Legend has it that a great battle took place in ancient times in or near where Port-of-Spain stands now. ames Stark’s ‘Guide to Trinidad’ (published in 1899) relates that annually a battle was fought between the young warriors of two rival tribes of Arawaks at a place which was called different names: Port of Spayne, Puerto de España, Conquerabia or Cumucurapo. Mucurapo, as it is called now, is the Arawak name for ‘place of the silk cotton trees’. In times of Trinidad being a Spanish colony, .............................................. was called ‘Place des Ames’ - place of the souls, a heaven for the dead Amerindian warriors.
It is unlikely that the settlement of Port-of-Spain was initiated by the Spaniards. There is no reason that its importance to the indigenous inhabitants of Trinidad was not supplemented in time by the activities of migrants, refugees and transients. Historian Pierre Gustave Louis Borde goes further and suggests that the remnants of Spanish expeditions formed two towns, one on the right bank of the Orinoco and the other replacing the Amerindian village of Conquerabia in Trinidad.
In the 1560s, Don Antonio de Berrio “placed troops in the town”. At the time it was little more than a trading post, a very precarious and impertinent fort.
Ten years later, Sir Walter Raleigh destroyed it completely. In 1680, a French naval commander described the place as “only a military post (an earth redoubt with two guns) and some fishermen’s huts”. In 1690, there were six houses and several others being built. A church stood not far from where the present Catholic cathedral is now.
The sea lapped gently almost to the church’s base. All that now lies south of Independence Square, from what is now the bottom of Duncan Street to the bottom of Frederich Street, was then the St. Ann’s River, which emptied into the Gulf of Paria. Mangroves and mud flats and great tree forests lined the river mouth.
By the 1780s, the Spaniards had built a landing at what is now the bottom of Frederick Street. They installed a semi-circular fort called Fort St. Andres. A mole allowed boats bearing cargo and passengers to land. This mole was situated where Broadway is now. The last Spanish governor, Don José Maria Chacon, had the St. Ann’s River deviated. Whereas before it had crossed Park Street, flowed down Frederick Street, through Woodford Square, along Chacon Street and into the sea, it now ran along the Laventille foothills.
In the period immediately after the conquest of Trinidad by the British in 1797, the Cabildo passed regulations for the extension of Marine Square southwards. Sea Lots became available to the public. The first reclamation began in 1803. The owners of the lots were obliged to fill in their own lots and contribute towards the cost of the road.
For the next twenty years, as the population of the town increased, reclamation of these lots continued with fill being brought in by mule carts from the Laventille hills.
The second reclamation began in 1845 when the area from the fort to the St. Vincent Street jetty and the mole became a part of the land. C.W. Day, a visitor from England, records in his book ‘A visitor to Port of Spain’:
“The wharfs of Port of Spain are good, although water isnot above three feet deep. There is a wooden jetty, and nearby a small lighthouse, doing all honour and glory to the powers that be, as the former inscription, whatever it might have been, has been aerased and 1842 carefully inserted in its place.”
Day was a careful commentator and one wonders what had been removed from the base of the lighthouse, for it had to have been built during the second reclamation. Related building were erected close by, containing commercial rooms, weigh master’s and harbour master’s offices.
The lighthouse, rising to some 60 feet, was by far the tallest building the the twon and its kerosene-powered flame could throw its reflection far out into the Gulf. In those days, the island’s population stood at som 59,815 people. The value of imports in 1850 was £476,910, while the exports were valued in the vicinity of £319,400!
In 1892, Chacon, Frederick, Henry and Charlotte Streets were extended across Marine Square to South Quay, and the Customs House was erected in 1880.
It is of interest to note that the buildings on South Quay were erected on reclaimed lands in the period 1845 - 1872. This being the case, the structure presently standing on the corner of Henry Street and South Quay could not have been a slave cell. It is more than likely that it was a vault belonging to J.J. Rebeiro & Co. Slavery came to an end in 1834, at which time the area was still under water.
The third reclamation of the southern part of the town took place in 1906. At that time, the sea came up along St. Vincent Street as far as the Central Bank and the continuation of Independence Square north to Furness Withy & Co. This area was known as the Stinking Corner, where the schooners came alongside what was then the St. Vincent Wharf, and rolled their cargoes across into the warehouses of the business places. After this reclamation, Edward and Richmond Streets were extended to meet Independence Square south.
In December 1976, the demolition began of what was known in days gone by as the lighthouse jetty and officially as the Queen’s Wharf. It was here that Princes, Governors and Archbishops had landed and had been welcomed by Government officials and the Police Band. In those days, ships anchored out in the stream, and passengers came shore in motor launches.