Thursday 30 May 2019

Correspondence from the Revolutionary Atlantic 1797–1798

A selection of letters from the Trinidad Historical Society Collection, written by British naval commanders during the period of the French and British wars fought in the Caribbean Sea during the period of the French Revolution. These naval battles between France and England caused various islands in the Caribbean chain of islands to change hands and in so doing alter the destinies of millions of people. 

Sir Ralph Abercromby

Sir Thomas Picton

Monday 20 May 2019

Tobago's Courlander History

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

Possessed by Spain from the 15th century, Tobago was contested over by the Netherlands, the Duchy of Courland, England and France, passing eventually into English hands at the beginning of the 19th century.

The Duchy of Courland, which is now the Republic of Latvia situated on the Baltic Sea, had lain 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 to be later enhanced when Charles I transferred to the Duke all claims to the island, which were previously given by royal privilege to the Earl of Warwick.
At left: Duke Jacobus (James), born 1610, died 1681.
 He was the founder of the colonial power of the Duchy of Courland.

At right: The Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Courland

Duke Jacobus, energetic and ambitious, made several attempts to colonise Tobago, some of which were temporarily successful. Courland, whose population at the time hardly exceeded half a million, had a strong sea-faring tradition and a considerable navy.

In the spring of 1642, Duke Jacobus dispatched a party of settlers with orders to establish a colony on the northern shores of the island of Tobago at a place they called Great Courland Bay.

Greater and smaller Courland Bays on the Leeward coast of Tobago.
There were several Amerindian encampments in this area. 

Early map of Tobago, circa 1640. The inset is the area of Courland Bay.

They were reported to be most fortunate with their relationships with the Caribs, who usually made it a ritual of disposing of unwelcome guests by eating them. With the clearing of the land and the planting of crops, the settlement thrived and Fort Jacobus was built, containing within its walls the First Lutheran Church in the Western World.

A plan of Fort Jacobus showing the Little Lutheran Church, said to be the first to be established in the New World. Within its walls were dwellings for soldiers and a house for the governor. An Amerindian Village was close by.

In 1654 two Dutch merchants, the brothers Adrian and Cornelius Lampsins, dispatched a number of persons to settle Tobago. They 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, cultivating pepper and spices of various types and tobacco, which was becoming very popular in Europe, to the extent where the very name of the island, which might have been Bella Forma or perhaps Concepción or Assunción, was forgotten and it was to become known as Tobacco or later Tobago.

The battleship "Die Pax" (46 guns) arrived at Tobago in September 1656 with 120 Latvians colonists on board.
Three Couranian ships of the 17th century at anchor in Great Courland Bay.
On the land, the settlement can be seen with figures of people working in the field.
 Top right: 
The reverse of a medal showing a typical Couronian ship,
a symbol of the Duchy’s growing sea power.

James I who claimed Tobago for England in 1608.
By the Treaty of London, in 1604, James had agreed to respect Spanish sovereignty only over those territories already effectively occupied by Spain. He is said to have granted Tobago to his godson, Duke Jacobus of Courland, in 1610. The ruling family of Courland was closely related to the Stuart dynasty.

A Lutheran Church was built within the walls of Fort Jacobus in the early years of the settlement.
 It is reputed to have been the first in the New World.

With the fall of the Duchy of Courland in 1658 to the Swedes, who took the Duke prisoner, there was much confusion on the island, and some deprivation as no vessels arrived to supply the Couronian settlement. As a consequence, the Dutch were able to take control, when the Courlanders, in great distress, surrendered to them the garrison at Great Courland.

Charles II of England. In 1664, shortly after his return to the throne, Charles re-granted Tobago to the Duke of Courland, probably in acknowledgement of the Duke's support during his exile.

Over the next decade the French, the Dutch and the English contested violently for this most beautiful island in the far western sea, but Courland’s claim was not put to rest, for in 1680, another attempt was made to colonise the island. This too was without success.

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