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History of Tobago

A Potted History of Tobago

B.C.: There were three early Amerindian cultures. First, the Ciboney, about whom little is known; experts date between 700 and 1000 BC. Exactly where they came from is unknown.
The Arawaks and Caribs who followed the Ciboney were in the late Stone Age.
1498: Columbus sighted the island and called it Bellaforma. For a long period there was no recorded history of Tobago.
1580: British seamen visited the island and reported that it was uninhabited.
1596: Keymis visited the island and found it deserted

1608: James I, King of England, claimed Tobago.
1614: Spain tried to establish trade with the island.
1627: Captain J. Gijsz, on his return journey to Holland from Brazil, visited Tobago.
He reported that the island was uninhabited and would be a good place to establish a settlement
1628: Charles I, King of England, granted Tobago to Philip, Earl of Montgomery, who later became Earl of Pembroke.
1629: Jan de Moor, Burgomaster of Flushing, sent an expedition of Dutchmen who made a settlement called New Walcheren (probably Plymouth). Disease and Indians wiped it out.


1632: Dutch settlers attacked by Spaniards from Trinidad. Cornelis, Jan de Moor's son, was captured and the settlers driven out.
1637: English Puritans from Barbados attempted to settle. Most of them were killed by Indians. Those who managed to escape sailed away to Providence Island, Bahamas.
1638: The Earl of Warwick who had purchased Pembroke's rights sent an expedition which was attacked and destroyed by Indians. James, Duke of Courland (Kurland, Latvia), said to be the godson of James I, King of England, who had been granted the island by King Charles I of England, sent an expedition to Tobago. The settlers were at peace with the Indians but fever wiped out the settlement.


1642: James, Duke of Courland, aided by the Dutch, sent another expedition. A settlement was made at Courland Bay. Later in the same year, the Earl of Warwick made another settlement. Tobacco and indigo were planted. Indians again routed the settlers; the few who managed to excape went to Surinam (Dutch Guiana).
1647: Tobago offered for sale in England. There were no buyers.
1650: Courlanders driven out by Indian; survivors went to Pomeron (British Guyana). 

The Courland Monument

1654: Third attempt to settle the island made by the Duke of Courland. More than 100 families arrived from Europe. Without modern financial conveniences, these families didn't have the option of taking out small business loans and were all forced to start from scratch and live off of the land. The Dutchman, Willem Mollens, took official possession of Tobago in the name of the Duke and renamed the island "New Courland". In this year, Adriaen and Cornelis Lampsins, heirs of the De Moores, attempted a settlement in another part of the island, under Peter Becquard as Commander. He renamed the island "New Walcheren". Tobago became divided into two parts. This led to a dispute between Courlanders and Dutch settlers. The matter was reported to the States General in Holland, who supported the Courlanders against their own countrymen. Duke James became the undisputed master of the island. However, he was seized in Europe by the King of Sweden and taken to Riga. Dutch planters in Tobago surrounded the Courlanders who surrendered to them.

1659: Mollens, the Governor of the Courland colony, is forced to leave the island.
1662: Dutch settlers now obtained a grant of Tobago from Louis XIV of France. The French West India Company surrendered their rights and the French created the Lampsins "Barons of Tobago".
1664: Charles II of England re-granted Tobago to the Duke of Courland, who at this time did not attempt another settlement.
1665: New Walcheren had between 1000 and 1500 colonists and 7000 slaves.


1666: Four English vessels under the command of Captain Poyntz captured the Dutch settlement. He took 150 prisoners and left a small garrison which shortly afterwards was evicted by the French from Grenada, who then abandoned the island.
1667: Treaty of Breda allows the French to keep Tobago. The Dutch appointed Abel Tisso, a Frenchman, as Governor to reform the settlement.
1672: The English, under Sir Tobias Bridges, captured the Dutch Governor, took 400 prisoners, destroyed the settlement and then abandoned the island.
1676: The Dutch began another settlement with a large number of negroes captured from the French in Cayenne and Marie Galante.
1677: In March, the Dutch Admiral Binckes defeated the French Fleet in Roodklip Baai (Rockly Bay). Towards the end of the year, the French returned, captured the Dutch Governor, destroyed the settlement and then abandoned the island.
1678: The Duke of Courland tried in vain to get settlers for Tobago.(Flag below)


1679: By the treaty of Nimeguen, Tobago was restored to the Dutch.
1680: The Duke of Courland again attempted to settle in the island. He granted a title to some London merchants headed by Captain John Poyntz. When all the arrangements had been made, the Privy Council in London held up sailing pending negotiations for a Treaty.
1685: Publication of Poyntz's pamphlet about Tobago.
1686: In spite of the fact that the British Government had declared that the grant made to the Duke of Courland was null and void, he made further attempts to settle the island. At about the same time, English and French companies tried to establish themselves.

1698: HMS Speedwell, with soldiers on board, was sent from Barbados to suppress pirates who had established themselves in Tobago. The British Government, on hearing that preparations were being made for a settlement under the supervision of the Duke of Courland to be held by Sir William Waller, issued orders to stop all vessels leaving England for Tobago.
1699: Courland's grant again declared null and void by the British Government. At the same time the right of the British Crown to Tobago and St. Lucia was affirmed.
1702: Petitions from Captain Poyntz and other made to the British Crown praying to be allowed to settle Tobago, were refused. Further petitions refuses. The island then became a no-man's-land.
1705: A French squadron used Tobago as a base for attacking English West Indian island.
1714: Ayris, the Paramount Indian Chief, was sent from Barbados to Tobago where he was made the Governor. In 1715, he appealed to the English Governor of Barbados for protection against rebellious negroes. He was assured of British protection. Britain claimed sovereignty against the French.
1719: Publication of Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe", Vol I and II.
1720: The Governor of Barbados authorized to make grants of land in Tobago for the cultivation of cacao, indigo, etc., but no sugar for this would be against the interest of Barbados. HMS Winchelsea captured Captain Finn with a party of pirates on the island which was now a pirate's nest.
: The Governor of Barbados reported that the French were still claiming Tobago. The British government authorized the Governor of Barbados to maintain England's right but to avoid a clash with the French.

1731: Ferdinand, Duke of Courland, supported by the King of Poland, tried to regain Tobago. In the same year he offered to sell Tobago to the Swedes but the Swedish Ambassador in England, on making enquiries regarding his rights to the island, was told that he had no rights and at the same time warned the King of Sweden to stay away from Tobago.


1732: The Swedes attempted a settlement. They landed 25 families and slaves but were driven out by the Indians.
1748: Marquis de Saylus, French Governor of Martinique, attempted a settlement, landed troops and built a fort. The British remonstrated to the French Government who disowned the Marquis' act. English and French governments agreed to declare the island neutral. Subjects of both nations left the island and the fort was destroyed.
1762: The English captured Tobago. It was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
1764: T. Alexander Brown was appointed Governor in November. The only inhabitants were a few Indians and French turtlers. There was a lot of valuable land available. In December, General Robert Melville was appointed Governor General of Grenada, Tobago, St. Vincent, and Dominica. He resided in Grenada.
 At this time, Tobago was divided into parishes.
1768: In April, the first session of Legislative Council and Assembly was held at Georgetown, Barbados Bay (Studley Park) where the first town was established but never finished.
1769: Seat of the government removed to Scarborough which was considered to be a more suitable place. A house at Orange Hill was issued as the residence of the Lt. Governor.
Uprising of slaves at Queen's Bay. First shipment of sugar from Tobago left from Gedney Clarke's estate in St Mary's Parish (Studley Park). Population: 209 white men, 3, 090 Negroes. John Paul (who later changed his name to Jones) visited Tobago where he was brought before the Court of Vice-Admiralty and changed with ill-treating his ship's carpenter. (John Paul Jones was born in Scotland in 1747. His father was a gardener. He died in poverty in Paris and was buried there. He is regarded as the founder of the US Navy. His masthead is said to have been the first to have flown the 'Stars and Stripes').
1771: Two insurrections of slaves. Both put down the militia.
1774: Another uprising of slaves.
1775: Cultivation of sugar cane abandoned on account of devastation by millions of ants. Cotton was planted in its place. Population about 2,300 whites, 1,050 free people of colour, 10,800 slaves.
1777: Governor Major William Young killed in a duel with P.Franklyn. American privateers raided Tobago. They came in armed boats and got away with whatever they could get.
1778: An American squadron tired to capture Tobago but was driven off by HMS Yarmouth. It was at about this time that guns were mounted on estates for their protection.
1779: Grenada captured by the French. British Governor General taken prisoner.
1780: Population 11,087. Exports: cotton - 2,619,000 lbs; indigo - 27,000 lbs.
1781: The first clergyman of the Established Church began his work in Tobago. Church registers kept from this date. In April the French captured Tobago. Lt. Governor Ferguson taken prisoner.
1782: Population 11,087. Exports: cotton - 2, 619,000 lbs; indigo - 27,000 lbs. Cotton Hill (French Fort) fortified. The French Government ordered all proprietors to produce titles to their lands within a month. 1783: Tobago ceded to the French by the Treaty of Versailles. Philbert de Blanchard appointed Governor by the French. In this year, the total population of Trinidad was less than 800 inhabitants.
1784: Arthur Count Dillan, an Irishman, appointed Governor by the French.
1785: Planters unable to produce title deeds. Crown lands to be sold only to those of French nationality. King of France demanded annual free gilts from the island. 336 persons who formerly swore allegiance to Britain now swore featly to France hoping by doing this to retain their lands.
1787: Scarborough renamed Port Louis. The fort on Scarborough Hill called Fort Castries.

1789: First Moravian Mission established.(The Moravian Church traces its roots back to very early reformist movements in Bohemia and Moravia (today in the Czech Republic) linked to Johann Hus. The movement, generally referred to as the Bohemian or Moravian brothers, survived the initial attempts to have it destroyed by the Catholic church. After the Reformation had swept large parts of Europe, the Counter-Reformation nearly succeeded in destroying the remnants of this brotherhood which scattered to remote areas throughout Bohemia and Moravia.)


1790: Mutiny of French troops. Scarborough destroyed by fire. In August, a hurricane passed over the islands causing considerable damage.
1793: On April 15th, Tobago captured by the British. The island then became a separate government with her own governor, a legislative Council appointed by the British Crown and a representative house termed the General Assembly.
1794: Militia formed.
1795: Corps of Black Jaegers formed, made up of 100 trusted slaves under white officers for internal protection. Proclamation requiring all male inhabitants to take oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Almost all the French inhabitants refused, so were regarded as prisoners of war.
1798: Sugar once more in cultivation, as cotton and indigo cultivation were not considered so important. At this time Negroes were allowed to trade freely. A great number were thus able to buy their freedom. 1800: Grave shortage of imported food. Island's crops failed causing widespread alarm. People were unable to feed themselves of their slaves. No Christmas supplies available. Population: 2,300 Europeans, 1,050 Free Colonists, 10,000 slaves. 106 estates.
1801: Threatened uprising of slaves averted by the prompt action of Brigadier General H.L. Carmichael, who on hearing of the plot seized 30 ringleaders. One he hanged on the signal staff at Fort King George, the body was lowered and raised 29 times. This put an end to all ideas of insurrection.
1802: By the Treaty of Amiens, the island was surrendered to the French. General Sabuguet was appointed Governor. During his term of office the Council and General Assembly voted unanimously in favour of Bonaparte being elected Consul for life. It was also decided that the constitution and laws should not be changed.
1803: British troops landed at Arnos Vale and marched to Mt. Grace. From there they were shown the way to the fort by a slave, George Winchester, who was rewarded by being given his freedom and 30 to set himself up in business. The French surrendered without resistance. In July, a Proclamation was issued allowing imported provisions and other goods to be brought in to Tobago in American vessels. 1805: Nelson in Caribbean waters looking for French fleet. He anchored in Courland bay where he remained overnight. Plans for defence of the island were drawn up.
1807: Abolition of the Slave Trade in all British dominions. At the time there were 15,000 slaves in Tobago.
1812: An Indian, call Louis, with his family of 200 persons were the only remaining settlers on the north coast.
1814: By the Treaty of Ghent, the war between Great Britain and the United States came to an end. 1815: Tobago ceded to Great Britain by the first Treaty of Paris.
1816: Tobago's motto, "Pulchrior evenit" adopted. Act passed for the building of St. Andrew's Church, Scarborough. The market place in Scarborough required for public purposes. All buildings there removed.
1818: Society of Wesleyans established a Mission. Spotted deer introduced from the Spanish Main. 1819: St. Andrew's Church in Scarborough consecrated.
1821: Foundation stone of Court House and Public Office laid at the Market Place. This building was considered to be one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the West Indies. Recently alterations have ruined the character of the building which has lost most of its original characteristics. 1822: Scarborough declared a Free Port. Agriculture in a poor state.
1826: New Wesleyan Chapel opened in Scarborough.
1828: New Government House at Mt. William finished.
1833: Tobago ceased to form a separate government and became part of the Windward Islands with a Governor General in Barbados and a Lt. General in Tobago. Agricultural Society formed in this year. 1834: Emancipation of slaves. The Apprentice System, under which slaves were bound to their former masters for 4 to 6 years, came into force. All children under 6 years of age unconditionally free. The transition period passed peacefully in Tobago. 11,589 slaves freed; compensation of 233,875 paid to previous owners. The Scottish Presbyterian Church made provision for a clergy man in the island. Majority of white population Scottish. Medals presented by the Agricultural Society to persons voted to have produced the best sugar.
1835: Obeah (A form of witchcraft or black magic) being practiced in secret but could not be repressed and persists even today. Presbyterian churches being built. Schools erected and opened.
1836: Permission granted to Apprentices to hold revels, dancing late into the night, because of unrest among them.
1837: Court House at the disposal of Presbyterian Church for Sunday service whilst church is being built. Colonial Bank branch opened in Scarborough.
1838: Unconditional freedom granted to all who had been made apprentices after the abolition of slavery. Many left the land and became fishermen. There was discontent and a shortage of labour. Labourers were not disposed to take possession of unoccupied land and would not allow their children to cultivate the soil. This caused many estates to go out of cultivation. Education considered necessary and schools were opened.
1839: Crops poor during several years.
1840: Branch of W.I. Bank opened in Scarborough.
1841: Royal Mail Stream Packet Co. began calling at Tobago.
1843: Lighthouse erected at Bacolet Point. During the period of Apprenticeship, few marriages took place, but now were now frequent and used as an occasion of festivity. In an effort to improve agriculture, Mr. Cruikshank of Prospect Estate introduced the Metayer System. This was a profit sharing system. It was adopted throughout the colony. Later it was modified and applied to cacao as well as sugar production.
1847: A disastrous hurricane preceded by earthquake and accompanied by thunderstorms passed over the island. Private property, valued at $150,000, destroyed. The British Government granted a loan of $50,000 for sufferers.
1850: Exports: 47,730cwt sugar; 114,684gals rum, 3,255cwt molasses. Cultivation of cotton advocated. 1851: Population 14,378. In this year, 292 liberated Africans sent from St.Helena by the British Government to settle in Tobago.
1852: Introduction of Land Tax.
1854: British troops withdrawn from Fort King George, the islanders left to make their own arrangements for defence and the preservation of law and order. However, the British Government promised to keep a Vessel of War within call in case it should be required. Police Force augmented and armed Volunteer Corps established. Plot to destroy Scarborough discovered. It was promoted by immigrant Negroes from Barbados.1855: Imperial (British) Customs Officers replaced by Colonial Officers under the Treasurer. An Executive Privy Council introduced, consisting of 1 member of the Legislative Council, 2 elected members. Legislative Assembly appointed by Lt. Governor.
1856: First public hospital opened.
1858: Tobago adopted the Encumbered Estates Act of 1854. Commissioners were appointed in London for the sale of lands by creditor or owner. From proceeds of the sale and equitable distribution was made to all creditors. An entirely new grant, hereafter unassailable, was issued for the property.
Estates passed to those with capital to work them or who were prepared to sell in small lots.
1860: Authority of Imperial Post Office Department vested in Executive Government of Tobago.
1861: Population: 15,410. Exports: sugar -59,052cwt; rum - 109,047gals; molasses - 1,207cwt.
1862: 225 more liberated Africans arrived from St.Helena to augment the labour force.
1865: Sale and export of cotton to be regulated. This year, 23,195lbs were exported.
1867: Tax on dogs introduced, causing riots.
1870: Italian Roman Catholic Mission set up at Mason Hall.
1871: Franchise extended to $5.00 to holders of property.
1872: Concurrent Endowment Act passed by which the Church of England ceased to be the established church of the colony. Annual grants of money made to Anglican Church, United Brethren (Moravians) and Wesleyans.
1874: Single Chamber Act passed by which Legislative Assembly consisted of 6 nominated and 8 elected members. Privy Council reduced to 2 members.

1875 - 1903 Colonial Flag
1876: Riots in Windward districts.
1877: Under a new Constitution Act, Tobago was administered as a Crown Colony and the elective principle abolished. Last meeting of Privy Council held in December.


1880: British Government ceased to provide salary for a Lt.Governor. The offices of Administrator and Colonial Secretary combined. Population: 18,051. Exports: sugar - 65,467cwt; rum - 26,050gals; molasses - 7,780cwt.
1882: Labour very scarce. There were 32 distilleries but only 17 working.
1883: Tobago had no public debt. Agriculture Society held its first show - the opening day was declared a Public Holiday. At this time two thirds of the island was covered by forest. A Royal Commission (Crossman Commission) arrived from London. They were sent to the West Indies to enquire into conditions in Tobago and the other islands.
1884: News was received that the firm, Messrs. A.M.Gillespie & Co, in London, had stopped payment. For many years this firm had carried on business in Tobago as commission Merchants and Ship Owners. They virtually had the monopoly of agriculture and shipping interest, owning about four fifths of the sugar estates. This brought about the financial collapse of Tobago. Estates were sold at 10/-per acre. Peasants took advantage of this, which left little labour for estates.
1885: The Royal Commission recommended that Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Tobago be made into one colony, if acceptable to the majority of the inhabitants. This met with much opposition so the matter was dropped. Later in the year, Barbados was made a separate colony and the other islands became the Windward Group with a Governor in Grenada. Each island retained its legislature presided over by a Resident Administrator.
1888: By and Order in Council dated October 20th, 1888, Tobago was made subordinate to Trinidad as from January 1st, 1889 to be administered by a Resident Commissioner who was ex officio a member of the Trinidad Legislative Council and appointed by the Governor of Trinidad.
1890:  Population of Tobago 18,353. Revenue: 8,695. Expenditure: 9,253. Imports: 23,403. Exports: 19,371. Crops produced: sugar - 22,382cwt; rum - 3,432 gals; molasses - 7,360cwt; coconuts - 543,312; cacao - 31 bags.
1898: The island, broke and in debt, becomes a Ward of Trinidad. "Tobago's humiliation was complete." (Eric Williams: "History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago",p.150)
1899: Botanical Garden started. Cultivation of cocoa began (Richmond).

1903 - 1974: Colonial Flag
1908: Cocoa well established and coconut palms beginning to replace the sugar cane. The first few telephones installed.
1915: First motor cars on the island.
1920: Riots, in sympathy with those in Trinidad.
1921: Minor hurricane hits the island and causes landslides.
1925:  New Trinidad and Tobago constitution establishes seven constituencies, one of which is Tobago. Bishop's High School is opened.


1926: Water reservoir at the fort built.
1927: First Cocoa Fermenting Co-operative started (Pembroke).
1931: Lime Growers' Co-operative formed. Sugar cane almost replaced. The Tobago Branch of the "Band of Mercy", later to become the S.P.C.A., was formed.
1937: Riots in Trinidad and Tobago. When all had quieted down in the island, a warship was sent and scattered leaflets from its seaplane over Tobago.
1938: Royal Commission sent to inquire into the conditions in British West Indies. The Tobago Chamber of Commerce was inaugurated.
1940: Crown Point Airport opened. Development and Welfare Organization for the B.W.I. set up.
1941: First community centre built (Plymouth) by voluntary labour.
1942: Radar station built by U.S. Army near Charlotteville. B.W.I.A starts first commercial flights.
1943: Crown Point runway extended.
1944: First bus company connects all accessible parts of the island.
1945: Second Colonial Development and Welfare Act passed, raising great hopes in Tobago.
1946: Universal adult suffrage introduced.
1948: First nursery school started (Black Rock).
1949: Excessive rainfall causes severe damage in the northern part of the island.
1950: New constitution for Trinidad and Tobago approved, giving the country more autonomy.
1952: Electricity installed in Scarborough.
1953: Deep water harbour opened on Scarborough waterfront.
1956: Tobago and Trinidad resolve to partake in an independent Caribbean Federation. In Tobago, introduction of free secondary education. Construction of north coast roads begun.
1958: Trinidad and Tobago partner of the West Indian Federation, keeping their own Governor.
1960: Ships, "Scarlet Ibis" and "Birds of Paradise", start regular service to and from Port of Spain.
1962: End of the West Indies Federation. Trinidad and Tobago becomes an "independent and unitary state" within the British Commonwealth and under a Governor General representing the Queen of England.
1963: Hurricane "Flora" destroys many houses, estates and the rain forest, with a total loss of 17 lives (last disastrous hurricane in 1847).
1967: Partnership of the country in the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) and Caribbean Development Bank.
1969: Championship 18-hole golf course opened at Mt.Irvine. Extensive housing developments all over the island.
1970: Riots caused by imported Black Power Movement disturb the island's  peace in April and result mainly in more damage.
1972: Extension of the harbour facilities in Scarborough.

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