Believed by some historians as the place where the first Christian mass in the Philippines was celebrated, Agusan was first referred to by its Malay settlers as “agasan”, a word in the dialect meaning “where water flows”. This alluded to the presence of a mighty river that traversed the whole area. With the coming of the Spanish conquistadores, the area where flowed a mighty river came to be known as “Agusan” to the civilized world.
The aborigines of Agusan were the ancestors of the present day Mamanwas who were driven to the hinterlands by the first wave of Malay immigrants coming from Borneo and Celebes. These people, in turn, sought the protection of the interior jungles because of the forays and the constant raids of “Moro” pirates.
The “Moros”, being seafaring people, confined themselves to the coastal areas where they started settlements, leaving the forestall areas to the Manobos.
Agusan del Norte’s claim to being the province where the first mass was held is perpetuated in oral historical traditions whose beginnings date as far back as the latter part of March and early part of April, 1521. Rajah Siagu, the ruler of Agusan, was said to have left his settlement in order to visit his friend Rajah Humabon of Bohol. Together, they visited the ruling rajah of a place called Limasawa where a fleet of Spanish galleons headed by a Portuguese navigator called Fernao Magallao (Fernando Magallanes in Spanish) had just dropped anchor. Rajah Siagu invited the navigator to visit his place, to which Magallanes went and had a mass celebrated on Easter Sunday in what is now called Magallanes (formerly Masao). It is said that Magallanes’ ships were given provisions by Siagu for which, in gratitude, his people were exempted later on from paying tribute to the King of Spain. This boon lasted only for sixty years and was taken away when the people rose in revolt against the conquistadores.
With the occupation of Spanish troops, came the priest and scholars who immediately started converting the natives. Of the missionaries sent here, the most outstanding was Rev. Saturnino Urios, a Jesuit, who indefatigably set about converting some 23,000 natives during his 28 years in the province. He is oftentimes called the “Apostle of Agusan” for his missionary zeal and to honor him, the parochial school of Butuan was named Father Urios College, and presently is called Urios College.
Agusan took arms against Spain during the revolution. With Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government, a small native unit was organized in Butuan under the leadership of Senor Gumersindo Flores. This small force put to task the American soldiers stationed in the place. Spears being no match to the powerful guns of the Americans, Agusan yielded to the might of the American soldiers in January 1900.
Until 1911, Agusan, under the name of Butuan, was part of Surigao province, formerly known as Caraga district. However, following the passage of Act 1693, creating the non-christian provinces, it was separated from Surigao, with the Diwata Mountains as the boundary lines. Before the approval of Republic Act No. 4979 on June 17, 1967 and its proclamation as a province on January 5, 1968, Agusan del Norte was part of the former province of Agusan.
The province was under the military rule until 1913. When the Department of Mindanao and Sulu was created under the Secretary of Interior, Agusan became one of the seven provinces comprising the department with Frank W. Carpenter as the first civil governor. In 1914, the first Filipino governor of Agusan was appointed in the person of Teofisto Guingona. The first elected governor of Agusan was Apolonio D. Curato in 1923, holding this position for three terms. Jose Rosales followed him and stayed as governor for two terms. In 1936, Mariano C. Atega was elected governor and was succeeded by Agustin O. Casiñas.
Then, war broke out. During the Japanese occupation, General Aguirre occupied the governor’s post for five months. Liberation came and Curato was again the governor. However, he stayed in the position only for a year. Servando D. Jongko who was elected in 1947, stayed as governor until 1951. From 1952 to 1959, Felixberto C. Dagani occupied his post. He was succeeded by Democrito O. Plaza who served as governor from 1960 to 1963. Jose C. Aquino took over in 1964 and resigned in 1966 when he ran for Congress. His vice governor, Consuelo V. Calo ran for governor in 1967 and won.
On June 17, 1967, R.A. 4979, authored by Congressman Jose C. Aquino was passed by congress dividing Agusan into two (2) provinces, namely, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. Agusan del Norte joined the ranks of fast developing provinces on July 1, 1974 when it became a Provincial Development Assistance Project (PDAP) province through the efforts of Governor Consuelo V. Calo. She remained as Agusan del Norte’s Chief Executive until 1986 when the revolutionary government of President Corazon C. Aquino made a complete revamp on the national and local government units throughout the country.
The province then, was administered by OIC Governor Jose T. Gonzales but his term was short lived due to his death in the same year. OIC Governor Jesus S. Delfin was appointed to fill in the vacancy of governorship until he decided to ran for a governatorial candidacy which he lost to Candidate Eduardo L. Rama, Sr., who won in the 1988 election. Governor Eduardo L. Rama, Sr., served the province for two terms and after which he ran for Congressman and won.
On February 23, 1995, R.A. 7901 was approved by His Excellency President Fidel V. Ramos creating the four (4) provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and the two (2) cities of Butuan and Surigao as Region 13 or CARAGA Administrative Region.
Maria Angelica Rosedell M. Amante got elected as governor in 1995 and served until June 2004.
Erlpe John M. Amante got the post in the 2004 elections and now steers the province to its desired development.