The history of Tobago in the first half of the 19th century
Tobago’s crops failed in 1800 and there was a grave shortage of imported food. This resulted in widespread alarm. People were unable to feed themselves or their slaves. The population consisted of 2,300 Europeans, 1,050 Free Colonists and 10,000 slaves on 106 estates.
A threatened insurrection of slaves was averted in 1801 by the prompt action of Brigadier General H.L.Carmichael who seized 30 ringleaders when he heard of the plot. He hanged one on the signal staff at Fort King George, lowering and raising the body 29 times as a warning to the population.
The island was surrendered to the French under the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. General Sabuguet was appointed as Governor. During his term of office the Council and General Assembly voted unanimously in favour of appointing Bonaparte as Council for life. They also decided to retain the existing constitution and laws.
In 1803 British troops landed at Arnos Vale and marched to Mount Grace. A slave, George Winchester, showed them the way to the Fort and the French surrendered without resistance. George Winchester was given his freedom and paid £30 to set himself up in business. In July of that year, a proclamation was signed allowing American vessels to bring in provisions and other goods. Lord Nelson anchored overnight in Courland Bay in 1805 while searching the Caribbean for the French fleet. Plans to defend the island were subsequently drawn up.
In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in all British dominions. At that time there were 15,000 slaves on Tobago. By 1812, an Indian called Louis, and his family of about 200, were the only remaining settlers on the north coast of Tobago.
The Treaty of Ghent marked the end of the war between Great Britain and the United States, in 1814, and a year later Tobago ceded to Great Britain by the first Treaty of Paris.
Tobago’s motto “Pulchrior evenit” ("she becomes more beautiful") was adopted in 1816. All buildings were removed from the Market Place in Scarborough, to make it available for public purposes. An act was passed for the building of the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Scarborough and the church was consecrated in 1819.
The foundation stone of the Court House and Public Office were laid in 1821. The building was considered to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the West Indies. Alterations since that time have ruined the original character of the building.
Scarborough was declared a Free Port in 1822. Agriculture was in a poor state. The New Welseyan Chapel opened in Scarborough in 1826 and two years later, a New Government House at Mt.William completed. In 1833 Tobago ceased to have its own Government and became part of the Windward Islands, administered by a Governor General in Barbados and a Lt.Governor in Tobago. The Agricultural Society was formed later that year.
The Emancipation of Slaves was introduced in 1834. The Apprentice System, under which slaves were bound to their former masters for four to six years, came into force. Fortunately the transition period passed peacefully. 11,589 slaves were freed and compensation of £233,875 paid to previous owners.
In 1834, the Scotch Presbyterian Church made provision for a clergyman in the Island. The majority of the white population were Scottish. In this same year, the Agricultural Society awarded medals to persons voted to have produced the best sugar.
By 1835, Obeah was being practised in secret and could not be repressed. It persists even in current times. Presbyterian Churches were being built and schools erected and opened. In 1836 unrest among Apprentices led to permission being granted to hold revels, allowing the Apprentices to dance late into the night. The Court House was placed at the disposal of Presbyterian Church for Sunday service in 1837, whilst the church was being built and a branch of the Colonial Bank opened in Scarborough.
Unconditional freedom was granted to all who had been made Apprentices after the abolition of slavery in 1838. Many left the land and became fishermen. This led to discontent and a shortage of labour because labourers were not disposed to take possession of unoccupied land and would not allow their children to cultivate the soil. As a result, many estates went out of cultivation. Attitudes changed, education was now considered necessary and schools were opened.
The crops were poor for several years around 1839. A branch of West Indies Bank opened in Scarborough in 1840 and a year later the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. began calling at Tobago. In 1843 a light house was erected at Bacolet Point.
During the period of Apprenticeship, few marriages had taken place. By 1843 marriages were frequent and an occasion of festivity. It was rare for the wedding ring to be returned to the clergyman, the accepted form of divorce at that time. Education was reducing Obeah.
In an effort to improve agriculture, Mr. Cruickshank of Prospect Estate introduced the Metayer System in 1843. This profit sharing system was adopted throughout the colony and later modified and applied to cacao and sugar.
A disastrous hurricane proceeded by an earthquake and accompanied by thunderstorm passed over the Island in 1847. Private property valued at $150,000 was destroyed and led to the British Government granting a loan of $50,000 to help those affected.