18th centuryContact with Europeans began in the early 18th century but did not intensify until the arrival of the British. In 1722, Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen was the first European to sight the islands. This visit was followed by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), the man who named them the Navigator Islands in 1768.
19th centuryThe United States Exploring Expedition (1838–42) under Charles Wilkes reached Samoa in 1839 and appointed of Englishman John C. Williams as acting U.S. consul. However this appointment was never confirmed by the U.S. State Department; John C. Williams was merely recognized as "Commercial Agent of the United States". A British consul was already residing at Apia.
Missionaries and traders arrived in the 1830s. In 1855 J.C. Godeffroy & Sohn expanded its trading business into the Samoan Islands, which were then known as the Navigator Islands. During the second half of the 19th century German influence in Samoa expanded with large scale plantation operations being introduced for coconut, cacao and hevea rubber cultivation, especially on the island of 'Upolu where German firms monopolized copra and cocoa bean processing. British business enterprises, harbour rights, and consulate office were the basis on which the United Kingdom had cause to intervene in Samoa. The United States began operations at the excellent harbor of Pago Pago on Tutuila in 1877 and formed alliances with local native chieftains, most conspicuously on the islands of Tutuila and Manu'a (which were later formally annexed as American Samoa).
In the latter part of 19th century, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States all claimed parts of the kingdom of Samoa, and established trade posts. The rivalry between these powers exacerbated the indigenous factions that were struggling to preserve their ancient political system.
The First Samoan Civil War and the Samoan crisisSamoan Civil War was fought roughly between 1886 and 1894, primarily between rival Samoan factions though the rival powers intervened on several occasions with military forces. There followed an eight-year civil war, where each of the three powers supplied arms, training, and in some cases, combat troops to the warring Samoan parties. The Samoan crisis came to a critical juncture in March 1889 when all three colonial contenders sent warships into Apia harbour, and a larger-scale war seemed imminent, until a massive storm on 15 March 1889 damaged or destroyed the warships, ending the military conflict.
Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Samoa in 1889 and built a house at Vailima. He quickly became passionately interested, and involved, in the attendant political machinations. His influence spread to the Samoans, who consulted him for advice, and he soon became involved in local politics. These involved the three colonial powers battling for control of Samoa - America, Germany and Britain - and the indigenous factions struggling to preserve their ancient political system. He was convinced the European officials appointed to rule the Samoans were incompetent, and after many futile attempts to resolve the matter, he published A Footnote to History. The book covers the period from 1882 to 1892. This was such a stinging protest against existing conditions that it resulted in the recall of two officials, and Stevenson feared for a time it would result in his own deportation.
The Second Samoan Civil War and the Siege of ApiaSecond Samoan Civil War was a conflict that reached a head in 1898 when Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over who should have control over the Samoa Islands.
The Siege of Apia, or the Battle of Apia, occurred during the Second Samoan Civil War in March 1899 at Apia. Samoan forces loyal to Prince Tanu were besieged by a larger force of Samoan rebels loyal to Mata'afa Iosefo. Supporting Prince Tanu were landing parties from four British and American warships. Over the course of several days of fighting, the Samoan rebels were defeated.
American and British warships shelled Apia on 15 March 1899; including the USS Philadelphia. Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States quickly resolved to end the hostilities; with the partitioning of the island chain at the Tripartite Convention of 1899.