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8 Things You Never Knew About U.S. Territories
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April 5, 2019
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Jersey Griggs
Jersey Griggs is a writer for hire based in Portland, Maine. A ski fanatic and a travel junkie, Jersey is always planning her next adventure.
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Consisting of islands, atolls and archipelagos, the territories of the United States are quite varied. From the nearby Caribbean to remote islands in the Pacific, these “insular areas” of U.S. soil are partially self-governed. They’re also beautiful, vibrant and tropical, which makes them great places to visit without a passport. And since most states began as territories themselves, it’s important to know about these noncontiguous U.S. factions. Here are eight things you never knew about U.S. territories.

There Are Currently 16 U.S. Territories

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The U.S. has 16 territories total, but only five major territories — Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. The other 11 territories are classified as “Minor Outlying Islands” and consist of barely populated or uninhabited atolls, reefs and islets.

The Territories Are Represented in Congress

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Although they are not considered to be states, each major U.S. territory is represented in Congress, with certain stipulations. Territories are allowed a delegate in the House of Representatives, but the delegates are not allowed to vote on the floor. And while citizens in U.S. territories may vote in the primary election for a U.S. president, they may not participate in the general election.

Palmyra Is the Only Incorporated Territory

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Palmyra, an atoll in the Northern Pacific Ocean, is the only incorporated U.S. territory. Originally belonging to Hawaii before it joined the union in 1959, Palmyra was excluded from Hawaii's statehood but granted incorporation. It is privately owned by the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Barely inhabited, its fluctuating population consists of scientists and staff.

The U.S. Virgin Islands Was the Birthplace of a Founding Father

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Alexander Hamilton was born on St. Croix in the former Danish West Indies. A resident of Christiansted, Hamilton wrote an essay about the destruction of his hometown in a 1772 hurricane. This essay, a copy of which can be found at Christiansted National Historic Site, eventually earned him a one-way ticket to the colonies. Many years later, in 1917, the Danish West Indies became the U.S. Virgin Islands when the U.S. bought the land for $25 million.

Guam Is 'Where America’s Day Begins'

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Guam’s unique location on the International Date Line makes it the first place where the sun rises on U.S. soil, earning it the slogan “Where America’s Day Begins.” In contrast, American Samoa is the last U.S. location to see the rising sun.

American Samoa Is 'Football Island'

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For being such a small place, American Samoa is exceptional at producing athletes. Over 30 American Samoans have been sent to the NFL and over 200 have played Division 1 football, according to Forbes. Considering the limited resources and football facilities in American Samoa — pro-player Junior Siavii grew up playing football with a milk carton — the successes of players from “Football Island” is impressive.

Puerto Rico Retains Elements of Independence

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Although Puerto Rico has been a territory for over a hundred years, it retains elements of an independent country. Puerto Rico still has its own flag, and although it is similar to America’s stars and stripes, the flag’s symbols are representative of its own independence. Puerto Rico also competes under its name at the Olympics, challenging fellow American citizens for the gold.

The Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico Are Commonwealths

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Originally part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands officially become a U.S. commonwealth in 1975. Puerto Rico became a territory after the Spanish–American war in 1898 and was later named a commonwealth in 1952. Commonwealths are much the same as territories but with a more established relationship with the U.S. Both of these insular areas remain self-governing and citizens of these territories need not pay federal taxes to the U.S.