Tobago History Facts and Timeline

(Tobago, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago)

The known history of Tobago dates back to the latter years of the 15th century, when Columbus first sighted the island on his third voyage to the region. He landed in neighbouring Trinidad in the year of 1498 and quickly set about claiming these two islands.

Columbus named this island Bella Forma upon first sighting it, although he never actually landed here. Its present-day name of Tobago, however, is a corruption of the word tobacco, a crop grown by the native Caribs who occupied the island at this time.

Strategic Harbour and Colonialism

The island remained relatively unknown and isolated for many years, that is until the early 16th century, when it was identified for having an especially well-placed harbour, as well as for its agricultural potential. As it was easily accessible from nearby Trinidad, which resides to the south-west and is approximately 31 km / 19 miles away, this tiny island was viewed as a true prize possession by all of its colonial occupiers.

The first European visitors in the history of Tobago were the English, who arrived here in 1580. Some 75 years later, the Courlanders made their appearance, before the island changed hands on more than 30 separate occasions, between countries such as England, Spain, Sweden, France and also the Netherlands. The island was ceded to Britain in 1763, captured by France in 1781, and then recaptured by Britain in 1793. It eventually joined the ever-expanding and extremely powerful British Empire in 1814.

Large numbers of African slaves were brought to Tobago and it is estimated that during the early years of the 19th century, roughly nine-tenths of the island's residents comprised slaves from the continent. Most of these slaves were forced to work long hours on the island's sugar plantations, and it was these plantations that proved to be a significant source of prosperity in the history of Tobago.

Merger with Trinidad

The British forces had been victorious against the Spanish and claimed neighbouring Trinidad in 1797, declaring that Trinidad, the bigger of these two islands, was to become a British colony in the second year of the 19th century. However, it was not until 1889 that the British Government annexed Tobago to Trinidad for administrative purposes, thus ensuring a more stable local economy and future. It was subsequently listed as a ward of the colony of Trinidad.

Largely due to the fact that Tobago's sugar production had dramatically declined, the finances of Trinidad and Tobago were merged and managed by a council of members deployed from Britain. The neighbouring islands first became linked politically in 1890, when they were under the rule of the British.


Trinidad and Tobago eventually managed to gain their independence from Britain in 1962. The following year, the arrival of Hurricane Flora caused nothing short of devastation for this pair of islands. Just over a decade later, in 1976, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago officially came into being.

The upgrading of the harbour in the early 1970s, combined with the addition of an international section at the Crown Point Airport in the mid-1980s certainly helped the island catch up to Trinidad in terms of prosperity, while an obvious low point came in 1970, when labour riots swept the island. Today, most people come here to experience the tropical beaches, unspoiled beauty and idyllic paradise, often as part of a luxury Caribbean cruise package.