Tobago Forts - lessons in the human condition
As the result of some three hundred years of war, pirate attacks, invasions, captures and recaptures, almost every bay in Tobago is overlooked by some sort of fortification.
Many of these were placed there by the British and bear the double Tudor rose and/or the monogram of one or the other of the Georges of the 1770s to the 1800s, the Hannoverian kings of Great Britain. Some were occupied by courlanders, Dutch, French and British in turn.
These sites, historic monuments of Tobago’s past, are more than just windy moments spent while on vacation on the island. Every one has a story that involves closely the Tobagonians you see around you and the great European powers of times gone by. They are lessons in both history and the human condition.
Arie Boomert, a Dutchman and senior research fellow U.W.I. Trinidad, conducted an archaeological historical survey of Tobago in 1987. He identified some 18 sites, on which his remarks are of great interest.
Fort James in Plymouth, for example, dates from the 1760s. On a British map of 1765, it is marked as a ‘guard house’ and barracks. In 1768, permanent barracks were constructed there, and in 1777, the fort was reinforced. However, it could not withstand the French onslaught and was taken by them in 1781. The British took it back in 1783, then the French again in 1802 and back to the British in 1803.
The remainders of Fort James show the Tudor double rose and are marked with ‘GR’ (George Rex). A separate bastion can be found in the area of Fort James 200m north, and one building 200m east which now houses the Tobago School for the Deaf.
Fort Nieuw Vissingen in Plymouth reflects the colourful history of the 17th century Couronian and Dutch military establishment in Tobago. On a 1765 map, it is already referred to as ‘Remains of a Fort’, and is now the site of the Couronian monument. Boomert suggests that the foundations of the fort are probably still awaiting excavation under the grass surrounding the monument, as can be judged by the elevated spots. The archeologist also notes that incorporated in the Plymouth Health Centre, immediately east of the site of the Fort Nieuw Vissingen, are walls made of volcanic stone with rifle holes. Local legend has it that this complex, with its building in the middle equipped with air holes, was once a prison. It may have well been part of Fort James, Fort Beveren or Fort Jacobus.
Fort Bennet in Black Rock has seen three fortifications: one by the Dutch in the 1620s and 1630s, one by the Couronians in the 1680s and one by the British in the 1800s. Again, the scientist suggests walls remnants to be found under the undulating surface. The ruins of this fort comprise an oven.