The December 1872 death of Hawaiian monarch Kamehameha V spurred renewed interest among U.S. citizens and politicians alike in the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. To satisfy the public’s increased curiosity about Hawai‘i, in January 1873 the New York Tribune sought testimony in the form of two letters from a well-known expert on the islands: Mark Twain, who had gained nationwide fame based his popular comic lecture “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,” which he delivered across the United States and abroad between 1866 and 1873. Between January and March of 1873 at least seventy newspapers and magazines reprinted excerpts of Mark Twain’s Tribune letters. This article considers how these reprinted excerpts decontextualize or mischaracterize Mark Twain’s insights as well as what they reveal about the American reading public’s views of Mark Twain as both a comedian and as a serious expert on Hawai‘i in the early 1870s.

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