Something interesting springs to mind if you look at old maps and charts of the island. See it?
In almost all old maps Samaná is drawn as an island, separated from the mainland. In fact, on a few it is even marked as “Samaná Island”. The way it is separated varies and, granted, they did not have satellites back then and cartography was still an experimental science so to say — but is it really that difficult to tell an island from a peninsula when you sail right past it?
In almost all of the maps it’s an island… but not all. The first few maps made of the area seem to show it as a definitive peninsula, while later ones at times mark it as an island. Then, as maps became more detailed, it was a peninsula again. The most recent that still showed it as an island was from 1802.
There may be many reasons for this discrepancy. One is that map makers are like all other researchers — they use other people’s materials and their results are only as good as their source. Or in other words, they just copied mistakes since they had never actually gone there.
A second is that it may actually have been an island… sometimes, under special circumstances and if you stretch the meaning of “island”.
When Ulysses S. Grant considered buying or leasing Samaná, he sent a commission to study its people, resources and geography.
On that expedition, one geologist by the name of W. P. Blake went to explore just that island/peninsula phenomenon. This was around 1870 and he found exactly what we would find nowadays: no separation between Samaná and the mainland. Just the river Yuna. He wrote the following in his segment of the commission report:
“There is still another branch of the Yuna (or another mouth) extending northward to the sea in the valley between the peninsula and the eastern end of the Monte Cristi range of mountains. This slough, or branch, is said to be so full at times of high water in the river that it breaks through or across the bar at the mouth, and thus establishes water communication between the ocean and the gulf and makes an island out of the peninsula. The peninsula is represented as an island upon the old maps, and it is most probable that the channel has been gradually filling up by deposits of the river.”
It Is, Yet It Isn’t
So, there you have it. From reports he gathered from the locals in his time he concluded that the river Yuma may have at times filled up so much with water that the Yuma valley area, a very marshy land to this day, may have filled up so much that a temporary waterway connection may have been established between the north coast and Samaná Bay. However, he also mentions in his report that said water-connection was maybe 2 feet at the deepest. He himself didn’t see it, but it’s possible that at times some have observed the area fill with water, thus making an island out of Samaná. It’s possible that one or two of the early cartographers either saw this happen, or heard about it, thus assumed it is an island and marked it down as such.
It is also possible that storm surges during hurricanes may have washed inland from the north, swelling up Yuma river on both ends and thus temporarily separating Samaná from the mainland. In those moments the Samaná Peninsula did indeed become Samaná Island.
One last thought: on his first voyage Columbus sailed past and investigated Samaná. He never mentioned it being an island and on his map sketches it never was an island…