Tobago: A Brief History

For the first 125 years following Tobago’s first sighting by Columbus in 1498, historic data is fragmentary. Tobago was “discovered” by the English in 1508 and during the period of the next 100+ years there were English reports that pirates including Henry Morgan would use the island coves as a base for their raids on Spanish shipping.

In 1608 James I claimed sovereignty over the island, but for the next 200 years Tobago changed hands between the Dutch, French, and English. In fact Tobago changed hands more times than any other island in the Caribbean!

The original Carib population were forced to defend their island against other Amerindian tribes. Then, during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, they had to defend it against European colonists. Over the years, the Dutch, English and French transformed Tobago into a battle zone and the island changed hands 31 times before it was finally ceded to the British in 1814 under the Treaty of Paris. (The English controlled the island from 1762 with periodic ousters from 1781-1793 and from 1802-1803 when the island fell under French occupation. It was officially ceded to the English in 1814.)

The island finally saw real investment by the British from the early 1800s. However, the abolition of slavery in 1836, and the collapse of many sugar plantations thrust the island into economic crisis. Over the next 50 years this became part of a wider sugar crisis in the West Indies by 1886. Tobago limped along in a state of depression due to lack of capital, labour and outdated cultivation tecniques.

By an Order in Council, dated October 20th 1888, Tobago was made subordinate to Trinidad, as from January 1st 1889. This led to the decision to unite the island with Trinidad in 1898. Tobago experienced a high in 1962 with the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago from Britain on August 31, 1962.

The need for a more direct administration of its local affairs was granted in 1980 with the creation of the Tobago House of Assembly, situated in Scarborough. The island’s natural beauty has been a major asset to the country’s tourism.

While Trinidad is multiethnic, the population of Tobago is overwhelmingly Afro-Tobagonian, although with a growing proportion of Indo-Trinidadians and Europeans (predominantly Germans and Scandinavians). Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Tobago grew by 11.28 percent, making it one of the fastest growing areas of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Global Literacy Project In Tobago

Jane Young-Anglim

GLP’s work in Tobago was inspired by the efforts of Jane Young-Anglim, who travels between a home in Tobago and another in Connecticut. Over the years Young-Anglim began working to establish libraries at Black Rock, Bethesda, Montgomery, St. Andrew’s Anglican and Buccoo Government Primary Schools and the Signal Hill High School. She also created pre-school libraries at Canaan (Sister Jo’s) and Buccoo pre-schools. As she began working on the Scarsborough Secondary High School library project she approached GLP with a hope to garner support for her projects.

The GLP staff were completely impressed with Jane’s work and so organized a book drive which led to a 20 foot container donation of some 18,000 books and ten computers in 2004. With the patronage of the Trinidad and Tobago Consul General Harold Robertson, our Tobago project was launched! (See news story here…)

The building of libraries on Tobago is an ongoing project, now operating under Boaters for Books. GLP has been happy to work with the Florida based, Boaters for Books ( to deliver general reading, academic and reference texts to various Caribbean institutions that request assistance. Among the islands that have been served by Boaters for Books are Anguilla, Nevis, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago and the islands of the Bahamas.  Boaters for Books has volunteers on the ground in each of these locations.