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John Martin Poyer

John Martin Poyer (1861 – May 12, 1922) was the twelfth Naval Governor of American Samoa, from March 1, 1915 to June 10, 1919. He held the longest term of any American governor appointed over the territory by the United States Government. A Naval Academy graduate, Poyer served in numerous positions and retired in 1906 on account of failing health; however, the navy recalled him to service in 1915 to serve as governor. During the 1918 flu pandemic, Poyer quarantined the territory to stop the spread of the pandemic to American Samoa. Because of his actions, no deaths occurred in American Samoa, and he received the Navy Cross. Upon his final retirement, Poyer had reached the rank of commander.

John Martin Poyer
John Martin Poyer.jpg
12th Governor of American Samoa
In office
March 1, 1915 – June 10, 1919
Preceded byCharles Armijo Woodruff
Succeeded byWarren Jay Terhune
Personal details
Indiana, U.S.
DiedMay 12, 1922(1922-05-12) (aged 60–61)
Washington, D.C.
Spouse(s)Emma Porter
Alma materUnited States Naval Academy
OccupationNaval officer
AwardsNavy Cross
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1879–1906, 1915–1919
RankUS Navy O5 infobox.svg Commander

Life and careerEdit

Early lifeEdit

Poyer was born in Indiana in 1861.[1] He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy from Wisconsin in October 1879.[2]

Naval careerEdit

Poyer became an ensign in February 1884, a lieutenant (junior grade) in December 1894.[2] He was stationed to the Washington Navy Yard from 1892 to 1894, the USS Montgomery from August 1894 to 1897, the Naval War College in June 1897, back to the Washington Ship Yard from 1897 to 1898, and the USS Saint Paul.[2] He became a lieutenant in May 1898.[2] Poyer retired from active duty in on June 30, 1906 on account of ill-health as a lieutenant commander, but was brought back to active duty to become Governor of American Samoa.[3][4]


On March 1, 1915, Poyer relieved Lieutenant Charles Armijo Woodruff and became the twelfth Governor of American Samoa, the eleventh man to hold the office. He is one of only three men to hold the office of naval governor after having already retired from the navy.[5] As governor, Poyer ended prohibition of alcohol in the territory. During the 1918 flu pandemic, Poyer quarantined American Samoa after hearing news reports of worldwide deaths on the radio.[6][7] This action caused American Samoa to be one of the few places in the world to not suffer any flu deaths.[5] Angered by the quarantine of ships, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Logan of the New Zealand Army, administrator of Western Samoa, cut off communications with American Samoa.[5] For his leadership in preventing the spread of Spanish influenza, Poyer received the Navy Cross.[8]

Poyer transferred command of American Samoa to Warren Jay Terhune on June 10, 1919, ending his governorship. His term is the longest of any naval governor of American Samoa.[5] After his retirement, Poyer lived in Washington, D.C. until his death.[3]


  1. ^ United States Civil Service Commission (1887), 473.
  2. ^ a b c d Hamersly (1902), 216.
  3. ^ a b The New York Times (1922), 26.
  4. ^ United States Bureau of Naval Personnel (1906), 178.
  5. ^ a b c d Government of American Samoa (2009).
  6. ^ Sims (2009).
  7. ^ Peter Oliver Okin, "The Yellow Flag of Quarantine: An Analysis of the Historical and Prospective Impacts of Socio-Legal Controls Over Contagion," Doctoral dissertation, University of South Florida, January 2012; p. 232
  8. ^ "John Martin Poyer, Commander, United States Navy". Retrieved 6 December 2018.