The island received its name from the American vessel Palmyra, Captain Sawle, which sought shelter there November 7, 1802. This island was actually claimed by the Hawaiians in 1862. Britain and Hawaii did have friendly relations but as the nineteenth century wore on, Britain's influence over Hawaii was streadily declining. Palmyra was actually claimed in the era of the Phosphate rush in 1889 although little guano seems to have been exploited.
The Americans in 1898 took control of Hawaii and used Hawaii's claims on the island as their own pretext for taking control in 1898. The warship West Virginia formally visited and restated the claim in 1912. This was aimed specifically at any British dispute over the islands.