A Brief History of St. Joseph Reporters
May 24, 2006

San José de Oruña, the town of St. Joseph, was established one hundred years after Christopher Columbus came to the shores of Trinidad in 1492. St. Joseph was the first capital of the island and was founded by Don Antonio de Berrio y Oruña who had inherited a Royal Charter to explore the mythical city of gold, El Dorado, for Spain in 1580. After his failed attempts to discover El Dorado, Don Antonio de Berrio y Oruña had decided to establish his base in St. Joseph because it was close to the South American mainland which may have contained the precious metal.

Don Antonio de Berrio y Oruña, who was made governor by the Spanish Court, sent his second-in-command, Domingo de Vera, to establish a good site for a town. Reputedly, an Arawak chief, Goangoanare, gave de Vera land in the St. Joseph area to settle on. During de Vera's tenure, he began the development of the area by the construction of a plaza or square, the Casa Real or Government's House, the Cabildo or Town Hall, a church and a prison.

The city of St. Joseph failed to stand tall for a brief period in its history as it was set on fire by Sir Walter Raleigh, who had done so to avenge the betrayal of “eight of Captain Whiddo's men” by De Berrio. The city was later rebuilt by Fernando de Berrio, son of Don Antonio de Berrio in 1597 and burnt down again in 1649 during a Dutch raid. However, this did not stop the redevelopment of the area which continued to attract visitors and future residents.

Despite the fact that the hilly and sometimes muddy terrain did not meet the expectations of some of the visiting Governors, San José still remained the capital during Spanish rule until 1784, when Governor Don José Maria Chacon declared Puerto de España (Port-of-Spain), the new capital. San José was still considered a major town on the island despite the fact that other towns such as Tunapuna, Arouca and Princes Town were far more populous and active than St. Joseph. In fact, in 1797, when the British acquired the island, St. Joseph was still significant historically as it provided a safe haven for Chacon during this period and in Valsyn Estate in St. Joseph, the capitulation agreement was signed.

St. Joseph, now so called after the British took ownership of the island, was busy with activity with up to thirteen sugar mills, seven coffee mills, four cotton mills and two rum distilleries during the 16th century.

Also noteworthy in the history of St. Joseph was the rebellion which occurred during British rulership of the island in 1837. The principle figure in the rebellion was an African who described himself as a chief called ‘Daaga'. This hero, who refused to be regarded as a slave, mustered support from his fellow Africans who were part of the Third West India Regiment, which was stationed there at the time. Although the rebellion was quickly quelled, it remains a momentous event in the struggle for African liberation in Trinidad and Tobago. St. Joseph was also the first area in Trinidad to have a railway service in operation.

Today, St. Joseph is not the busy town that it strived to be, competing with the growth and popularity of other surrounding areas such as Curepe and Tunapuna. Visible in the area are schools such as St. Joseph's Government Primary School, St Joseph's Girls' R.C., St. Joseph's Boys' R.C., St. Joseph's College and St. Joseph's Convent.

Another landmark is the Roman Catholic Church which was built in 1815 on the site of the first church which was erected by Domingo de Vera in 1592. With a population numbering in the thousands, St. Joseph still maintains its popularity and its historical authenticity is still highly regarded in the history of Trinidad and Tobago.

St. Joseph Album:

Homepage | Carnival Features | Special Events | Photo Gallery