Trinidad and Tobago History

According to historians, the island of Trinidad was the first place to be settled in the Caribbean. That happened some 7,000 years ago, and these settlers were Amerindians who ventured over from South America. Not long after reaching the shores of Trinidad, Amerindians also came to inhabit the smaller island of Tobago. It was just a matter of time, however, until Europeans showed up, however, forever changing Trinidad and Tobago history. The Amerindians would end up sharing their land, whether they liked it or not, and though descendants of these indigenous peoples can be found in the country today, none of them are pure blood. European settlers eventually brought in slaves and indentured servants to work their cocoa and sugar plantations, thus contributing to the wonderfully mixed culture of Trinidad and Tobago. The history of Trinidad and Tobago has seen its fair share of calamity, but today, this West Indies nation is proud of its identity, and for good reason. Just come during Carnival, and you’ll see just how proud the people here really are.

It was none other than Christopher Columbus who was the first European to spot both Trinidad and Tobago. He did so during a voyage in 1498, and it was the Holy Trinity that inspired his naming of Trinidad. Columbus landed at Trinidad, but he did not set foot on Tobago. As for the naming of Tobago, it is widely believed that it comes from the Carib Indians and alludes to the island’s tobacco-growing prowess. Because the early Spanish visitors did not find Trinidad to be particularly rich in precious metals, they did not hang around at first. Instead, they shipped a good amount of the native Amerindians off to their other settlements in the region. Almost 100 years later, however, the Spanish would return. The first real Spanish settlement in Trinidad was founded in the 1530s. In 1595, however, this settlement was invaded by Sir Walter Raleigh, who proceeded to burn it to the ground. Raleigh did not stick around for too long, however, and the Spanish were able to maintain control of Trinidad. This would begin a pattern of skirmishes between European nations that helped to shape Trinidad and Tobago history.

While the Spanish vested their interests in Trinidad, the Dutch looked to make Tobago their island. They were joined in Tobago by the Courlanders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Courlanders were of Latvian origin, and together with the Dutch, they cultivated cotton and tobacco on the island of Tobago. While the Dutch and the Courlanders were thriving in Tobago, the Spanish were struggling to truly establish themselves in Trinidad. It was the 1783 Cedula de Poblacion that is perhaps the most significant occurrence when it comes to events that shaped the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. This Cedula de Poblacion granted land in Trinidad to Roman Catholic settlers, and these settlers were allowed to bring all the slaves that they wanted to. Families from Italy, Ireland, and England soon arrived among families from other European countries as well. In 1789, French planters from the Caribbean brought slaves with them in number, looking to establish the island’s cocoa and sugar industries. By 1802, Trinidad fell into the hands of the British, who abolished slavery on the island not long thereafter. To this day, many Trinidad and Tobago residents are of African heritage, which is a testament to the island’s slave days.

In addition to the Dutch and the Courlanders, Tobago was also fought over by the English and the French all the while. Thousands of slaves worked the plantations in Tobago, helping furthermore to shape the modern-day culture of Trinidad and Tobago. The British ruled over most of Tobago for quite some time, and they built Fort King George in the eighteenth century to protect their Tobago capital of Scarborough. French forces would invade Fort King George and Tobago in 1781, but Britain retained possession in 1814. Coincidentally, at the site of the ruins of Fort King George, you will also find a museum that is dedicated to Tobago’s history. The Tobago Museum is a great place to gain insight into the history of Trinidad and Tobago, as is the National Museum and Art Gallery, which can be found in the country’s capital city of Port of Spain.

By 1889, Tobago was annexed to Trinidad by the British, and the two islands became one nation. It wasn’t until 1962 that Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from Great Britain, and by 1976, it officially deemed itself a republic. Something that should be pointed out when it comes to Trinidad and Tobago history, is the prior abolition of slavery by the British. This move led plantation owners to bring in indentured laborers in the mid-1800s. Workers from India, the Middle East, and China were among these laborers, and today the culture of Trinidad and Tobago exhibits so much diversity because of its past. This rich culture is just part of what makes a Trinidad and Tobago vacation so rewarding.

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