Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Early History of Tobago

Tobago on the Baltic Sea - or on the North Sea?

Tobago was first squabbled over by settlers came from Courland and Holland

Tobago, a prize of war for the great powers of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, was originally populated by the fierce Caribs.

Possessed by Spain from the 15th century, it was however contested over by Holland, by the Duchy of Courland (now in Latvia on the Baltic sea), by England and by France. The Courlanders had laid claim to Tobago by virtue of its Duke, Jacobus, who had been granted the island by his godfather James I. of England. This claim was later to be enhanced when Charles I. of England transferred to the Duke all claims to Tobago which were previously given by royal privilege to the Earl of Warwick.

Duke Jacobus made several attempts to colonize the Carib-inhabited island, some of which were temporarily successful. The first dispatch of settlers left Courland in 1642 and established a colony in Courland Bay.

They somehow were most fortunate not to be eaten by the native Caribs. Instead, they cleared some land and planted crops, and eventually Fort Jacobus was built, containing within its walls the first Lutheran church in the western world.

Unbeknownst to the Courlanders on the northern shores of Tobago, in 1654 two Dutch merchants, Adrian and Cornelius Lampsins, dispatched a number of persons to settle Tobago. The Dutch established themselves on the other side of the island and co-existed quite peacefully with the Courlanders for many years, although, at first, neither knew of the existence of the other. Both colonies engaged in agricultural pursuits, planting tobacco which was becoming very popular in Europe, to the extent where the original name of the island, which might have been Bella Forma or perhaps Conception or Assumption, was forgotten.

The early 17th century colonists had slaves who were shipped from Africa working for them. Large quantities of the Dutch and Courlandian peasantry were also transported to Tobago to work in the fields.

With the fall of the Duchy of Courland to Sweden in 1658, much confusion ensued in Tobago. No vessels arrived to supply the Courlandian settlement. As a consequence, the Dutch were able to take control. Over the next decades the Spanish, the French, the Dutch and the English contested violently for Tobago. Eventually Tobago passed into British hands at the beginning of the 19th century.

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