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another ship stopped at the islands. After 1786, however, the fur trade began to develop along the northwest coast of America, and more and more ships came to stop at the islands.

The earliest American contact with the islands appears to be in 1789. In that year Captain Robert Gray, commanding a small Boston trading craft, the Columbia, stopped at the islands on his way to China. By 1800, the trans-Pacific fur trade was almost completely monopolized by New England ships, and the number of American craft stopping in Hawaii increased accordingly. 35/


The arrival of foreigners caused changes in the economy of Hawaii and accelerated political and social transformations already under way. For the natives, these changes were profound. One author writes:

Despite the unification of the islands, the period of Kamehameha's rule was, for the Hawaiian people, one of disintegration, owing to decimation from war, the infiltration of Western commercial practices, the avarice of the Chiefs and priests, the spread of haole diseases, and, perhaps most important, the breakdown of the Hawaiian religion. 36/

Political Unification--Kamehameha I

The last quarter of the eighteenth century found all the islands of the group caught in the midst of bitter civil wars. Rival chiefs fought each other to gain control of the entire group, a feat never before accomplished. The great King Kamehameha I finally succeeded in subduing all of the islands except Kauai and Niihau in 1796. The latter two islands were ceded without a battle in 1810. Even today it is a source of pride for the residents of Kauai that their island was not militarily conquered by Kamehameha.

Several reasons are given for the success of Kamehameha in the face of so many other failures to unite the islands. Among them are the presence of foreigners and their aid in the form of both guns and advice, and the feudalistic character of the Hawaiian society in which loyalties were not static. However, probably the most important reason was the personality and the ability of Kamehameha himself. 37/

At the conclusion of the civil wars, the islands prospered as commoners were free to return to agricultural pursuits. Kamehameha, as had all conquering kings before him, distributed his lands among the ali'i and maintained the basic social and kapu systems.

Economic Changes

The arrival of foreigners brought drastic changes in the economic and material system of the native inhabitants. In the first part of the nineteenth century, Hawaii developed from a basic subsistence economy into a trading center. New products were introduced and Hawaiians traded their produce to acquire them. Port areas like Honolulu on Oahu and Lahaina on Maui were built up to handle the trade.

At first, it was the fur trade that caused ships to winter and replenish in Hawaii on their way to and from the Orient. This economic phase was followed by the sandalwood trade from about 1810 to 1830. In the 1820's, the whaling industry replaced sandalwood as the chief commercial activity and reached its zenith from 1840 to 1860.