Although several Dutch and French explorers sighted Samoa during the 18th century, none had any impact until Rev. John Williams of the London Missionary Society called at Savai'i aboard the Messenger of Peace in 1830. The ruling chief, Malietoa Vainu'upo, welcomed Williams, and by 1840 most Samoans had been converted to Protestantism.
The missionaries taught the need for clothing, and white traders were soon arriving to sell the required cotton cloth. The first copra trader in Samoa was John Williams Jr., son of the missionary, who exported six tons in 1842. In 1844, Malua College was established on Upolu by the church. In true Samoan fashion, Malietoa's rival Mata'afa Iosefo converted to Catholicism in 1845.
In 1856, the German trading firm Johann Godeffroy and Son opened a store at Apia, and within a few years over a hundred Europeans resided in the new town, which soon became one of the main trading centers of the South Pacific.
The first central government was formed by a group of district chiefs at Mulinu'u in 1868. During the 1870s, German businessmen purchased large tracts of family land from individual chiefs for the establishment of coconut plantations using Chinese and Melanesian labor. Germany, Britain, and the United States soon appointed consuls.
In 1873, an American, Col. A.B. Steinberger, assisted the Samoan chiefs in creating a constitution; two years later he had himself appointed premier. His role was not supported by the United States, however, although he was an official State Department agent. After five months in the premiership, Steinberger was arrested and taken to Fiji by the captain of a British warship who suspected him of German sympathies. He never returned.
Continue to History: Instability and Intrigue »