History: 1700-1799

The history of Tobago in the 18th century

Cricket on Roxborough beach

In 1702, Captain Poyntz and others petitioned the British Crown, asking to be allowed to settle Tobago. The petition failed. The island became a no-mans-land and, in 1705, a French squadron used the island as a base for attacks against the English West Indian islands. In 1714, Ayris, called the Paramount Indian Chief, was sent from Barbados to Tobago, where he became Governor. In 1715 he appealed to the English Governor of Barbados for protection against rebellious negroes. He was assured of British protection. Britain then claimed sovereignty against the French.

In 1721 the Governor of Barbados was authorised to make grants of land in Tobago for the cultivation of cocoa, indigo, etc., - but not sugar, as this would have been against the interest of Barbados. At this time the island was virtually a pirate's nest. Then, in 1725, the Governor of Barbados reported that the French were still claiming Tobago. He was instructed to maintain England's right, but to avoid a clash with the French.

Mount IrvineFerdinand, Duke of Courland, supported by the King of Poland, tried to regain Tobago in 1731. In the same year he offered to sell the island to the Swedes, but the Swedish Ambassador in England, on making enquiries regarding Courland's rights to the island, was told that Courland had no rights and warned the King of Sweden to stay away from Tobago. In 1733, the Swedes attempted a settlement and landed 25 families and slaves, but they were driven out by the Amerindians.

In 1748, Marquis de Caylus, the French Governor of Martinique, attempted a settlement and landed troops and then built a fort. The British remonstrated to the French Government, who disowned the Marquis's act. The English and French governments agreed to declare the island neutral. The subjects of both nations left the island and the fort was destroyed.

The English captured Tobago in 1762 and the Treaty of Paris ceded it to Britain in 1763. T. Alexander Brown was appointed Lt. Governor in November 1764. The only inhabitants were the Amerindians and a few French turtle hunters. In December 1764, General Robert Melville was Native hutsappointed Governor General of Grenada, Tobago, St. Vincent and Dominica. His official residence was in Grenada. The Land Sales Proclamation was issued and the first recorded sale, Lot 1: 500 acres at Courland Bay, was to James Simpson. Tobago was divided into parishes at this time. There were still Amerindians scattered all over the island, but only in small groups. These groups were led by 'King Peter' 'King Cardinal' and 'King Roufelle'.

The first session of the Tobago Legislative Council and Assembly was held in April 1768 at Georgetown, Barbados Bay (Studley Park) where the first town was established, but never finished. The Seat of Government was moved to Scarborough in 1769. A house at Orange Hill was issued as the residence of the Lt. Governor.

Pulling in a seine netAn insurrection of slaves occurred in 1770 at Queen's Bay and the first shipment of sugar from Tobago left Gedney Clarke's Estate in St. Mary's Parish (Studley Park). The population at that time was 209 white men and 3,090 negroes. In this year, John Paul, who later changed his name to Jones, visited Tobago. He was brought before the Court of Vice-Admiralty and charged with ill-treating his ship's carpenter. John Paul Jones, the son of a gardener, was born in Scotland in 1747. He died in poverty in Paris and was buried there. He is regarded as the founder of the U.S. Navy. His masthead is said to have been the first to fly the "Stars and Stripes".

Two insurrections of slaves occurred in 1771 and the militia put both down. There was another insurrection of slaves in 1774. The cultivation of sugarcane was abandoned in 1775, because of devastation by millions of ants. Cotton was planted in its place. The population at that time was about 2,300 whites, 1,050 free people of colour and 10,800 slaves. Two years later, in 1777, American privateers raided the island. They arrived in armed boats and got away with whatever they could.

Pig Village, RoxboroughIn 1778, an American Squadron tried to capture Tobago but was driven off. It was about this time that guns were mounted on estates for their protection. Settlers raised money to buy the cannons in order to defend themselves. This may account for the substantial number still to be found on the island.

In 1779, the French captured Grenada and took the British Governor General prisoner. The population of Tobago in 1780 was 11,087. Exports of cotton were 2,619,000 lbs. and indigo 27,000 lbs. In 1781, the first clergyman of the established church started his work on the island and started the church register. During April of that year, the French captured the island. Lt. Governor Ferguson was taken prisoner. The French government ordered that all land owners produce titles to their land within a month. In 1782, Cotton Hill (French Fort) was fortified.

Tobago was ceded to the French, in 1783, by the Treaty of Versailles. The French appointed Philbert de Blanchard as Governor of the island’s population which had dropped to less than 800 inhabitants. The French troops mutinied in 1790 and Scarborough was destroyed by the resultant fire. In August of that year, a hurricane caused considerable damage on the island.

Tobago Aquatic ClubOn 15 April 1793, Tobago was re-captured by the British, who initiated a separate Government with her own Governor, a Legislative Council (appointed by the British Crown) and a representative House called the General Assembly. The following year, a militia was formed, followed in 1795 by the Corps of Black Jaegers for internal protection. The Corps was made up of 100 trusted slaves under the supervision of white officers. The Government issued a proclamation requiring all male inhabitants to take oaths of allegiance to the British Crown. Most of the French inhabitants refused and were regarded as prisoners of war.

By 1798 sugar was back in cultivation, so indigo and cotton became less important to the island. Negroes were allowed to trade freely, enabling many to buy freedom.

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