Cook visited the Hawai’ian Islands twice. As he prepared for departure after his second visit in 1779, a quarrel ensued as Cook took temple idols and fencing as “firewood”, and a minor chief and his men took a ship’s boat. Cook abducted the King of Hawaiʻi Island, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, and held him for ransom aboard his ship in order to gain return of Cook’s boat. This tactic had worked in Tahiti and other islands. Instead, Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s supporters fought back, killing Cook and four marines as Cook’s party retreated along the beach to their ship. They departed without the ship’s boat.
After Cook’s visit and the publication of several books relating his voyages, the Hawai’ian islands attracted many European visitors: explorers, traders, and eventually whalers, who found the islands to be a convenient harbor and source of supplies.
Early British influence can be seen in the design of the flag of Hawaiʻi, which bears the Union Jack in the top-left corner. These visitors introduced diseases to the once-isolated islands, causing the Hawai’ian population to drop precipitously. Native Hawai’ians had no resistance to Eurasian diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles. By 1820, disease, famine and wars between the chiefs killed more than half of the Native Hawai’ian population. During the 1850s, measles killed a fifth of Hawai’i’s people.
Historical records indicated the earliest Chinese immigrants to Hawai’i originated from Guangdong Province; a few sailors arrived in 1778 with Captain Cook’s journey and more arrived in 1789 with an American trader, who settled in Hawai’i in the late 18th century. It is said that leprosy was introduced by Chinese workers by 1830; as with the other new infectious diseases, it proved damaging to the Hawai’ians.
Kingdom of Hawaiʻi:
During the 1780s, and 1790s, chiefs often fought for power. After a series of battles that ended in 1795, all inhabited islands were subjugated under a single ruler, who became known as King Kamehameha the Great. He established the House of Kamehameha, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom until 1872.
After Kamehameha II inherited the throne in 1819, American Protestant missionaries to Hawai’i converted many Hawai’ians to Christianity. They used their influence to end many traditional practices of the people. During the reign of King Kamehameha III, Hawai’i turned into a Christian monarchy with the signing of the 1840 Constitution. Hiram Bingham I, a prominent Protestant missionary, was a trusted adviser to the monarchy during this period. Other missionaries and their descendants became active in commercial and political affairs, leading to conflicts between the monarchy and its restive American subjects. Catholic and Mormon missionaries were also active in the kingdom, but they converted a minority of the Native Hawai’ian population. Missionaries from each major group administered to the leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi, which was established in 1866 and operated well into the 20th century. The best known were Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, both of whom were canonized in the early 21st century as Roman Catholic saints.