The Consulate General will be CLOSED ON MONDAY 4 JULY, 2016 and WEDNESDAY 6 JULY, 2016 for USA Independence Day and Eid ul Fitr respectively.

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 different.

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 East.

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 books:

  • 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





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