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The Tainos : Rise & Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus
The Tainos : Rise & Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus

History of the people of Trinidad and Tobago
History of the people of Trinidad and Tobago

Capitalism and Slavery
Capitalism and Slavery

From Columbus to Castro
From Columbus to Castro

A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present
A Brief History of the Caribbean

The Black Jacobins
The Black Jacobins

Rituals of Power & Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition In Trinidad & Tobago 1763 - 1962
Rituals of Power & Rebellion

Tobago Overview
The 17th and 18th centuries

Tobago, originally populated by the fierce Caribs, was cccupied by Spain from the 15th century.

Allegedly, it was on Columbus' third voyage in August 1498 that the admiral of the ocean sighted Tobago and Grenada as he sailed out of the Gulf of Paria, through the Dragon’s Mouth, and headed northwest for Hispaniola.

In 1502, Alonzo de Ogeda, accompanied by Columbus’ pilot Juan de la Cosa, sailed from Spain on his second Caribbean voyage. Two of the four ships he sailed with were called ‘Santa Maria de la Grenada’ and ‘La Magdalena’. On reaching Trinidad, a third ship, the ‘Santa Anna’ went missing. While searching for it to the north east of Trinidad, both Grenada and Tobago were sighted, and as was customary named after the two vesseld: Tobago becoming ‘La Magdalena’ as it appears on a map dated 1508, printed in Naples, Italy.

‘La Magdalena’ did not survive as a name. Instead, the island became known first as ‘Tavaco’, then ‘Tabagua’, then as ‘Tobago’, which was the name given by the tribal people who inhabited the island to their long-stemmed pipes in which they smoked a herb that they called ‘cohiba’. It is possible, even probable, that Tobago was named or rather misnamed after the leaf which was found growing there and is now smoked throughout the world.

Tobago was contested by Holland, the Duchy of Courland, England and France. Duke, Jacobus, who had been granted the island by his godfather James I. of England gave the Courlanders rights to Tobago. This claim was later enhanced when Charles I. of England transferred to the Duke all claims to Tobago which were previously given by royal privilege to the Earl of Warwick.

The first dispatch of settlers left Courland in 1642 and established a colony in Courland Bay.

They cleared some land and planted crops, and eventually Fort Jacobus was built. The built the first Lutheran church in the western world.

On the northern shores of Tobago, in 1654 two Dutch merchants, Adrian and Cornelius Lampsins, dispatched a number of persons to settle Tobago. The Dutch established themselves on the other side of the island without the knowledge of the Courlanders for many years. Both colonies engaged in agricultural pursuits, planting tobacco which was becoming very popular in Europe.

In the early 17th century the colonists used African slaves. Large quantities the Dutch and Courlandian peasants were sent to Tobago to work in the fields.

With the fall of the Duchy of Courland to Sweden in 1658, much confusion ensued in Tobago. No vessels arrived to supply the Courlandian settlement and the Dutch were able to take control. Over decades the Spanish, French, Dutch and English contested violently for Tobago. Eventually Tobago passed into British hands at the beginning of the 19th century.

Tobago was already a flourishing plantation island while trinidad was still heavily forested.

In the 18th century, Tobago was much fought over by the Courlanders, the Dutch, the British and the French. The land, which was mainly under sugar cane, tobacco and cotton and successfully worked by slave labour, was so prosperous that in 1783 the British Crown compelled a comprehensive survey and structuring of Tobago. The island was divided into eight parishes, lots and boundaries were marked out, and even parish priests and teachers were allotted land in each parish. Rich settlers got prime agricultural lands, poor settlers got swamp land and slopes. All with a view to making the colony efficient for Britan.

But back to the 17th century. In 1674, the Dutch built ‘Sterreschan’, the castle in lower Scarborough. In those days, Scarborough was not the capital of the island. Scarborough became the capital about 100 years later. Plymouth was the original choice for the capital, but the owner of nearby Courland estate prevented that. In 1763, George Town in Barbados Bay was made capital, but six years later the then British administration decided to move to Scarborough - the only capital in the Lesser Antilles to be located on the Windward side of an island.

In the 18th century the English colonists encouraged sugar cultivation. In 1773, there were 84 sugar mills all over the island. When sugar prices started to fall, the rich Tobago planters switched to cotton, which was to become the largest crop towards the end of the 18th century. The land under sugar cane declined to 5,000 acres, and cotton was planted on 15,000 acres.

In 1779, Fort King George was built which did not serve the English well when Tobago was recaptured by the French in 1781. The French changed the name to Fort Louis. In 1793 Tobago was recaptured by the British. In 1802 Tobago went back to the French. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna confirmed the British 'ownership' of Tobago.

The French legacy in Tobago in the early days crowned by the construction of the Windward Road between Scarborough and Tyrrel’s Bay in 1783. Tobago evolved its own unique social. Tobago was mostly agricultural and land-ownership by the 'freed' slaves gave the island a completely different structure from Trinidad.

With the abolishing of slavery in 1838, most freed slaves did not stay on the plantations. The estate lands went abandoned, and were taken back by the British Crown. Tobago’s economy declined, and the island became burden on the British treasury. In a phased process, which began in 1883 and ended in 1899, Tobago was annexed to Trinidad and became a ward of the Crown Colony to save the British administrative expense.

In the 17th and 18th century the European powers fourght for Tobago more than Trinidad. Tobago was more developed and was providing sugar to England while Trinidad was an underpopulated Spanish colony. I was in the late 18th century that French settlers and their slaves started to establish large plantations in Trinidad.

In 1950, Tobagonian historian Carlton Ottley wrote an ironic account of it in his little travel-book about Tobago:

"[Tobagonian] Governor Llewelyn invited Governor Robinson from Trinidad to come to a dinner here. When the roast lamb was brought in, the legend goes, Llewelyn was pressing home his point as to the advantages that would be derived by Trinidad as being able to procure so near and cheap a supply of foodstuffs, and more especially livestock. There was, however, need for no further dilation on the point, for the proof of the theory was in the eating of the lamb."
The inhabitants, however, had some short-term benefits from the union. Tobago became the ‘market garden’ of Trinidad, as Ottley describes in the 1950s, and Tobagonians had less duty to pay on foodstuffs and imported goods. As Ottley relates in the following anecdote:
"At a public meeting held in Scarborough, the head teacher addressed the tightly packed audience thus: ‘Brethren, do you want annexation?’ The motley crowd rose up with a great shout and answered: ‘No!’ When with difficulty silence had been restored, the speaker continued. ‘But brethren,’ said he, ‘if we should get annexation we are also going to get salt-fish cheap, flour cheap, cornmeal cheap, for we ain’t going to pay no duty. Now do you want annexation?’ And the crowd rose once more and shouted: ‘Gie a we annixation, gie a we annixation!’ And thus it was, that when the leg of mutton came in and the people shouted ‘gie a we annixation’, Tobago’s independence passed away."
In 1962, however, she became part of a truly independent country, Trinidad and Tobago, and in 1976, gained republican status along with Trinidad.

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