History: B.C. to 1699

The history of Tobago pre-1700A.D.

Bacolet beach

Tobago archaeology cannot be separated from the other islands of the Southern Caribbean. The region was originally inhabited by three early Amerindian cultures. The Ciboney were the first. Very little is known of them, but experts date them from 700 to 1000 BC. Where they came from is not known. It is believed that all aboriginal cultures in the Caribbean had been there since the Stone Age. The Arawaks and Caribs, who followed the Ciboney, originated from the late Stone Age.

Columbus sighted the island of Tobago and named it Bellaforma (beautifully or well formed) . There is a period of about one hundred years with no recorded history. In 1580 British seamen visited the island and reported that it was uninhabited. In 1596, Raleigh’s lieutenant, Lawrence Keymis, visited the island and also found it uninhabited. James I, King of England, subsequently claimed the island for Britain.

In 1614, Spain tried to establish trade with the island. While returning to Holland from Brazil in 1627, Captain J. Gijsz visited Tobago. He reported that the island was uninhabited and would be a good place to establish a settlement. FriendshipIn 1628, Charles I, King of England, granted Tobago to Philip, Earl of Montgomery who later became Earl of Pembroke. In 1629, Jan de Moor, Burgomaster of Flushing, sent an expedition of Dutchmen who established a settlement called New Walcheren (probably Plymouth). Disease and Amerindians wiped them out but more settlers were sent in 1632.

In 1636, the Spaniards from Trinidad attacked Dutch settlers on Tobago. Cornelis, Jan de Moor’s son, was captured and the settlers driven out. In 1637, English Puritans from Barbados attempted to settle there. Amerindians killed most of them and the survivors sailed away to Providence Island, Bahamas. The Earl of Warwick purchased Pembroke's rights to the island and, in 1639, sent an expedition to the island. This was attacked and destroyed by Indians. James, Duke of Courland (Kurland, Latvia), who was said to have been the godson of James I, had been granted the island by King Charles I. He too sent an expedition to Tobago. These settlers made peace with the Amerindians but fever wiped out the settlement.

HopeThree years later, in 1642, James, Duke of Courland, sent another expedition to Tobago, with the assistance of the Dutch. A settlement was established on Courland Bay. Later that year, the Earl of Warwick established another settlement. Tobacco and indigo were planted. The Amerindians again destroyed the settlers. The few who survived managed to escape to Surinam (Dutch Guiana). Tobago was offered for sale in England in 1647 but there were no buyers. The Courlanders were driven out by the Amerindians in 1650 and went to Pomeroon (British Guiana).

A third attempt to settle the island was made by the Duke of Courland. More than one hundred families arrived from Europe. Willem Mollens, a Dutchman, officially claimed Tobago in the name of the Duke and renamed the island New Courland in 1654. In the same year, Adriaen and Cornelis Lampsins, heirs of the de Moors, attempted a settlement in another part of the island, with Peter Becquard as Commander of the expedition. He renamed the island New Walcheren. Thus Tobago became divided into two parts. This led to a dispute between the Courlanders and Dutch settlers. It Ladies returning from marketwas reported to the States General in Holland, who supported the Courlanders against their own countrymen. Duke James became the undisputed master of the island. He was seized in Europe by the King of Sweden and taken to Riga. The Dutch planters in Tobago surrounded the Courlanders, who surrendered to them and in 1659, Mollens, the Governor of the Courland colony, was forced to leave the island. The Dutch settlers then obtained a grant of Tobago from Louis XIV of France, in 1662. The French West India Company surrendered their rights and the French created the Lampsins 'Barons of Tobago'. Charles II of England re-granted Tobago to the Duke of Courland in 1664, but he did not attempt another settlement at that time. In 1663, New Walcheren had a population between 1000 and 1500 colonists and 7000 slaves.

Four English vessels, under the command of Captain Poyntz, captured the Dutch settlement in 1666, and took 150 prisoners. The French came over from Grenada and evicted the small garrison that had been left there, but then abandoned the island. The Treaty of Breda allowed the French to keep Tobago. Abel Tisso, a Frenchman, was appointed by the Dutch, as Governor, to reform the settlement. In 1672 the English under Sir Tobias Bridges captured the Dutch Governor, took 400 prisoners, destroyed the settlement and then abandoned the island. The Dutch began another Colonial Hospitalsettlement in 1676 with a large number of negroes captured from the French at Cayenne and MarieGalante. In March 1677, the Dutch Admiral Binckes defeated the French fleet in Roodklip Baai (Rockley Bay). Towards the end of the year the French returned, captured the Dutch Governor, destroyed the settlement and then abandoned the island. The Duke of Courland tried in vain to get settlers for Tobago. Tobago was restored to the Dutch by the 1679 Treaty of Nineguen.

In 1681 the Duke of Courland again attempted to settle in the island. He granted a title to some London merchants headed by Captain John Poyntz. After the arrangements had all been made, the Privy Council in London delayed sailing pending negotiations for a treaty. In 1685, Poyntz published a pamphlet about Tobago. In spite of the fact that the British Government had declared in 1687 that the grant made to the Duke of Courland was null and void, he made further attempts to settle the island. Around this time, English and French companies tried to establish themselves.

Louis D'or In 1698, HMS Speedwell was hastily dispatched from Barbados, with soldiers, to suppress pirates who had established themselves on the island. On hearing that preparations were being made for a settlement under the supervision of the Duke of Courland, to be held by Sir William Waller, the British Government issued orders to stop all vessels leaving for Tobago. In 1699, the British Government again declared Courland’s grant null and void. At the same time, the right of the British Crown to Tobago and St. Lucia was affirmed.

Tobago Satellite Map

Enjoy interactive satellite maps of Tobago. If you have Google Earth download the map here. If not, click the map below to view in a browser window.

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Page Updated: 18 Aug 17