeed, many colonists had failed because of their exclusive specialization on citrus production.85 There were, however, other products important to Omaja’s regional economy such as lumber, the other major export from this region. Between 1911 and 1913, Omaja’s lumber mill exported 150,000 feet of mahogany and 1,000,000 feet of cedar, causing major deforestation in the region. Another mill in the neighboring colony of Sabanazo exported precious woods to England.86

By 1914 the citrus growers of the region had organized the Omaja Fruit Growers’ Association to export grapefruit to the United States, where tariffs had just been lowered. This encouraged Omaja farmers to continue specializing in grapefruit. But marketing this product in the United States remained a major problem. In order to get a better price for grapefruit and achieve economies of scale in transportation and handling, under the leadership of president Frank Peirson the association started to cooperatively export their citrus through one commissioning agent in New York. In that year they exported 7,308 boxes of grapefruits to the United States and sold some 3,775 boxes of oranges in Cuba.87

Omaja’s first hotel, the Mahogany Inn, was inaugurated in 1913 with 20 guest rooms, a generator, and running water. It was the initiative of Frank Pfeuffer, the local manager of Kerr’s Cuba Land, Loan, and Title Guarantee Company, and housed the company’s offices. By that time there were at least 40 American families with houses in Omaja, plus a schoolhouse; a doctor’s office; and a Brethren, an Adventist, and, as of 1914, a Methodist church.88

Judging by the number of stores that had been established and the town’s very active social life, development in Omaja peaked between 1914 and 1917. There were five major general stores, including one owned by the Englishman Charles Nye, who would subsequently establish the Ford dealership in Omaja. Three of the remaining stores were owned by Americans (named Kreder, Gilpin, and Whitworth), while the last belonged to a Cuban known locally as Señor Rosario. There were also numerous Cuban-run cantinas, which attended to the town’s growing Cuban population. In addition, by mid-decade Omaja had several hotels, a highly popular Chinese restaurant, a meat store, a barbershop, and a jewelry store.89

In terms of social life, the men had their Fruit Exchange; the women their literary society, the Epworth League. And there was a young peoples association that regularly held dances at the Mohagany Inn. Church activity also seemed to keep everyone busy, with Bible study groups, bake sales, and special visits from the provincial offices of the various denominations. Colonists from Victoria de las Tunas, Barde, Galbis, Mir (all of which were on the railway line), and from as far away as Holguin and Camagüey, frequently visited Omaja, inspiring social events such as picnics, haystack rides, and dinner parties.

Thus by 1917 Omaja resembled a Midwestern town, and the colonists had reproduced a society similar to that of their communities of origin. At its peak, Omaja had at least 60 English-speaking families (though probably many more)90 and some 83 English-speaking students enrolled in its school.91 The fact that many colonists usually returned to the United States to visit family once a year, most often during the summer months, suggests the prosperity of this colony.92

But Omaja was gradually attracting more Cubans of varied social standing, primarily as wage workers but also in other occupations such as merchants. For example, in 1915 Charles Nye sold his general store to the Cuban firm Martínez y Compañía, and John Williams rented his farm to Gerardo Ochoa, a member of a long-standing Cuban landowning family of the region. That same year Wenceslao Infante, a member of one of the leading Cuban landowning families in Holguin, bought a ranch of over 1,000 acres near Omaja, where he built what was considered to be “a fine house.”93

Besides plantation work and commerce, the main point of intersection between Cubans and Americans was religion. The Adventists, Brethren, and Methodists competed among themselves to evangelize Cubans. Given the long-standing state of disarray of the Catholic Church on the eastern end of the island, there were many Cuban converts, and all three churches offered services in Spanish and recruited Cuban students to church-run schools throughout Oriente.94

The Decline of the North American Colonies

The year of 1917 was a watershed for the American colonies in Cuba: there was a freeze in Florida that sent citrus prices soaring; a hurricane swept through Pinar del Río and Isla de Pinos, devastating the citrus orchards; the United States placed a quarantine on Cuban fruit after the Mediterranean fruit fly reappeared on the island; the United States entered World War I; and a major armed uprising took place in Cuba.95 The impact of these events on the American colonies varied across Cuba, particularly when one compares eastern Cuba with Isla de Pinos. But everywhere the end result was the same: the exodus of United States citizens and the depopulation of the American settlements.

Of the events just mentioned, it was the 1917 Liberal uprising known as La Chambelona that had the greatest impact on the colonies of Oriente and Camagüey. The conflict was precipitated by what the Liberals considered to be the fraudulent 1916 elections, which they had lost. As a resident of Omaja observed, La Chambelona was “what depopulated this town, coupled with the fruit embargo that was placed on products of this country by the U.S.”96

On Easter day of 1917, some 3,500 Liberal troops marched through Omaja and battled government forces in a major confrontation. Another major engagement took place on the Vista Alegre plantation at the other end of the municipality; and near Victoria de las Tunas there were major conflicts on the plantation of Charles Milligan, whose house was burned to the ground, as well as on the properties of three other American families.

The railroad station at the American-Canadian colony of Bartle was burned, as were the stations at Jobabo, Minas, and Nuevitas. And between February and July, no trains ran between Camagüey and Antilla, paralyzing citrus and sugar exports.97 Considerable damage was also sustained by the United States-owned sugarcane plantations in the region of Las Tunas. The batey (mill complex) of the Jobabo sugar mill was torched and the cane fields set afire, resulting in the loss of the equivalent of 200,000 sacks of sugar; the Elias sugar mill lost the equivalent of 100,000 sacks. The Manatí mill reportedly lost 4 million arrobas of cane to fire; the Delicias mill lost 8 million; and the Francisco mill lost 18 million.98

In Camagüey, armed Liberal soldiers ransacked the properties of Americans who had settled in the Cubitas Valley. In response, the Cuban government stationed one hundred soldiers in La Gloria to protect the town, and the American government dispatched the USS Eagle to protect the port, albeit for only a brief period. The insecurity in the Cubitas Valley led many American families to abandon their farms and temporarily take refuge in the safety of La Gloria. When they returned to the colony of Garden City two months later, they found their homes and groves destroyed.99

The colonies of Florida-Mijial and Galbis, both in Camagüey, also suffered severe damage. Colonists who had lost their homes, cattle, groves, and cane fields departed for the United States. By May 1917 there were only two American families left in Florida-Mijial, which “once was a flourishing colony,” and by July there were only two American families left in Galbis as well.100 As a colonist in Omaja observed: “Why this town was never handed the same treatment that Galbis and Paso Estancia received will always remain a mystery. Possibly we would have had a touch of what the former got had it not been for a whale of a heavy rain that put their object on ice.”101

The Liberal armed uprising was primarily confined to Oriente and Camagüey; no damage was reported in colonies located in the central and western areas of Cuba. Colonists in the San Marcos region of Las Villas and at the Chicago colony in Matanzas did lose cattle and horses to small parties of Liberal soldiers or to Rural Guards, but no major confrontations took place in this region.102 Thus, it was in eastern Cuba where the Liberal uprising was a major factor in encouraging many American families to abandon the colonies and return home. A colonist in Sabanazo remarked that “confidence in the stability of property in Cuba was shaken up by recent events.”103 To restore confidence in its ability to protect foreign property, the Cuban government was forced to appropriate $30 million to compensate damages caused by the revolt.104 But it is not clear whether any of this money reached the smallholding colonists of Camagüey and Oriente.

Even though United States marines were dispatched to Cuba and between 1917 and 1922 a garrison was stationed at Camagüey, to the dismay of many colonists the “third and final intervention” did not take place.105 The United States was preoccupied with World War I and with the political disorder in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it did intervene and take control of the island the two countries shared. But probably what most bothered the colonists was that the actions of their government during the uprising made it fairly clear that its priority was to protect large American investments—the sugar mills and mines—and not small ones.106

With the entry of the United States into World War I came the draft, and since most American settlers in Cuba remained United States citizens, young men were called up from all over the island. At least 219 American, Canadian, and British colonists joined the Allied war effort; 20 of these were from the Omaja–Las Tunas region.107 As the young men went off to war, their families in Cuba lost the benefit of their unpaid labor, yet another reason for those who stayed behind, particularly in Oriente, to pull up stakes and sell out.108

Ironically, the destruction and political upheaval of La Chambelona took place just as the war in Europe and plummeting European production of beet sugar sent the price of sugar in international markets skyrocketing. The conclusion of the four-month rebellion, therefore, coincided with the beginning of a period of unparalleled Cuban prosperity, which in 1919 and 1920 culminated in what is known as the “Dance of the Millions.” Throughout the island, but particularly in those regions, such as Oriente, that presented the potential for expanding sugarcane production, land prices rose substantially. Thus, many of the American colonists who decided to abandon Cuba at this time left not because they had failed as citrus farmers, but because of the minor fortunes that they could garner by selling their lands to Cubans.

The Omaja colony provides a prime example. In 1918 Sam Yoder, who upon arrival in the colony in 1906 had received a 10-acre lot from D. E. Kerr free of charge, was able to sell his house and property for $2,000. A. J. de Hoff, another original settler, sold his 33 acres and house for $3,800; William Felker his 40 acres and home for $5,800; and Asmus Price his 200 acres, cattle, equipment, and home for $10,500. Mrs. A. E. Peirson, now widowed, sold her home and the nursery at this time; Charles Nye sold his meat-packing house; and Grant Mahan and Willy Mahs sold their lumber mills. Cubans and Spaniards were the main buyers of these businesses and properties. As the local correspondent reported to the Times of Cuba, “many Americans are leaving Omaja, tempted by the substantial sums which Cubans are offering for their properties.” And sales by colonists increased throughout the following year as prices continued to skyrocket.109 Among those selling their properties were Noah Cripes, who sold 120 acres for $10,000, and Grant Mahan, who sold 160 acres for $16,000. Property values were rising so quickly that the 500 acres that the Rev. Jasper Hayden had sold for $12,000 in 1918 were resold for $30,000 in 1920.

The fever to plant sugarcane in the context of escalating prices in the international market had a considerable impact on the region of Las Tunas. In several cases new Cuban owners leveled citrus plantations to make way for cane. And many of the remaining American citrus farmers, such as the Omaja colonists Homer Arter and Frank Pfeuffer, decided to diversify and develop cane plantations as well. The Buenavista Fruit Company also gradually shifted from citrus to sugarcane as its main commercial crop.110

The prospects for sugarcane production in Omaja looked so promising at the time that the Buenavista Fruit Company led a consortium of investors in constructing a new sugar mill, to be called Los Colorados. The prospect of a new mill so close to Omaja brought a new wave of prosperity to this colony, as Cubans flocked to the town to work in the construction of the new mill and to develop supporting industries and commerce.111 Unfortunately, the new mill was finished in late 1920, just as sugar prices on the international market came tumbling down from a peak of 22.5¢ a pound in May to 4¢ a pound in December.112 The new mill never went into production. When the Spanish bank that had lent money to the syndicate failed, Los Colorados was taken over by a Canadian bank that foreclosed on the loan, selling the mill’s pieces to surviving mills in the area or as scrap iron.113 Only a piece of rubble remains today of what would have been Los Colorados.

Not all Americans in Omaja left at the same time, or for the same reason. But by 1920 Omaja was described as a “colony where Americans are now getting scarce.”114 During this decade most of the United States colonies in Cuba went into a period of decline. Some had been abandoned altogether, such as Galbis, while others, such as Omaja and Barde, had been depopulated of Americans, who left behind a town inhabited primarily by Cubans.

The most enduring colonies were those on Isla de Pinos, despite a major exodus of Americans in 1917 after the isle had been ravaged by a hurricane. From an estimated peak population of 3,000 Americans, only 386 were still registered in the 1919 Cuban census. But after World War I there was a second wave of American migration to the isle accompanied by renewed investment, both of which were once again promoted by the land companies. In 1921 the resident American population had grown to about 750 people. While the British population on the isle now exceeded the American, the number of United States investors (residents and nonresidents) had continued to grow, increasing from about 5,000 in 1910 to around 8,000 in 1921.115

But with the ratification of the Hay–de Quesada Treaty in 1925, which confirmed Cuban sovereignty over Isla de Pinos, many of the last American residents returned home. The remaining American investments were devastated the next year by the ferocious hurricane of 1926. The 1931 Cuban census reported only 276 Americans residing on the isle.116 Changes in United States tariff policies and sanitary regulations had also struck a blow to the colonies. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922 raised the average duty on all United States imports from 9 to 14 percent; the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 then raised tariffs again.117 In the case of grapefruit, the duty doubled in 1922, going from 0.4¢ to 0.8¢ a pound; with Smoot-Hawley it increased again to 1.2¢ a pound in 1930. To make matters worse, in 1924 the black fly was again found in Cuba, this time in Havana, and there were periodic quarantines against Cuban fruit until 1926. Throughout the late 1920s, American colonists complained that United States quality and sanitary restrictions increasingly made fruit and vegetable production in Cuba a gamble.118

Nonetheless, in 1930 a good number of North American fruit and vegetable growers were still exporting to the United States market. As table 2 shows, in that year 157 North American family enterprises exported citrus and vegetables from Cuba, and North American growers and exporters continued to outnumber their Cuban counterparts. The great majority of North American exporters resided on Isla de Pinos, although there was a good-sized contingent of 22 family enterprises still located in the colony of Herradura, in Pinar del Río province. In all of Oriente, however, there were only 10 citrus exporters left in 1930, and in Omaja there were only two: the family enterprise of the descendents of D. E. Kerr (the founder of Omaja), and that of Irvin Arter, the son of another of Omaja’s pioneers. The Arter family was the last American family to leave Omaja, in the late 1940s.119

The Impact of the Citrus Colonies on the Cuban Economy

Data on Cuban citrus production and exports are not available for the early decades of this century. But given that through 1930 the United States was the main destination of Cuban exports, the data on United States grapefruit imports serve as a proxy for Cuban production levels. As can be seen in table 3, United States imports of Cuban grapefruit prior to 1906 was negligible. Thereafter, Cuban exports of grapefruit to the United States market grew rapidly, paralleling the growth in the number of American colonies and acreage under citrus cultivation.

Cuban grapefruit exports to the United States doubled in quantity during every two-year period from 1908 to 1914. During the last two-year period (1912–14), the increase reflected the impact of lower duties resulting from the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act of 1913. Imports of Cuban grapefruit made up 11.5 percent of the total of United States grapefruit imports in 1906; by 1914 the Cuban share had risen to 84.1 percent, and it would remain at this level or higher for the next two decades.

In 1922 the volume of Cuban grapefruit exported to the United States peaked at 45.7 million pounds, worth $617 million (see table 3). Although Cuba continued to be the main source of American imports of grapefruit, the volume of Cuba’s grapefruit exports to the United States fluctuated erratically, but after peaking there was a downward trend to 1940, reflecting the impact of protectionist United States policies (the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922 and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930).

After 1934 Cuban grapefruit appeared on the United States market only during the months of August and September, when it did not compete with Florida or California production. The tariff schedule was adjusted so that during these months the duty was lowered to 0.6¢ a pound; during the rest of the year the duty was double this figure.120 By the 1930s only 60 percent of grapefruit exports from Isla de Pinos targeted United States markets.121 Great Britain was the other major destination.

Although Cuba was the main source of United States grapefruit imports, Cuban exports were always quite marginal to the American market. They became even more so in the 1930s. In the period between 1921 and 1925, Cuba exported an annual average 170,000 boxes of grapefruit to the United States, where domestic production averaged 8.7 million boxes annually during the same period. Thus Cuban imports represented less than 2 percent of apparent consumption of grapefruit in the United States. United States annual production increased steadily, rising to 30 million boxes by 1936, when, stung by the new tariff schedule, Cuba was exporting only 105,000 boxes of grapefruit to the United States market.122

Given the preponderant role of sugar in Cuba’s economy, exports of grapefruit and vegetables constituted only a minor share of the total value of Cuban exports to the United States, ranging from 0.3 percent in 1918 to 2.6 percent in 1936. In contrast, during this same period sugar and molasses exports always represented at least 75 percent of the total value of Cuban exports to the United States.123

While the American colonies had a negligible impact on diversifying Cuban exports, the citrus colonies did succeed in making Cuba self-sufficient in citrus production. When the colonists arrived in the early 1900s, Cuba was importing citrus from Florida. By 1909 the country was self-sufficient in oranges, limes, and grapefruit.124 But perhaps the greatest impact of the American colonies in Cuba was in the noneconomic realm: they firmly planted Protestantism on the island.125


I have argued that the movement to annex Cuba continued up through World War I, fueled by the growing migration of United States citizens to the island. Migration to Cuba was stimulated by the promotional activities of the American land companies, initially favorable United States policies (under the Government of Military Occupation), and the expectation that annexation would occur once there were sufficient numbers of Americans in Cuba.

However, 17 senators from sugar beet states were “vigilant guardians of the national consciousness” with respect to the Teller Resolution.126 They were vehemently antiannexionist and felt that the principal interest of the United States in Cuba should be to create and maintain a stable republic. They took steps to exclude Cuban produce from the United States market, and worked to make sure that Cuban-based production could not compete on equal footing with United States sugar or with Florida and California fruits and vegetables.

As I have shown, 1917 was the watershed year for the American colonies in Cuba. By then they had created vibrant communities that replicated the sociocultural patterns of their home communities. However, the destruction brought on by the Liberal uprising of that year directly and indirectly led to the depopulation of the colonies in eastern Cuba, just as the hurricane of 1917 decimated the colonies on Isla de Pinos. Perhaps what most grated the colonists of eastern Cuba was the United States administration’s willingness to send marines to protect large American investments (the corporate-dominated sugar and mining industry) while leaving those colonists with small investments to fend for themselves. Moreover, the fact that the “third and final intervention” did not take place was a source of disillusionment for many colonists, encouraging them to sell their land to Cubans while prices were high and then return home.

For those who remained in the colonies, United States tariff policies after 1922 became increasingly unfavorable, discouraging expanded citrus and vegetable production and thwarting efforts to diversify Cuban exports. Thus, on two counts United States policies undermined the colonization effort and this, in turn, weakened the position of the annexationist movement. But the United States annexationist movement also lost steam because of racist considerations. The absorption of more non-whites as citizens had been a contentious issue throughout the Wilson administration.127 The United States learned how to control Cuba without annexation and this solved the sticky problem of having to allow Cubans, like Puerto Ricans, to become citizens of the United States. Finally, public opinion in the United States began to lean toward a foreign policy that would be distinct from that of Europe, which had been colonizing Africa. There was growing sentiment in the United States that the nation should reject colonial acquisition in order to provide proof of “the disinterestness of our foreign policy.”128 The Wilson administration, nonetheless, intervened in more Caribbean and Latin American countries than any other administration before or since.129 But under Wilson the United States position became one of renouncing territorial conquest in favor of exercising hegemony through direct and indirect means. It did secure hegemony in Cuba, first through the Platt Amendment, and later, after the amendment was rescinded in 1934 under Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, by assisting in the rise to power of Fulgencio Batista.

Research in Cuba for this article was financed by a grant from the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation. The author is also grateful to the University of Florida, where she carried out archival research on Cuban journals while holding the Barcardi Family Eminent Scholar of Latin American Studies chair. She also thanks the Rural Research Team of the University of Havana for their collaboration on fieldwork; Pavel Isa for research assistance on U.S. imports from Cuba; and Javier Corrales, Carol Heim, Lars Schoultz, and an undisclosed referee for excellent comments on previous versions of this article.


For his account, see James M. Adams, Pioneering in Cuba: A NaiTative of the Settlement of La Gloria, the First American Colony in Cuba and the Early Experiences of the Pioneers (Concord, N.H.: Rumford Press, 1901).


The 1903 estimate is from Leland H. Jenks, Our Cuban Colony: A Study in Sugar (New York: 1928; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1970), 143. Sixty–four colonies are cited in the Cuba Magazine (Havana) 4, no. 1 (1912): 47; and in Cuba News (Havana) 2, no. 12 (1913).


The main sources that I used to construct this map of the American colonies were the Cuba Magazine; Cuba News·; the Cuba Review (New York); the Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer (New Orleans); and the Times of Cuba (Havana). I could find two or more citations in the literature for 60 colonies, fewer than the 64 colonies reported in the Cuba Magazine, but more than the number cited in any other single source.


Isla de Pinos was renamed Isla de la Juventud by the Cuban government in 1978.


The American colonies are briefly described in Jenks, Our Cuban Colony. Historian Louis Pérez has analyzed the factors that gave rise to them, but he mentions only 35 colonies and does not analyze their development and subsequent decline, nor their impact. See Louis A. Pérez Jr., “Insurrection, Intervention, and the Transformation of Land Tenure Systems in Cuba, 1895–1902, HAHR 65 (1985); Lords of the Mountain: Banditty and Peasant Protest in Cuba, 1878–1918 (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1989); and Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1990).


Pérez, Cuba and the United States, 95.


Ibid., 96.


Ibid., 39.


Ibid., 44–53.


Hermann Hagedorn, Leonard Wood: A Biography (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1931), 348.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 71.


Louisiana Planter 30, no. 23 (1903): 367.


In Irene A. Wright, Cuba (New York: MacMillan Co., 1910), 411.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 329. At the time of its founding, the Republic of Cuba had a population of slighdy over 1.6 million individuals; see Cuba, Oficina Nacional del Censo, Cuba: Population, History, and Resources 1907, comp, by Victory H. Olmstead (director) and Henry Gannett (asst, director) (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1909), 131.


In Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 71.


Pérez, Lords of the Mountain, 91–93.


According to Wood’s biographer, while Wood was governor of Santiago province he had been regarded as an annexationist, but once he was appointed the second military governor of the island he took seriously his mandate to create a sound system of government that would be handed to the Cubans. Nonetheless, he was of the opinion that the Cubans themselves would eventually want annexation. According to Hagedorn, “forcible annexation he had refused to consider; annexation by guile he had effectively opposed; but annexation by acclamation had been his dream from the beginning.” Hagedorn, Leonard Wood, 266, 371.


Leonard Wood, Headquarters, Military Governor, Island of Cuba to Teddy Roosevelt, President of the United States, 28 Oct. 1901, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Wood papers. Copy courtesy of Professor Lars Schoultz.


Edmond Wood, “Can Cubans Govern Cuba?” Forum 32 (Sept. 1901): 73. On the debate among Cubans regarding annexationism, see also Enrique Collazo, Los Americanos en Cuba (1905; reprint, Havana: Ed. Ciencias Sociales, 1972).


Pérez, Lords of the Mountain, 69–70.


Ibid., 73.


Ibid., 73.


Cuba Magazine 2, no. 3 (1910): 33–35.


Pérez, Lords of the Mountain, 103.


Ibid., 104.


Wright, Cuba, 413; and Leonard Wood, William H. Taft, Charles H. Allen, Perfecto Lacoste, and M. E. Beall, Opportunities in the Colonies and Cuba (New York: Lewis, Scribner & Co., 1902), 188.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 150–51; Walter Vaughan, The Life and Work of Sir William Van Home (New York: The Century Co., 1920), 285.


In Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 78–79.


Pérez, Cuba and the United States, 109.


This opposition is well documented in the pages of Louisiana Planter from 1901 to 1903.


Perez, “Insurrection, Intervention,” 239.


Cuba Magazine 5, no. 1 (1906): 63; see also A. Hyatt Verrill, Cuba Past and Present (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920), 18.


Cuba Railroad Company, Infoiynation concerning Cuba (New York: Cuba Railroad Co., 1904), 4.


Ibid., 2; Cuba Review 5, no. 1 (1906): 60; Cuba Magazine 2, no. 3 (1910): 46; and O. N. Lumberst, “A Trip to California,” Cuba Magazine 2, no. 3 (1910): 15–22.


William D. Boyce, United States Colonies and Dependencies (Chicago: Rand & McNally & Co., 1914), 558.


Cuba Review 5, no. 1 (1906): 73.


Boyce, United States Colonies, 558.




Verrill, Cuba Past and Present, 162–63.


In Irene A. Wright, Isle of Pines (Havana [Beverly, Mass.: Beverly Printing Co.], 1910).


Times of Cuba 1, no. 1 (1913): 22.


In Wright, Isle of Pines, 41.


Ibid.; and Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 148–49.


These estimates are based on Wright, Isle of Pines, 42; Times of Cuba 1, no. 1 (1913): 22; Cuba Review 19, no. 2 (1921): 13–15; and on the letters written in protest against the Isle of Pines Treaty published in U.S. Congress, Isle of Pines: Papers Relating to the Adjustment of Title to the Ownership of the Isle of Pines, 68th Cong., 2d sess., 1924, S. Doc. 166, 23.


Edward P. Ryan to Presiding Officer of the U.S. Congress, in U.S. Congress, Isle of Pines, 23; the 1910 figure is based on F. A. Carlson, “American Settlement in the Isla de Pinos, Cuba,” The Geographical Review 32, no. 1 (1942): 30.


Times of Cuba 1, no. 3 (1914): 15.


Cuba Railroad Co., Information concerning Cuba, 20.


Wood et al., Opportunities in the Colonies, 271–72.


Olga Cabrera, ed., El antimperialismo en la historia de Cuba (Havana: Ed. de Ciencias Sociales, 1985), 78.


As another indication of growing Cuban nationalism, Times of Cuba 4, no. 5 (1916): 48, also reported that a law was then, in 1918, under consideration in the Cuban Congress requiring all colonies to have Spanish names.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 87–103; Political scientist Lars Schoultz also argues that Roosevelt did not want to intervene direcdy in Cuba at this time. The difficulties of maintaining control over Puerto Rico and the Philippines, added to problems stemming from adventures in Panama, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, had made him lose his appetite for annexation. Public opinion was also turning against American intervention, frustrated by the difficulties of consolidating colonial control in the Philippines. See Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: An Interpretation of U.S. Policy toward Latin America (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1998).


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 104.


Cuba Magazine 3, no. 10 (1912): 584; see also the summaries of U.S. editorials in Cuba Review 7 (1908) and 8 (1909). Additional evidence is provided by Boyce, United States Colonies, 533; and by Wright, Isle of Pines, 191–93.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 144.


For example, of the 211 people aboard the Yarmouth in 1900, only 160 endured the travails of the 60-mile schooner ride to the port of Viara and “waded the four miles of so-called ‘road’” that lay between the port and La Gloria to discover “that La Gloria was as yet only a town in name.” Some of these 51 would-be colonists never even got off the Yarmouth! Most made it to the port of Viara, but then some turned around when they learned that the Cuban Land and Steamship Co. had sold them a false bill of goods. See Adams, Pioneering in Cuba, 32–33. From the press reports of the time, it seems that most of those who returned to the United States did stay a short period of time and returned home when they learned that their citrus trees would not bear fruit for six to seven years, a fact of which they had been totally unaware. They simply did not have the capital to wait this long to earn a return on their investment.


Cosme de la Torriente y Pereza, Mi misión en Washington: la soberanía de la Isla de Pinos, 1923–1925 (Havana: Univ. of Havana Press, 1952), 285.


Cuba, Cuba 1907, 237.


This proposition can be verified only for 1907. According to Cuba, Cuba 1907, 106–7, 71 percent of those who migrated to Cuba from the United States as their last place of residence were born in the United States. Similar data are not reported in the 1919 census, although the text calls attention to the fact that not all those migrating from the United States were U.S.-born. See Cuba, Dirección General del Censo, Census of the Republic of Cuba 1919 (Havana: Maza, Arroyo y Caso, 1919), 182.


The largest source of immigrants throughout this period was Spain. Spanish immigrants constituted 82 percent of the total between 1903 and 1907, and 63 percent between 1908 and 1919; in the latter period, they were followed by Jamaicans (10 percent) and Haitians (8 percent), with both of these groups recruited by sugarcane plantations as cheap labor, and then by North Americans (6 percent). Cuba, Cuba 1907, 107; and Cuba, Census 1919, 182.


George Reno, Cuba: What She Has to Offer to the Investor or Homeseeker (Havana: Dept, of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, 1915), 15.


Times of Cuba 17, no. 10(1929): 21.


Interview with Pablo Gerhartz Konway, Manacas, Villa Clara, 15 Jan. 1995. Gerhartz was bom in Manacas, the son of German citrus farmers, although locally he is known as “el Americano.” Field research thus suggests that since most of the Europeans migrated first to the United States or Canada, they were English-speaking and assumed by their Cuban neighbors to be Americans.


For the figure of 1,000 year-round residents and 400 colonists in other setdements, see Cuba Review 9, no. 2 (1911): 19; and Verrill, Cuba Past and Present, 178. For the 1914 figures, see Enrique Cirules, Conversación con el último norteamericano (Havana: Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1973), 25.


The 1910 figure is from Carlson, “American Settlement,” 30; the 1917 figure is from Agriculture (Havana) 1, no. 3 (1917): 37. Verrill, Cuba Past and Present, 162, also places the number of Americans residing on Isla de Pinos at between 2,500 and 3,000 in this latter period.


Cuba Magazine 3, no. 7 (1912): 392–401.


Cuba Railroad Co., Information concerning Cuba.


Wright, Cuba, 427–28; Times of Cuba 2, no. 7 (1914): 46 and no. 8 (1914): 40–41.


Times of Cuba 3, no. 10 (1915): 44; 8, no. 4 (1920): 116–17; and 8, no. 6 (1920): 117.


Ibid. 2, no. 10 (1914): 47–48; 3, no. 1 (1915): 54; 3, no. 5 (1915): 42; 3, no. 7 (1915): 48–49; 3. no. 9 (1915): 39; and 20, no. 5 (1932): 50–51.


This company, according to its advertisements in the Cuba Review 7, no. 3 (1909): 27, bought land all over Camagüey and Oriente. It sold stock for $25 a share (which corresponded to the price of one acre of land), promising a 50 percent return on the investment in five years.


Kerr apparendy had some difficulty in clearing the title, for Boyce reports that when he visited Omaja in the early teens, the settlers did not possess deeds to the land that they had purchased from him. The money that many of these settlers had paid to the Cuba Land, Loan, and Title Guarantee Co. was being held in escrow by a bank. Boyce, United States Colonies, 559.


This description is based on the colonization plan which D. E. Kerr submitted to the Registry of Holguín in 1913. This map was obtained from Felicidad González Velázquez, interviewed in Omaja, Majibacoa, on 20 June 1994. It was reproduced by the late architect Carlos Julio Pérez Rojas of Victoria de las Tunas duringjune 1995; a copy is in the archives of the Rural Studies Team of the University of Havana.


The story often told in Omaja today, and captured in the journalistic report of Sarusky about the town’s origins, is that the station was to be called “Majibacoa,” the name of the former hacienda on which it was located, but that the Americans insisted on calling it “Omaja,” the name of an American Indian tribe in Nebraska and of the major city of that state. See Jaime Sarusky, Los fantasmas de Omaja (Havana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1986). However, in my research, I did not uncover a settler from Nebraska residing in the Omaja colony until a 1915 report in the Times of Cuba 3, no. 7 (1915): 49· Possibly D. E. Kerr, a resident of Chicago at that time, was originally from Omaha, Nebraska, but I was not able to verify this.


Carrie Peirson, “Omaja,” Cuba Magazine 4, no. 11 (1913): 485.


The Palm City colony was the creation of the Rev. H. E. Kilmer, who organized the San José Fruit Company of Alliance, Ohio, and bought the property known as San José in the Cubitas Valley. This company attracted a number of settlers, but it was unable to meet its promises, including that it have a functioning lumber mill, apparently due to insufficient capital. See Cuba Magazine 4, no. 9 (1913): 390–95.


In 1914 Arter brought the first twenty-horse–power tractor to the region. The next year he purchased a ventilator railway car so that his grapefruit exports could be transported via the All–Rail Route from Cuba to St. Louis in the United States; Times of Cuba 2, no. 11 (1914): 47; and 3, no. 11 (1915): 4–7.


It is told that the American homes were so unusual for this part of Cuba, that Cubans from miles around would ride in on horseback just to see them. Interview with Beatriz González, Omaja, Majibacoa, 20 June 1994.


Cuba Review 7, no. 5 (1909): 27; Cuba Magazine 1, no. 1 (1909): 4–7; and Wright, Cuba, 428–31.


Edwin C. Peirson, “In Eastern Cuba,” Cuba Magazine 3, no. 7 (1912): 465–66. It is difficult to estimate with any precision what share of total Cuban citrus groves were located in the northern portion of Oriente. The U.S. Consul in 1914 estimated that there were 20,000 acres in citrus production in mainland Cuba and on Isla de Pinos. If one assumes an average of 65 citrus trees per acre, over 10 percent of the total was located in the north of Oriente, in the area of Las Tunas. The great bulk of the groves was located on Isla de Pinos. Cuba Review 12, no. 8 (1914): 29.


Basil Hone, “Buenavista,” Cuba Magazine 4, no. 11 (1913): 490–92.




Boyce, United States Colonies, 559.


See the ads of this company in the Cuba Magazine 2, no. 3 (1910) and no. 4 (1910); and in the Times of Cuba 2, no. 8 (1914): 39. See also Carrie Peirson’s own report, “Omaja.”


C. Peirson, “Omaja,” 487–89.


On the lack of diversification in the majority of American colonies, and on how this was prejudicial to their development, see various reports in the Cuba Magazine 3, no. 1 (1911) : 13; 4, no. 3 (1912): 104–5; and 7, no. 4 (1912): 165–70.


C. Peirson, “Omaja,” 487–89; and Basil Hone, “Sabanazo,” Cuba Magazine 4, no. 11 (1913): 492–94.


C. Peirson, “Omaja,” 486; Times of Cuba 2, no. 7 (1914): 44–45; 2, no. 8 (1914): 39; and 2, no. 11 (1914): 48. By the beginning of the teens, the U.S. market for oranges was totally saturated by fruit from California and Florida. U.S. imports of oranges fell from 68.6 million tons in 1900 to 7.6 million in 1911 and were negligible thereafter. See Cuba Review 10, no. 3 (1912): 19; and U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Foreign Trade and Navigation (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing House, various years).


C. Peirson, “Omaja,” 486; Times of Cuba 2, no. 9 (1914): 32–33; and 3, no. 3 (1915): 39. With respect to the Methodist church, see Sterling A. Neblett, Methodism’s First Fifty Years in Cuba (Wilmore, Ky: Asbury Press, 1976), 94.


See, for example, Times of Cuba 2, no. 7 (1914): 44; and 3, no. 3 (1915): 45.


I arrived at this figure by making a list of the names of colonists mentioned in the Omaja correspondent’s reports to the Times of Cuba between 1914 and 1918. If one assumes that the average household size was on the order of four to five, the English-speaking population in Omaja was between 240 to 300 at this time. However, these numbers probably underestimate the total number of English-speaking settlers since it is likely that only the activities of the more prosperous settlers were mentioned in the press.


Sarusky, Los fantasmas de Omaja, 18, reports that he saw a school roster for Omaja which listed 90 students, 83 of whom had Anglo-Saxon names. But he does not give the year of this roster.


Times of Cuba 2, no. 7 (1914): 44–45; and 3, no. 3 (1915): 45.


Ibid. 3, no. 8 (1915): 38; 3, no. 10 (1915): 45; and 3, no. 11 (1915): 55.


On the impact of the American churches and schools in the north of Oriente, see the fine study by José Vega Suñol, Presencia norteamericana en el área nororiental de Cuba: etnicidady cultura (Holguín: Ediciones Holguín, 1991).


Times of Cuba 5, no. 3 (1917): 62; and 5, no. 10 (1917): 56.


Ibid. 13, no. 12 (1924): 137. During 1916 it had been rumored that the Mediterranean fruit fly or black fly had been found on Isla de Pinos; this was subsequendy confirmed for the Guantánamo region, apparendy leading to the temporary embargo of Cuban fruit in the U.S.; see The Modern Cuban Magazine (Havana) 4, no. 5 (1916): 23; and 4, no. 7 (1916): 35–36.


Times of Cuba 5, no. 5 (1917): 53, 58–59; and 5, no. 6 (1917): 53.


Louisiana Planter 58, no. 12 (1917): 184–85; 58, no. 15 (1917): 232; 58, no. 18 (1917): 82; and 58, no. 24 (1917): 377.


Times of Cuba 5, no. 5 (1917): 47, 57; and 5, no. 7 (1917): 68–69.


Ibid. 5, no. 5 (1917): 58; 5, no. 6 (1917): 50; and 5, no. 7 (1917): 69.


Ibid. 14, no. 3 (1925): 136. On the abandonment of Paso Estancia as a result of the damage caused by La Chambelona, see also ibid. 5, no. 8 (1917): 61.


Ibid. 5, no. 3 (1917): 63.


Ibid. 5, no. 8 (1917): 62.


Ibid. 8, no. 4 (1920): 112–13.


Ibid. 5, no. 3 (1917): 63; and 5, no. 11 (1917): 57.


According to Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 191–92, the U.S. government did ask the Cuban government to protect the foreign colonies as well as the American-owned sugar mills. But its only direct action on behalf of the colonists was to send a warship to the Bay of Nuevitas for several weeks, as noted above. In contrast, marines were landed to protect large-scale U.S. investments in Guantánamo, Ermita, El Cobre, Daiquirí, Baracoa, Banes, and Santiago. The largest contingent of marines did not arrive until after the revolt was nearly over. Ostensibly in Cuba for training purposes, its mission apparently was also to protect the fall sugar harvest. See Pérez, Lords of the Mountain, 186.


The largest group was from Isla de Pinos, 48 percent of the total, followed by Havana. Canadian and British residents in Cuba made up about 15 percent of the total enlisting in the Allied armed forces from Cuba. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that this listing is complete, since the article requests readers to send in the names of others serving in the armed forces. Times of Cuba 6, no. 10 (1918): 28–30.


A good example is provided by the colonist William Felker of Omaja. Once his two sons joined the U.S. armed forces, he decided to sell his property and return home to work in a munitions factory in New England. Times of Cuba 6, no. 8 (1918): 84–85.


For reports on these sales, see ibid. 6, no. 6 (1918): 72; 6, no. 8 (1918): 84–85; 6, no. 9 (1918): 82–3; 6, no. 12 (1918): 111; and 8, no. 3 (1920): 119.


Ibid. 8, no. 6 (1920): 117; 8, no. 7 (1920): 149; and Neblett, Methodism’s First Fifty Years, 94.


Times of Cuba 7, no. 5 (1919): 96; 7, no. 7 (1919): 110–111; and 8, no. 4 (1920): 118–19.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 219.


Interview with Raúl González, Calixto, Majibacoa, 22 June 1994, and with Beatriz González, Omaja, Majibacoa, 20 June 1994.


Times of Cuba 9, no. 8 (1920): 120.


Carlson, “American Settlement,” 32.




Alfred E. Eckes Jr., Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy since 1776 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995), 88.


Cuba Review 23, no. 1 (1924): 13; 25, no. 8 (1926): 27; 26, no. 11 (1928): 14; 27, no. 4 (1929): 13; and 27, no. 8 (1929): 14.


Interview with Raul González, Calixto, Majibacoa, 22 June 1994, and with Beatriz González, Omaja, Majibacoa, 20 June 1994.


U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Foreign Trade, 1934: 40; and 1936: 48.


At this time Isla de Pinos was the source of four-fifths of Cuban exports of grapefruit. John William Lloyd, Pan American Trade, with Special Reference to Fruits and Vegetables (Danville, Ill.: The Interstate, 1942), 221.


P. P. Minneman, “The Agriculture of Cuba,” Foreign Agricultural Bulletin, no. 2, 1942: 68.


Derived from U.S. Department of Commerce, United States Foreign Trade, various tables, for 1905, 1918, 1923, 1928, 1933, and 1936.


Cuba Review 7, no. 2 (1909): 26; and Cuba Magazine 4, no. 3 (1912): 104–5.


See Vega Suñol, Presencia norteamericana, on the strong impact of the American churches in Cuba.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 304–5.


Communication from Prof. Lars Schoultz, September 1997. His archival research suggests that many in Washington considered the extension of citizenship to Puerto Ricans under the Jones Act in 1917 to have been a mistake.


Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, 305.


Schoultz, Beneath the United States, 234, 250.