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David Dean O'Keefe collection

David Dean O'Keefe collection

Descriptive Summary

Title: David Dean O'Keefe collection
Creator: O'Keefe, David Dean
Inclusive Dates: 1823-2007
Language(s): English
Extent: 0.5 Linear Feet
Collection Number: ms3808
Repository: Hargrett Library

Collection Description

Historical Note

David Dean O'Keefe (1824 or 1828-1901) was an Irish American merchant sailor from Savannah, Georgia best known for his unique trade arrangements with the people of Yap, an island in Micronesia. In 1871 O'Keefe shipwrecked near Yap and was helped by the natives. Later he assisted the Yapese in acquiring rai stones, large stone discs used as currency. In return he received copra and trepang, which were valuable exports in the Far East. He provided the Yapese with iron tools. As a result, a form of inflation set in and rai stones acquired with his help were less valuable than more ancient ones. The wealth and power he gained allowed O'Keefe to have his own island, of which he was "king." He also took a Yapese wife in spite of having a wife and daughter back in Savannah. O'Keefe died on the ship Santa Cruz en route to Savannah. A book about O'Keefe's experiences in South Pacific, His Majesty O'Keefe, was written by Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green in 1950. This book was the basis for a film of the same name, starring Burt Lancaster, released in 1954.

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence, most notably four original letters written by David O'Keefe in Hong Kong to his wife Catherine in Savannah, dated 1871-1872. In the letters O'Keefe gives news of his travels, mentions that he is sending money, and responds to Catherine's news that their daughter, Lulu, has suffered an eye injury. Later correspondence, dating mostly from the 1940s, concerns O'Keefe's estate and personal history. The collection also includes legal information, estate papers, historical and genealogical research, clippings, and photographs.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

David Dean O'Keefe collection, ms3808, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

Finding Aid Publication

Finding aid prepared on: 2013.

Related Materials and Subjects

Subject Terms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Commission merchants -- Georgia -- Savannah.
Copra industry.
Irish Americans.
O'Keefe, Catherine
O'Keefe, David Dean
Stone money.
Yap (Micronesia)

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

11Correspondence, 1823-1996
12Legal papers, 1902-1960
13Histories and genealogy
14-5"East Meets West: Desperately Seeking David Dean O'Keefe from Savannah to Yap," a thesis by Janet B. Butler, Georgia Southern University , 2001
16Clippings, 1939-2007