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PAUL T. DIEFENDERFER, ANTHROPOLOGIST, SWAINS ISLANDS & U.S. SAMOA

The cover was addressed to Mr. Paul T. (D)iefenderfer, Supt. Of Education, Pago Pago, Tutuila, American Samoa . The carmine rose 2 cents USA stamp (Scott 690, General Count Casimir Pulaski) was canceled with a double circle PAGO PAGO SAMOA/ MAY/ 15/ 1931 and the top L.H. of the cover had a purple SWAINS ISLAND handstamp with a ms. ‘A.E. Jennings’, as the sender. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

The second cover was addressed to Miss. Emilie J. Diefenderfer, 828 Third Street, Fullerton, Pa. The carmine rose 2 cents USA stamp (Scott 690) was canceled with a double circle PAGO PAGO SAMOA/ MAY/ 15/ 1931 and the top L.H. of the cover had a purple SWAINS ISLAND handstamp with a ms. ‘A.E. Jennings’, as the sender. The reverse was not seen (Figure 2).

The sender of the first two covers was Alexander E. Jennings, the owner manager of Swains Island (see later). The second cover was addressed to Miss Diefenderfer who was either Paul’s sister or his daughter and she was living in the town of Fullerton, Pennsylvania, where Paul had been born. The addressee in the third cover, Minnie Ulrich was later to be Paul Diefenderfer’s second wife.

The third cover was addressed to Miss Minnie (-) Ulrich and the cover had a red 2 cents USA stamp cancelled with a roller cancel of a waving American Flag as well as a single circle PAGO PAGO SAMOA/ JUN 5/ 6 AM/ 1931 postmark. The purple SWAINS ISLAND handstamp was seen with the ms. sender’s name, of ‘Paul T. Diefenderfer’. The cover was addressed to Miss Ulrich at Laureldale, Pa., U.S.A. The reverse was not seen (Figure 3).

The fourth cover had a block of 4 of the carmine rose 2 cents USA stamps, as well as a single dark gray 7 cents USA stamp, and a purple 5 cents stamp for airmail from Pago Pago to the USA. The stamps were cancelled with the double circle PAGO PAGO SAMOA/ AUG/ 12/ 1931. It was addressed to Miss Emilie J. Diefenderfer, Fullerton, Pa. The purple SWAINS ISLAND handstamp was seen with the manuscript sender’s name, of ‘D.J. McMullins’, Tokelau. The cover had a purple REGISTERED handstamp with a ms. #112, as well as two purple ‘Via Air Mail’ handstamps. The reverse was not seen (Figure 4).

The Australian connection of Paul Diefenderfer was seen in the next two covers. The fifth cover was cancelled with a wavy roller from SYDNEY/ (--)/ 1931 associated with a vertically placed faint ‘POSTED IN/ (----)’, and the 3 green ‘ONE PENNY’ KGV Head stamps were canceled by the roller. It was addressed to Paul Diefenderfer, Director of Education , Pago Pago, American Samoa. The reverse was not seen (Figure 5).

The sixth cover was probably sent by the same unknown previous sender and the green ‘ONE PENNY’ and the red ‘TWO PENNY’ KGV Head stamps were canceled with a roller slogan cancel SYDNEY/ (-- )/ 1930. It was addressed to Paul Diefenderfer , Director of Education, Pago Pago, American Samoa. There was a ms. ‘Per S.S. Sonoma’. The reverse was not seen Figure 6.

The seventh cover had a ms. Paul T. Diefenderfer above the handstamped SWAINS Island and the 17 cents USA stamp was cancelled with an obliterator, but the date was not seen. It had a boxed 2-line ‘REGISTERED/ 104' and it was sent to Mr. K. B. Morgan, 6 Hamilton St., Potsdam, New York, USA. The reverse was not seen (Figure 7).

The eighth cover’s sender could not be identified (for the 3-line handstamp was illegible), but it was sent to Paul T. Diefenderfer, 828 Third St., Fullerton, Pa. The date of the postmark (ca. 1928) on the 2 Tongan stamps could not be identified but there was a fine purple ‘TIN CAN MAIL’ handstamp over a boxed ‘NIUAFOOU’, which is the most northerly island in the Kingdom of Tonga. This cover links Diefenderfer with Walter George Quensell and suggests that Paul was a philatelist (see later). The reverse was not seen (Figure 8).

A map of American Samoa (Tutuila) is shown in order to allow me to identify where the capital, Pago Pago is located (Figure 9).

Swains Island lies 663 nautical miles south of the equator, 100 miles south of Fakaofu (now Fakaofo), 170 miles north and a little east of Apia, Samoa, 200 miles north and a little west of Pago Pago and 310 miles west of Pukapuka (Danger Islands). Swains Island is a ring of sand and coral, a mile and a half east and west, a mile wide , and nowhere more than 20 feet high, surrounding a shallow slightly brackish lagoon, which has no connection to the sea.

Most of the land is thickly covered with vegetation, about 800 acres of coconut palms and various trees and shrubs found widespread in the Pacific region. The Island has several local names, including Jennings Island. The Island was found by a Portuguese mariner in 1606 and was followed by Captain Hudson in the U.S. Expedition’s ship ‘Peacock’, who learnt about the Island in Samoa from a whaling captain named Swain, who had surveyed it in 1841, naming it Swains Island. Three Frenchmen later founded a French company as agents on the Island to make coconut oil.

In 1856 Eli Hutchinson Jennings, an American landed and founded a little community which is now in its third generation, and he acquired title of the Island from a Captain Turnbull, an Englishman. Eli Jennings jr. was born on the Island in 1863 and he inherited it on his father’s death in 1878, and under his management the coconut plantation prospered. Upon the death of Eli jr. in 1920, the island was left jointly to a daughter Ann Eliza and a son Alexander. In order to settle ownership, Alexander Jennings appealed to the Naval government at Pago Pago in 1925, and the island was placed under jurisdiction of the government of American Samoa, with Alexander Jennings becoming the managing owner. Thus his signature A.E. Jennings appears over the purple handstruck SWAINS ISLAND on the covers..

Swains Island is shown firstly as a small flat disc of coral in the Pacific Ocean, as well as several concentric rings that are habitable (Figures 10 & 11).

Paul Tilton Diefenderfer was born in Fullerton Pennsylvania in 1903, the son of Eugene E. and Omie (Tilton) Diefenderfer. A 1923 graduate of Bradley University, Peoria, Ill., he earned his master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1927. He held honorary degrees from Albright College and the Bradley and Kutztown Universities, Pennsylvania.

He was an associate anthropologist for the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii from 1927-31, and simultaneously was appointed by President Herbert C. Hoover to serve as Director of Education in American Samoa. The young man Paul Diefenderfer, a native son of Pennsylvania was considered to be "the best informed man on native affairs in Samoa ...his knowledge is so vast and inexhaustible that he literally takes your breath away. The Diefenderfer home is virtually a store house of artifacts, archives and memorabilia."

He was a Boy Scout leader in Fullerton, 1918-19, and in Pago Pago, Samoa, 1928-31. He worked in numerous positions for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., New York City, from 1931 until retiring in 1968. He was also a philatelist for he liked producing cachets for covers and in 1930 he had accompanied the American expedition to view the complete eclipse of the sun as the chief photographer. At Tin Can Island the scientists produced a cover to commemorate the eclipse. Paul influenced Walter Quensell to produce his Tin Can Island covers and for Quensell to have his ubiquitous rubber stampings produced in New Zealand.

A member of Immanuel United Church of Christ, Shillington, Berks County, Diefenderfer and his wife, Minnie, were mission interpreters for the United Church Board of World Ministries of the United Church of Christ for 15 years. After the death of his first wife Anna from cancer in 1967 Paul and Minnie (Anna’s sister) were married in 1968 and they traveled 1.5 million miles spreading the gospel to Christians in 53 countries. They funded the chair at Lancaster Theological Seminary in April 1988.

He was a past president of the Consistorial Council of Berks and Schuylkill, and held various offices in the Rosedale United Church of Christ church school and consistory. A 50-year member of Masonic Lodge 62, West Reading, he was a former chairman and co-chairman of many community drives, including War Bond and Red Cross.

He was the author of "What You Should Know About Your Federal Income Tax," and "Journey Into Space," both in Torch Magazine, and "A Look at Missions Today," for the South East Pennsylvania Conference.

Paul T. Diefenderfer, 94, formerly of Laureldale, Berks County, died Thursday, Jan. 15, 1998 in The Highlands at Wyomissing, Berks County. He was survived by his second wife Minnie E. (Ulrich) Diefenderfer and I am not sure whether he had children by either wife, for Emilie J. Diefenderfer, the addressee on covers 2 and 4 might have been his sister, or a daughter.

A picture of Paul T. Diefenderfer is seen in Figure 12.

 

 
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