History of Trinidad and Tobago

The documented history of Trinidad and Tobago begins with the settlements of the islands by Amerindians. Both islands were explored by Christopher Columbus on his third voyage in 1498. Trinidad remained in Spanish hands until 1797, but it was largely settled by French colonists. Tobago changed hands between the British, French, Dutch, and Courlanders, but eventually ended up in British hands following the second Treaty of Paris (1814). In 1889 the two islands were incorporated into a single crown colony.[1] Trinidad and Tobago obtained its independence from the British Empire in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.

Pre-Columbian period

Native American settlement

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the island was inhabited by the indigenous Arawak people, and Carib people. The island's proximity to the continent makes it likely that it was among the first islands to be settled. The island probably was taken by three migration waves from the continent.

Spanish period

The arrival of Columbus

The first contact with Europeans occurred when Christopher Columbus, who was on his third voyage of exploration, arrived with his fleet of three small ships (the 100-ton Santa María, Pinta and Nina) on 31 July 1498.[2] Columbus' "discovery" is significant because it marked the first sighting of the island by Europeans.

Colonial settlement of Trinidad

Trinidad is reported to have been densely populated at the beginning of the colonial period. Although in 1510 Trinidad was said to have the only "peaceful Indians" along the whole South American coast, demand for slaves to supply the pearl-fisheries in nearby Isla Margarita led to them being declared "Caribs" (and thus, fair game for slavers) in 1511. As a consequence of this, Trinidad and Tobago became the focus of Spanish slaving raids, primarily to supply Margarita's pearl fisheries.

In 1530 Antonio Sedeño was granted a contract to settle Trinidad, with an eye toward discovering long-rumored El Dorado and controlling the trade in slaves. In 1532 he attempted to establish a settlement, but was driven off the island following the Battle of Cumucurapo, (or The Place of the Silk Cotton Tree). He withdrew to Margarita, but he returned a year later and built a settlement at Cumucurapo (modern Mucurapo in what is now Port of Spain). After failing to attract more settlers to Trinidad, Sedeño was forced to withdraw in 1534.

In 1553 Juan Sedeño was authorised to settle Trinidad, but the contract was never fulfilled. In 1569 Juan Troche Ponce de León built the "town of the Circumcision", probably around modern Laventille. In 1570 this settlement was abandoned. In 1592 Antonio de Berrio established the first lasting settlement, the town of San José de Oruña (the modern St. Joseph). Sir Walter Raleigh, searching for El Dorado in South America, arrived in Trinidad on 22 March 1595 and soon attacked San José and captured and interrogated de Berrío, obtaining much information from him and from the cacique Topiawari.[3]

Colonial settlement of Tobago

In Tobago, the first Dutch colony of Nieuw-Walcheren ("New Walcheren") was short-lived. 68 colonists established Fort Vlissingen ("Fort Flushing") near modern Plymouth in 1628. They were reinforced by a few hundred more settlers from Zeeland in 1629 and 1632. The settlement was destroyed and its inhabitants were massacred by the Spanish on 1 January 1637.[4] Attempted colonies by Courland in 1637, 1639, and 1642 and England in 1649, 1642, and 1647 all failed.[4]

In May and September 1654, Courish and Dutch colonies were reestablished successfully. The Courish colony of Neu-Kurland ("New Courland") was centered at Fort Jacob on Great Courland Bay. The Dutch colony on the other side of the island had three forts: Lampsinsberg, Beveren, and Bellavista. In 1658, 500 Frenchmen joined the Dutch colony but formed their own settlement called Three Rivers (Le Quartier des trois Rivières).[4] On 11 December 1659, the Courlanders peaceably surrendered their colony to the Dutch. At the time, the island held about 1,500 Europeans and around 7,000 African slaves working on 120 plantations, supporting six or seven sugar mills and two rum distilleries.[4]

British Jamaican pirates captured the island in January 1666; the official English garrison surrendered to a French attack in August the same year. The Dutch admiral Abraham Crijnssen reclaimed a deserted colony in April 1667 and reestablished a fort. An attempt to restore the Courish Fort Jacob was suppressed in December 1668. In December, 1672, the British attacked and destroyed the Dutch colony as part of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Dutch control was regained under the status quo ante provisions of the Second Treaty of Westminster in 1674; in September 1676, Fort Sterreschans was constructed near the ruins of Fort Vlissingen. This star fort was reinforced in February 1677, but French attacks in February, March, and December of that year finally succeeded in killing the Dutch governor and capturing the island.[4]

Spanish missions in Trinidad

Spanish missions were established as part of the Spanish colonization here as in its other new New World conquests. In 1687 the Catalan Capuchin friars were given responsibility for the conversion of the indigenous population of Trinidad and the Guianas. In 1713 the missions were handed over to the secular clergy. Due to shortages of missionaries, although the missions were established they often went without Christian instruction for long periods of time.

Between 1687 and 1700 several missions were founded in Trinidad, but only four survived as Amerindian villages throughout the 18th century – La Anuncíata de Nazaret de Savana Grande (modern Princes Town), Purísima Concepción de María Santísima de Guayri (modern San Fernando), Santa Ana de Savaneta (modern Savonetta), Nuestra Señora de Montserrate (probably modern Mayo). The mission of Santa Rosa de Arima was established in 1789 when Amerindians from the former encomiendas of Tacarigua and Arauca (Arouca) were relocated further east (They settled in Santa Rosa close to the town of Arima).

In 1687 the Catalonian Capuchin friars were given responsibility for the conversion of the indigenous population of Trinidad and the Guianas. In 1713 the missions were handed over to the secular clergy. Tensions between priests and Amerindians led to the Arena Massacre of 1699, wherein the Amerindians murdered the priests. After being hunted by the Spanish, the survivors are reported to have committed suicide by jumping off cliffs into the sea.

French Settlement in Trinidad

Although Spanish settlement began in the 16th century, the census of 1777 recorded only 2,763 people as living on the island, including some 2,000 Arawaks.

The Spanish gave many incentives to lure settlers to the island, including exemption from taxes for ten years and land grants in accordance to the terms set out in the Cedula. In 1783, the proclamation of a Cedula of Population by the Spanish Crown granted 32 acres (129,000 m²) of land to each Roman Catholic who settled in Trinidad and half as much for each slave that they brought. Uniquely, 16 acres (65,000 m²) was offered to each Free Coloured or Free Person of Colour (gens de couleur libre, as they were later known), and half as much for each slave they brought. French planters with their slaves, free coloreds and mulattos from neighboring islands of Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica migrated to the Trinidad during the French Revolution. These new immigrants establishing local communities of Blanchisseuse, Champs Fleurs, Paramin, Cascade, Carenage and Laventille. This resulted in Trinidad having the unique feature of a large French-speaking Free Coloured slave-owning class.

By the end of 1789 the population had jumped to over 15,000. By the time the island was surrendered to the British in 1797 the population had increased to 17,643: 2,086 whites, 1,082 free people of colour, 1,082 Amerindians, and 10,009 African slaves. (By 1960, the population was 827,957 and included erroneously no Amerindians.)

British period

End of slavery

In August, 1816, seven hundred former slaves from the US South, who had escaped to the British lines during the War of 1812 and had been recruited as a Corps of Colonial Marines, were settled in Trinidad after serving for fourteen months at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda. After rejecting British government orders for transfer to the West India Regiments, and on the Admiralty refusing to continue responsibility for them, they finally accepted, but only with reluctance, a government offer of settlement in Trinidad. These ex-Colonial Marines were organised by the authorities in villages according to their military companies.[5][6]

In Trinidad and Tobago, as in other Caribbean slave colonies, an attempt was made to circumvent the abolition of slavery in 1833. The first announcement from Whitehall in England that slaves would be totally freed by 1840 was made in 1833. In the meantime, slaves on plantations were expected to remain where they were and work as "apprentices" for the next six years.

Trinidad and Tobago demonstrated a successful use of non-violent protest and passive resistance. On 1 August 1834, an unarmed group of mainly elderly ex-slaves being addressed by the Governor at Government House about the new laws, began chanting: "Pas de six ans. Point de six ans" ("Not six years. No six years"), drowning out the voice of the Governor.

Peaceful protests continued until a resolution to abolish apprenticeship was passed and de facto freedom was achieved. This may have been partially due to the influence of Dr. Jean Baptiste Phillipe's book A Free Mulatto (1824).[7] At the request of Governor Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, on 25 July, "Dr. Jean Baptiste Phillipe the first coloured member of the Council, proposed a resolution to end apprenticeship and this was passed. [...] Full emancipation for all was finally legally granted ahead of schedule on 1 August 1838."[8]

1838 also saw the abolition of the "apprenticeship" system in Jamaica, Barbados, and the Leeward and Windward Islands.

To deal with the problem of "shortage of labour", Trinidad and Tobago planters compensated for the loss of their slaves by importing workers from the 1830s until 1917. Initially, Chinese, free West Africans, and Portuguese from the island of Madeira were imported. They were replaced by indentured servants from India who arrived on 30 May 1845. In addition, large numbers of ex-slaves migrated from the Lesser Antilles to Trinidad and Tobago.

Agricultural development and indentured labour

The sugarcane plantations which dominated the economy of Trinidad and Tobago in the 19th century gradually gave ground to the cultivation of cacao. Trinidad and Tobago chocolate became a high-priced, much sought-after commodity. The Colonial government opened land to settlers interested in establishing cacao estates. French Creoles (white Trinidadian elites descended from the original French settlers) were being marginalised economically by large English business concerns who were buying up sugar plantations, and this gave them a fresh avenue of economic development.

Venezuelan farmers with experience in cacao cultivation were also encouraged to settle in Trinidad and Tobago, where they provided much of the early labour in these estates. Many of the former cocoa-producing areas of Trinidad retain a distinctly Spanish flavour and many of the descendants of the Cocoa Panyols (from 'espagnol') remain in these areas including Trinidad and Tobago's most famous cricketer, Brian Charles Lara.

After the slaves were freed, the plantation owners were desperate for new sources of labour. In 1839 the British government began a programme of recruiting Indian labourers in Calcutta to be sent to Trinidad and British Guiana, now Guyana. They bound themselves to work as indentured labourers for a set number of years on the plantations. The mostly Hindu and Muslim labourers were compelled to work 7 and a half hours a day, six days a week for 3 years, receiving about 13 cents a day for their work. At first, half of the recruits were women but, in 1840, the proportion was reduced to a third of the number of men. In 1844, the period of indenture was extended to five years with a guarantee that, if they wished, they would get a free passage home at the end of their service. In 1853 the law was again amended to allow the indentured labourers to re-indenture themselves for a second five-year term or, if they wished, to commute any portion of their contract by repayment of a proportionate part of their indenture fee.

Newly arrived indentured Indians in Trinidad and Tobago

Many Indian immigrants who had completed their indentureship also established cocoa estates, most notable of them being Haji Gokool Meah, a Kashmiri-born immigrant who went on to the become one of the wealthiest men in Trinidad and Tobago. The Indian community has steadily prospered and grown until now it makes up about 35% of the population of the nation (the largest ethnic group by about 1%).

The arrival of witches' broom and black pod diseases in the 1930s coupled with the Great Depression, destroyed the cacao industry in Trinidad and Tobago. Although prices for Trinidad and Tobago cocoa beans remains high on the world markets, cocoa is no more than a marginal crop. Relations between the Indian immigrants, and both the British, and the black population were generally strained,[9] and occasionally erupted into violence such as the 1884 Hosay massacre.

Discovery of oil

The American Merrimac Oil Company drilled an early oil well at La Brea at Trinidad and Tobago in 1857, where oil was struck at 280 feet (85 m). Also mentioned is the pioneering work of Capt. Darwent with his Paria Petroleum Company Limited, and Conrad F. Stollmeyer (who was great grandfather of Republic Bank’s then Chairman, former West Indies cricket captain, Jeffrey Stollmeyer), an entrepreneur of that period who felt that a combustible fuel could not be distilled out of the asphalt from the pitch lake. The other point of view from Capt. Darwent was that a combustible fuel, refined from oil drilled from the earth would be the ideal fuel for the future."[10]

In either 1865, 1866, or 1867, according to different accounts, the American civil engineer, Walter Darwent, discovered and produced oil at Aripero. Efforts in 1867 to begin production by the Trinidad and Tobago Petroleum Company at La Brea and the Pariah Petroleum Company at Aripero were poorly financed and abandoned after Walter Darwent died of yellow fever.

In 1893 Mr Randolph Rust, along with his neighbour, Mr Lee Lum, drilled a successful well near Darwent's original one. By early 1907 major drilling operations began, roads and other infrastructure were built. Annual production of oil in Trinidad and Tobago reached 47,000 barrels (7,500 m3) by 1910 and kept rapidly increasing year by year.[11] [12]

Estimated oil production in Trinidad and Tobago in 2005 was about 150,000 bbl/d (24,000 m3/d).[13]

20th-century political development

Trinidad was ruled as a crown colony with no elected representation until 1925. Although Tobago had an elected Assembly, this was dissolved prior to the union of the two islands. In 1925 the first elections to the Legislative Council were held. Seven of the thirteen members were elected, the others were nominated by the Governor. The franchise was determined by income, property and residence qualifications, and was limited to men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. The 1946 elections were the first with universal adult suffrage.

Labour riots in 1937 led by T.U.B. Butler (an immigrant from the neighbouring island of Grenada) shook the country and led to the formation of the modern Trade Union movement. Butler was jailed from 1937 to 1939, but was re-arrested when the United Kingdom entered World War II and jailed for the duration of the war. After his release in 1945 Butler reorganised his political party, the British Empire Citizens' and Workers' Home Rule Party. This party won a plurality in the 1950 general elections, the establishment feared Butler as a radical and instead Albert Gomes became the first Chief Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

The 1956 general elections saw the emergence of the People's National Movement under the leadership of Eric Williams. The PNM, opposed by Dr. Rudranath Capildeo of the Democratic Labor Party and Ashford Sinanan, who later founded the West Indian National Party (WINP),[14] continued to dominate politics in Trinidad and Tobago until 1986. The party won every General Election between 1956 and 1981. Williams became Prime Minister at independence, and remained in that position until his death in 1981.

In 1958, the United Kingdom tried to establish an independent West Indies Federation comprising most of the former British West Indies. However, disagreement over the structure of the federation led to Jamaica's withdrawal. Eric Williams responded to this with his now famous calculation "One from ten leaves nought." Trinidad and Tobago chose not to bear the financial burden without Jamaica's assistance, and the Federation collapsed. Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence via the Trinidad and Tobago Independence Act 1962 on August 31, 1962 within the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as its titular head of state. On 1 August 1976, the country became a republic, and the last Governor-General, Sir Ellis Clarke, became the first President.

In 1968 the National Joint Action Committee was formed by members of the Guild of Undergraduates at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, under the leadership of Geddes Granger. In 1969 it was formally launched to protest the arrest of West Indian students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. Together with Trade Unions and other groups, this led to the birth of the Black Power movement. In 1970 a series of marches and strikes led to the declaration of a State of Emergency and the arrest of 15 Black Power leaders. In sympathy with the arrested leaders, a portion of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, led by Raffique Shah and Rex Lassalle mutinied and took hostages at the Teteron Barracks (located on the Chaguaramas Peninsula). However, the Coast Guard remained loyal and was able to isolate the mutineers at Teteron (as the only way out was along a narrow coastal road). After 5 days the mutineers surrendered.

Political difficulties in the post-Black Power era culminated in the "No Vote" campaign of 1971 (which resulted in the PNM winning all the seats in Parliament). In 1973, in the face of a collapsing economy Eric Williams was prepared to resign as Prime Minister. However, the outbreak of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War led to the recovery of oil prices and Williams remained in office. The high oil prices of the 1970s and early 1980s led to an oil boom which resulted in a large increase in salaries, standards of living, and corruption.

In 1979, construction on the Eric Williams Plaza began. It would eventually finish in 1986. It remained the tallest building in Trinidad and Tobago until the construction of the Nicholas Tower in 2003.

Williams died in office in 1981. The PNM remained in power following the death of Dr. Williams, but its 30-year rule ended in 1986 when the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), a multi-ethnic coalition aimed at uniting Trinidadians of Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian descent, won a landslide victory by capturing 33 of 36 seats. Tobago's A. N. R. Robinson, the political leader of the NAR, was named Prime Minister. The NAR also won 11 of the 12 seats in the Tobago House of Assembly. The NAR began to break down when the Indian component withdrew in 1988. Basdeo Panday, leader of the old United Labour Front (ULF), formed the new opposition with the United National Congress (UNC). The NAR's margin was immediately reduced to 27 seats, with six for the UNC and three for the PNM.

In July 1990, the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an extremist Black Muslim group with an unresolved grievance against the government over land claims, tried to overthrow the NAR government. The group held the prime minister and members of parliament hostage for five days while rioting shook Port of Spain. After a long standoff with the police and military, the Jamaat al Muslimeen leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, and his followers surrendered to Trinidadian authorities. Having had the matter referred back to the local courts by the Privy Council with a clear indication of a view that the amnesty was valid, in July 1992, the High Court upheld the validity of a government amnesty given to the Jamaat members during the hostage crisis. Abu Bakr and 113 other Jamaat members were jailed for two years while the courts debated the amnesty's validity. All 114 members were eventually released. Subsequent to this, the UK Privy Council deemed the amnesty invalid but expressed the view that it would be improper to re-arrest the 114 accused.

In December 1991, the NAR captured only the two districts in Tobago. The PNM, led by Patrick Manning, carried a majority of 21 seats, and the UNC came in second. Manning became the new Prime Minister and Basdeo Panday continued to lead the opposition. In November 1995, Manning called early elections, in which the PNM and UNC both won 17 seats and the NAR won two seats. The UNC allied with the NAR and formed the new government, with Panday becoming prime minister – the first prime minister of Indo-Trinidadian descent.

Elections held in December 2000 returned the UNC to power when they won 19 seats, while the opposition PNM won 16, and the NAR 1. The UNC government fell in October 2001 with the defection of three of its parliamentarians amidst allegations of corruption in the then UNC government, and the December 2001 elections resulted in an even 18 to 18 split between the UNC and the PNM. President Robinson appointed Patrick Manning Prime Minister despite the fact that the UNC won the popular vote and that Panday was the sitting Prime Minister. Despite the fact that Manning was unable to attract a majority (and Parliament was thus unable to sit), he delayed calling elections until October 2002. The PNM formed the next government after winning 20 seats, while the UNC won 16. Both parties are committed to free market economic policies and increased foreign investment. Trinidad and Tobago has remained cooperative with the United States in the regional fight against narcotics trafficking and on other issues.

The serious crime situation in the country has led to a severe deterioration in security conditions in the country. In addition, a resurgent Jamaat al Muslimeen continues to be a threat to stability. The FBI recently opened an office in Trinidad and Tobago in connection with its hunt for Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah.

On 26 May 2010, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, leader of the People's Partnership, was sworn in as the country's first female Prime Minister. On 21 August 2011, she asked President George Maxwell Richards to declare a limited state of emergency.[15]

See also


  1. "Railroad Map of Trinidad". World Digital Library. 1925. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  2. Carmichael (1961).
  3. Whitehead, 1997.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Ramerini, Marco. Colonial Voyage. "Dutch and Courlanders on Tobago: A History of the First Settlements, 16281677". Accessed 23 November 2012.
  5. Bridget Brereton (5 June 2013). "The Merikens again". Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspaper.
  6. McNish Weiss, John (2002). The Merikens: Free Black American settlers in Trinidad 1815-16 (2nd ed.). London: McNish & Weiss. ISBN 0 9526460 5 6.
  7. Carmichael (1961), p. 196, n.
  8. Dryden, John. 1992, "Pas de Six Ans!" In: Seven Slaves & Slavery: Trinidad and Tobago 1777–1838, by Anthony de Verteuil, Port of Spain, pp. 371–379.
  9. Moore, P. J. (1999), "Colonial Images of Blacks and Indians in Nineteenth-Century Guyana", in Brereton, B., and Kevin A. Yelvington, KA (eds), The Colonial Caribbean in Transition: Essays on Post-emancipation Social and Cultural Life, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, p. 154.
  10. SPETT.org Makin' Hole. Newsletter of The Society of Petroleum Engineers (Trinidad and Tobago Section). Issue 28, November 2002.
  11. The New Trinidad & Tobago – from the original by Jos. A. De Suze (1846–1941), Collins, 1965. Reprint 1972.
  12. Trinidad and Tobago's Oil: An Illustrated Survey of the Oil Industry in Trinidad and Tobago. The Petroleum Association of Trinidad and Tobago. 1952.
  13. CIA.Gov, CIA World Factbook
  14. Democratic Labour Party (Trinidad and Tobago)
  15. "LIMITED STATE Of EMERGENCY: Trinidad and Tobago moving to deal with upsurge in murders". Cananews. Caribbean Media Corporation. 21 August 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011..


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