Throughout history, most first settlers locate themselves near waterways, where they can fish for food, and have access to water for drinking and watering their crops once planting is learned. Settlers also use the waterways as natural buffer against enemies and a faster means than land to move about their territory. This holds true as well with the first inhabitants of Vigan. Ages before the coming of the Spaniards to the Philippine islands, the first inhabitants of Vigan founded settlements in this northwestern part of the big island of Luzon, initially finding shelter in coves or looc. The settlements stretched north to south from Ilocos Norte’s Bangui down to La Union’s Namacpacan.
The waters that surrounded this regional settlement was a boon to the life of the first inhabitants as it enabled it to be known as a thriving trading center. Here traders from as far as ancient Japan, China and Malaya traveled to exhange goods making use of the China Sea and the many rivers that surround and course through Vigan to transport their wares and people. The region was known during those ancient times as Samtoy. This name was derived from the words sao mi ditoy, which means our language. Traders and visitors to Samtoy not only knew it as a place for trading with locals and foreigners, it was also widely known for its rich gold mines.
When the Spanish expedition headed by Juan de Salcedo arrived in the settlement of Samtoy on the 13th of June in 1557, they made the natural choice of founding a city in the settlement dedicating it to King Ferdinand of Spain. They named the region Ylocos, while the town itself was called Ciudad Fernandina, now known as Vigan. Though the earliest foreign visitors from Japan, China and Malaya did not come to conquer but to trade, some of them stayed and settled in ancient Vigan. Despite the fact that they were not fairly treated by the Spanish when they took power, the Chinese endeavored to remain, working and propagating their craft and intermarrying with the locals.
They were initially relegated to living in the outskirts called Pariancillo. There they produced and traded in goods such as the local wine basi, jars or burnay, lime, indigo, tobacco and the local woven textile called abel. These products reached as far as Europe. Their tenacity and hard work produced an elite class of Filipino Chinese families that became powerful and wealthy enough to further propel the economic growth of Vigan and affect changes not only in the politics and history of the town and the region during the latter part of the Spanish colonization, but the whole country as well.