Tobago was settled over 2,500 years ago by Amerindians moving north from the South American mainland. Europeans first reached these islands in the form of Columbus on his third transatlantic voyage in 1498 and he called it ‘Bella Forma’. Right he was. Its present name is a corrupted version of the word Tobacco, which the then native Carib Indians grew.
Tobago was soon seen as a valuable strategic harbour and valuable agricultural asset by its recent European arrivals. Not surprisingly, as was customary during this period by nations seeking to cash in at this time, Tobago was “discovered” by the English in 1508 and was then fought over by the Dutch, Spanish, English, French and was also settled by Latvians and buccaneers (and some others too) well into the 18th Century. Bloody Bay, Pirates Bay, and Man o’ War Bay, Les Coteaux, Glamorgan and L’Anse Fourmi bear testament to this bellicose and politically colourful past. The English controlled the island from 1762 with hiccups from 1781-1793 and from 1802-1803 when the island fell under French occupation. It was officially ceded to the English in 1814 in the Treaty of Paris.
The island’s rich soils saw Tobago being used predominantly for agricultural production and in 1791, almost all of Tobago’s 15,000 population were African slaves working the island’s numerous sugar plantations, but, as was the case with many islands in the Caribbean, this increasingly became less important by the dawn of the 20th Century.
Tobago became a Crown Colony in 1877 and in 1888 was amalgamated politically with its larger island neighbour Trinidad in an effort to achieve greater financial stability for the island. In essence Tobago became the ward of colonial Trinidad.
In 1962 both Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from Britain and finally became a republic in 1976. Tobago is now almost wholly dependent on tourism – quite understandable considering the tropical naivety that pervades the island and the straightforward, genuine, unaffected friendliness of its people. It is not hard to see what with Tobago’s unspoiled beauty with its rainforests, its diverse & exotic birdlife and small, tropical palm-tree lined bays, it has gained the reputation for being the archetypal tropical island as portrayed in Daniel Dafoe’s 1791 novel, ‘Robinson Crusoe’.