In 1498 Christopher Columbus landed on the shores
of Trinidad where he encountered the Arawaks and Shebaios natives.
At that time Tobago was inhabited by the Carib natives.
WThe Spanish established a settlement in 1552. For 200 years Trinidad was a Spanish colony. Natives, used as slaves by the Spanish, died as a result of exposure to diseases brought by the colonizers. More slaves were brought in from Africa. Tobago changed hands among the Spanish, French, British and Dutch from the 15th to the 18th centuries.
During the 1780s, the Spanish wanted to attract Roman Catholic settlers. The French who were fleeing the French Revolution were drawn to Trinidad by the land and tax incentives. Soon Trinidad was a French dominated Spanish colony. French people held important public offices. French language and customs were predominant.
|In 1797, Spain surrendered Trinidad to the British. They introduced sugar cane as the primary industry. Under British rule Trinidad became more of a slave society, but by the 1830s slavery was abolished. Most ex-slaves refused to work on plantations. Since the British still needed cheap labour to remain competitive in the sugar cane industry, thousands of indentured labourers from India were brought in between 1845 and 1917.
By the mid-1800s the plantation system had major
financial problems. To deal with this, plantation owners developed a
share-cropping system with the farmers. The owners, however, broke
their verbal agreements. This led to riots and Tobago was made a Crown
Colony. In 1889, the British united the economically devastated Tobago
In the early 1900s, oil was discovered in Trinidad. The oil industry became a key economic element and gained importance as war raged intermittently in Europe for 50 years.
Politicians were trained in the labour unions of the oil industry where labour exploitation and racism were blatant. In 1950 the struggle against this oppression led to a new constitution. A party called the People's National Movement (PNM) was introduced by Dr. Eric Williams. The PNM won the 1956 elections with Williams serving as Prime Minister until his death in 1981.