Trinidad’s first contact with the Europeans occurred on July 31, 1498 when it was spotted by Christopher Columbus during his third voyage to the Americas. He named the country La Trinidad in honour of the Blessed Trinity and claimed the land for Spain.

As slavery and trade expanded in the Americas during the 1500s, Trinidad became the focus of Spanish slave raids although interest in permanent settlement was tepid and sporadic attempts to settle the islands were unsuccessful. The Spanish paid even less attention to Tobago, with notable visits only in 1591 and 1614. In fact, pnly a few Spanish place names remain: Cap Gracias-a-Dios and Pedro Point on the northern side and La Guira near Crown Point.

In 1687, the Spanish Crown sent the Catalan Capuchin friars to Trinidad to establish the first Spanish missions in an attempt to control the Amerindians. The friars were mandated to convert the indigenous populations to Catholicism—their tactics were harsh and punishment for not converting was even more brutal. This further strained the already weak relationship between the Spanish and the Amerindians. Tensions finally erupted when the Amerindians rose up against the Spanish in what started as the Arena Uprising but became known as the Arena Massacre of 1699, as a result of the number of Amerindian lives that were lost due to the ruthless Spanish retaliation.

In an attempt to strengthen Spain’s hold on the islands, the Spanish King issued the historic Cedula of Population of 1783 to attract settlers to the island. The Cedula offered tax exemptions and free grants of 32 acres of land to any citizen of any nation friendly to Spain (provided that they were Roman Catholic) and half of that for every slave brought. This attracted many French settlers since England, Spain's other ally at the time, was mostly Protestant., The Crown also offered every Free Person of Colour 16 acres of land and half as much for each slave they brought. The island was quickly transformed by the influx of settlers. The population grew from 2,700 inhabitants in 1783, to 17,643 (10,000 of whom were African slaves) by the time the island was surrendered to the British in 1797. French, or a French-based patois that exists to this day, soon became the main language spoken.


For More Reading:

Wikipedia: History of Trinidad and Tobago  

University of the West Indies: Spanish in Trinidad and Tobago

Discover Trinidad: History of Trinidad


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Tobago: The history of the Dutch and Courlanders settlements

A detailed timeline of events in Trinidad's Oil History by the Geological Society of T&T.

Guanaguanare - the Laughing Gull. Carib Indians in Trinidad - includes 2 videos