The History of Trinidad and Tobago
A visit to Trinidad today would reveal a multicultural melting pot
stirred by the descendants of settlers from Europe, Africa, Asia,
South America and the Middle East. But in 1498, when explorer
Christopher Columbus set foot on Trinidad, things were very
Arawak and Carib Indians prospered here on the island the
Amerindians called Ieri, land of the Humming Bird, until Columbus
spotted the island he named for the Holy Trinity. When the Spaniards
discovered no precious metals on Trinidad, the Amerindians were
enslaved and shipped off to work on other Caribbean settlements.
Nearly a century would pass before Spain established Trinidad's
first European community, San Jose de Oruna (St Joseph), which was
sacked and burnt by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595. Sir Walter Raleigh
was also said to have discovered the Pitch Lake, from which he used
material to caulk his leaking ship.
Trinidad remained a Spanish possession from the 15th Century and the
Cedula of Population in 1783, allowed French planters and their
slaves to emigrate from the French colonies to the island. The
British would capture Trinidad in 1797 and negotiate an amicable
treaty of rule with the Spanish.
In the following years, enslaved Africans were brought in to work on
sugar plantations and in 1802, the island became a British colony.
After slavery was abolished by Britain, landowners imported
thousands of indentured labourers from India, China and the Middle
In 1889, Britain joined the smaller Tobago to Trinidad as an
administrative ward. The islands achieved independence from England
in 1962 and became the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1976.
The History of Tobago
Named for the tobacco cultivated by the original Carib population,
Tobago existed separately from Trinidad for centuries. While the
explorer Christopher Columbus sighted the island in 1498, he did not
land and no attempts were made to colonize Tobago.
But long before European powers expressed interest in the island's
strategic harbour and fertile soil, it was the centre of battles for
control between the Carib population and other Amerindian tribes.
Later, in the 17th century, English, French, Dutch and even
Courlanders (Latvians) fought to control the strategic island and it
changed hands more than 30 times. During British rule in the
late 1600s, sugar, cotton and indigo plantations were established
and thousands of Africans were brought to Tobago as slave labour. In
1781 the French invaded, but by 1814 the island was ceded to
Britain. In 1889, during a period of economic decline, Britain
annexed the smaller Tobago to Trinidad as an administrative ward.
The islands achieved independence from England in 1962 and became
the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1976.
The base of Tobago's early economy was agriculture, but this was
ravaged by severe hurricanes in 1847 and 1963. Today the
island is serene, yet the many forts and batteries that dot Tobago's
landscape hint at a thrilling past. Fierce slave revolts,
bitter battles for control between European powers, attacks on
European settlers by the Amerindian Indians who inhabited the island
and pirates are all part of Tobago's rich history. In 1629 an
expedition of Dutchmen established a settlement which was
annihilated by disease and the Amerindians. More settlers were sent
in 1632 but an attack by the Spaniards four years later drove them
out. English Puritans also attempted to settle in Tobago, but
many were killed by the Amerindians and the survivors driven out.
To learn more about Trinidad's History please see the following
History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago by Dr Eric Williams
History of Modern Trinidad: Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-Three thru
Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Two by Dr Bridget Brereton