Trinidad History Facts and Timeline

(Trinidad, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago)

Human history on Trinidad dates back at least 7,000 years, with the natives of the island being the Amerindian Arawaks.

Until Christopher Columbus arrived, these natives led relatively peaceful lives, despite the very real threat posed by the neighbouring Caribs, a tribe of ferocious and ever-hungry cannibals.

Columbus and the Spanish Reign

Columbus famously landed on this island in the year of 1498, although since no gold was discovered, slaves were rounded up instead. The Arawak people - men, women and children alike, were either sent to Spain or forced into slave labour on their own land.

Trinidad remained largely unpopulated for about a century, that is until the Spanish settlers arrived. The Spanish reign following the arrival of Columbus lasted nearly 300 years and saw the Carib Indians largely wiped out, while those who survived were slowly assimilated.

By the 1780s, the government of Spain recognised that in order to keep Trinidad, it needed to be populated, and fast. This led to the decree of the Cedula of Population in 1783, which enabled Roman Catholic plantation owners from the French Caribbean islands to relocate to Trinidad, along with their slaves. These organised settlers improved the stability of the local economy with their ambitious plans. In 1787, the first sugar estate was established by Picot de Lapeyrouse and attracted both French and non-Spanish settlers, as well as freed slaves.

British Rule

In 1797, the British peacefully gained control of Trinidad after the Spanish governor of Port of Spain surrendered to General Sir Ralph Abercromby. The Treaty of Amiens was signed on 25th March, 1802, and then ratified a few weeks later by the powerful countries of Britain, Spain, France, Denmark and also Sweden. Britain agreed to return each of its colonies to their former owners, with the exception Trinidad, which Spain had ceded to Britain. Of note, the slave trade to the island was outlawed in 1806.

Sugar and Cacao

The sugar plantations and cacao (cocoa tree) crops have together played a major part in the history of Trinidad. Expansive sugar plantations dominated the island's economy in the 19th century, before cacao took over. The colonial government offered land to settlers who were interested in establishing their own cacao estates. In 1811, Venezuela was granted independence from Spain and, rich in oil, farmers from the nearby South American nation were strongly encouraged to move to Trinidad, bringing with them valuable experience of the cultivation of cacao.

Haji Gokool was just one of many hopeful immigrants to arrive in Trinidad with a view to establishing a successful cacao estate. This Indian-born entrepreneur soon stood out from the other newcomers, becoming one of the island's most affluent and powerful men. However, the cacao fields were decimated by disease during the 1930s and that, along with the worldwide Great Depression, suddenly brought an end to Trinidad's previously thriving cacao industry.

The Arrival of the 20th Century

Trinidad and Tobago were granted the right to self-government in 1956, and the country founded the People's National Movement. This movement gained much support and was led by a man named Eric Eustice Williams, who rose in Trinidad's history to achieve the status of first chief minister, before ruling as prime minister for no less than 25 years (between 1956 and 1981).

Since then, the island's fortunes have been somewhat mixed. While this may well be one of the most populous countries in the Caribbean, it is by no means among the most prosperous. It does, however, boast one of the most active industrial sectors in the region and also enjoys a fairly active tourist industry. Its most notable international export in recent history has perhaps been the Nobel Prize winning author Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad V. S. Naipaul.