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A Brief History of Trinidad & Tobago


Columbus discovered Trinidad on Tuesday 31st of July 1498 on his third voyage. By all accounts his crossing was a hard one. He was forced to take a more southerly route to avoid a hostile French Fleet and this led him into the doldrums. While drifting in the still heat of the equator his water barrels burst and his food rotted.

It was in this situation that Columbus sighted the Trinity Hills or the Three Sisters on the southern coast of Trinidad. To Columbus it must have seemed providential as he was down to his last casket of water.

It is not certain why Columbus named Trinidad after the Holy Trinity, some say it was because he had entrusted this voyage to the Holy Trinity, others say it was because he had made a promise to name the first land he saw in honour of the Holy Trinity. What ever the reason Trinidad was named after the Holy Trinity.

Columbus first landed on the south coast near Point Erin to collect water. Later, after rounding Icacos Pt. he sailed into the Gulf of Paria and went on to explore the coast of Venezuela (which he thought was an island). He later returned to Trinidad and anchored in a bay of island of Chacachcare (one of the small islands off the coast of Trinidad). After claiming the island for Spain he sailed through the Grand Boca, it was at this point that he sighted Tobago in the distance and named it Bellaforma.

The word "discovered" is often seen as contentious when applied to Columbus on two counts. Firstly, in a purely technical sense there were already native Indians who called the Americas home. Secondly, it seems Eurocentric and tends to imply that history starts from the day Europeans arrived. Regardless Columbusí "discovery" marks the start of the modern history of the region and the event ushered in the forces which would shape what we see today.

Before Columbus, the main settlers on the Island were Ameridian Tribes - The Caribs and the Arawaks.

The Arawaks (or Aruacas) was a peaceful tribe. They had settled mostly in the South of the island, where they employed themselves hunting, fishing, and growing a few crops such as cassava, maize and sweet potato. They wove cotton to make hammocks, used tobacco for religious rituals and expressed their artistic urges through wood carvings and pottery.

The northern part of the island - which the Ameridians called "lere", or "Land of the Humming Bird" was inhabited by a fiercer tribe called the Caribs; a warlike people. The Caribs had come originally from the Amazon region. Reputed to be carnibals, the Caribs fought fiercely against the European attempts to colonize the island; but it was, ultimately a losing battle.

War, enslavement and deseases brought to the Island by the outsiders took their toll, eventually wiping out the Ameridian population almost completely. Estimated to have been about 35000 when columbus discovered the island, was down to about 300, concentrated mainly in East Trinidad.

Trinidad was largely ignored until 1531 when an attempt was made to settle the island. This proved unsuccessful as did a later attempt in 1569. The first permanent settlement was made in 1592 by Domingo de Vera in the old capital of St. Joseph. Shortly after in 1595, Trinidad was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh (founder of Virginia) who was en route to what he thought was El Dorado, (he found mainly mosquitoes, bush and despair). In addition to visiting the Pitch Lake Raleigh felt it necessary to burn the newly St. Joseph. This was to be a familiar pattern for the next century as Trinidad became the base of choice for expeditions to El Dorado and a haven for smugglers and pirates. However these activities did little to develop the island and at times the Spanish population fell to as little as 160.

Being in the backwaters of the Spanish Empire the local population was neglected and official ships rarely visited. Poverty became so widespread that in 1740 the local leaders wrote to the King complaining that they could only go to mass once a year and in clothes borrowed form one another!

Turmoil in Europe, especially in France, and a liberalization of emigration policies by the Spanish authorities encouraged settles from France and the French Islands to the north (Martinique, Guadeloupe etc.). War in Europe also bought a fleet of 17 British ships into Trinidad waters in 1797 and without much of a fight Trinidad changed hands and became a British possession. For the next century Trinidad became a typical British sugar colony with its fortune following the price of sugar on its roller-coaster ride. Important events include the emancipation of slaves in 1834, the beginning of indentured labour schemes in 1852 which bought Chinese and East Indians to Trinidad. In 1871 the first telegraph cable was laid (at Macqueripe Bay) linking Trinidad with the rest of the world. Trams and railways were also introduced in the second half of the 19th Century.


As said earlier, Tobago was sighted in 1498 by Columbus on his third voyage. He named the island Bella Forma but its present name is most probably a corruption of "Tobacco." This was grown by the original Indian inhabitants and later as a crop by settlers. In 1608 James I claimed sovereignty over the island and for the next 200 years Tobago changed hands like a hot potato between the Dutch, the French and the English. Estimates of the number of changeovers range between 22 and 32. Among those who tried to settle the island were the Courlanders (from Lithuania) but for most of the 17th and 18th Centuries Tobago was a haven for pirates. In 1763 Tobago was ceded to the British by the French, and the land was divided into parishes and sold. Like Trinidad, Tobago shared the fate of most islands in the West Indies and became a British sugar colony. Interestingly Tobago became embroiled in the American War of Independence when in 1778 an American squadron tried to capture the island. They were however repulsed by the British warship Yarmouth.

Trinidad & Tobago

In the second half of the 19th Century the recession in the sugar industries encouraged the movement towards amalgamation of the West Indian islands into administrative groups in order to cut administrative costs. In 1889 Tobago was united with Trinidad to become the Colony of Trinidad &Tobago. Later in 1899 it became a ward of the colony.

If Trinidad was a sugar economy in the 19th Century it became an oil economy in the 20th. With the advent of the automobile and the conversion of the British Navy from coal to oil the search for and the production of oil received a strong boost. Oil was discovered in the Guayguaygare, Point Fortin, and Forest Reserve areas. Over time oil and oil related exports came to dominate the economy and transformed much of populace from a rural to an urban one.

Besides oil another important event was the establishment of U.S. bases on the island in 1941. This was agreed to in exchange for 50 destroyers which at the time was sorely needed by an overstretched Britain. These bases included a large chunk of the Chaguaramas Peninsular as well as an air base at Wallerfield. The G. I.ís injected American culture and money into a stagnant economy and shifted the focus of country from Britain to the U.S.

After the war independence seemed inevitable and as a precursor Britain tried a brief political experiment called the British West Indian Federation. This attempted to unify the various islands under one political and economic umbrella but internal tensions soon surfaced and the group split. Led by Dr. Eric Williams Trinidad and Tobago became an independent member of the Commonwealth on 31st of August 1962. Later, on the 1st of August 1976 Trinidad and Tobago became a presidential republic within the Commonwealth.

National Emblems

~Trinidad & Tobago's Flag~

The colors Red, Black and White represent the elements of Earth, Water and Fire which encompasses all our past, present and future; and inspire us as one united, vital, free and dedicated people.
RED: Red expresses the temperament of our Country. It represents the vitality of the land and the warmth, energy, the courage and friendliness of the people.
BLACK: This color symbolizes the dedication of the people joined together by one strong bond. It is the color of strength, of unity, of purpose, and of the wealth of the land.
WHITE: White represents the sea by which these lands are bound, the purity of our aspirations and the equality of all people under the sun.

Trinidad & Tobago's Crest

Coat Of Arms: The Coat of Arms depicts features of our history, our enviroment and our culture. What is commonly called The Coat Of Arms is more appropriately called an Achievement of Arms which comprises:
The Shield: The same color as the National Flag are used on the Shield, where the same symbolism is attached to them. The three gold ships represents The Trinity, the discovery of the islands, the three ships of Colombus, the sea that brought our people together, the commerce and the wealth. The Humming Bird has been included for sentimental reasons (Trinidad is known as The Land of the Humming Bird).

The Helm of Special Design and the Mantle: The Helm is the Queen's - it is a gold helmet which faces the front and has five gold bars across the visor. The interior is lined red. The Mantle covers the Helm.

The Wreath: The Wreath which crowns the helmet and holds the Mantle in place, carries by tradition all the colors of the Achievement.

The Crest: For the Crest, we have a ship's gold wheel in front of a fruited coconut palm. The fruited coconut palm had always been the central figure of the Great Seals of British Colonial Tobago and was an adornment of the Governor's Standard in the days when Trinidad was a seperate administrative unit.

The Supporters: The Supporters are the birds of the two islands. On the left, the bird of Trinidad - The Scarlet Ibis. On the right - The Cocrico. They represent the two islands.

The Motto: Our Motto is "Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve." The three peaks above the Motto represent the same three hills that constituted the principal motif of Trinidad's early British Colonial Seals and Flag Badges. These peaks commemorate both Columbus' decision to name the larger Island after The Blessed Trinity, and the first sighting of the island by the Spaniards who saw three peaks of our Southern Mountain Range, called "The Three Sisters". The waters represent the sea by which we are bound.

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National Anthem Of Trinidad & Tobago

Forged From The Love Of Liberty
In The Fires Of Hope And Prayer
With Boundless Faith In Our Destiny
We Solemny Declare
Side By Side we Stand
Islands Of The Blue Caribbean Sea
We Pledge Our Lives To Thee
Here Every Creed And Race
Find An Equal Place
And May God Bless our Nation
Here Every Creed And Race
Find An Equal Place
And May God Bless Our Nation

The National Anthem was written to celebrate Trinidad & Tobago's Independence from Great Britain on August 31, 1962.