The history of Trinidad and Tobago begins with the settlements of the islands by Amerindians. Both islands were encountered by Christopher Columbus on his third voyage in 1498. Tobago changed hands between the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders, but eventually ended up in British hands.
Trinidad remained in Spanish hands until 1797, but it was largely settled by French colonists. In 1888 the two islands were incorporated into a single crown colony. Trinidad and Tobago obtained its independence from the British Empire in 1962 and became a republic in 1976.
Human settlement in Trinidad dates back at least 7000 years. Around 1300 AD a group appears to have settled in Trinidad, this represents the native tribes which were present in Trinidad at the time of European arrival. First contact with Europeans, led by Christopher Columbus, took place on July 31, 1498.
Columbus is reported to have promised to name the next land he discovered for the Holy Trinity, and considered it a miracle when the first land he sighted was the three peaks of the Trinity Hills. However, it is unlikely that he saw the Trinity Hills, since their position on the south coast of Trinidad makes it difficult for them to be the first land spotted by a sea-traveller.
Although Spanish settlement began in the sixteenth century, the population in 1783 was less than three thousand, the majority being Amerindians. In 1783, the proclamation of a Cedula of Population by the Spanish Crown granted 32 acres (129,000 m²) of land to each Roman Catholic who settled in Trinidad and half as much for each slave that they brought. Uniquely, 16 acres (65,000 m²) was offered to each Free Coloured or Free Person of Colour (gens de couleur libre, as they were later known), and half as much for each slave they brought.
In the tumult of the Haitian and French Revolutions, many people migrated from the French islands to Trinidad. This resulted in Trinidad having the unique feature of a large French-speaking Free Coloured slave-owning class.
In the census of 1777 there were only 2,763 people recorded as living on the island, including some 2,000 Arawaks. By the time the island was surrendered to the British in 1797 the population had increased to 17,643: 2,086 whites, 1,082 free people of colour, 1,082 Amerindians, and 10,009 African slaves. By 1960, the population was 827,957 and included no Amerindians.
Spanish rule over the island, which nominally began in 1498, ended when the final Spanish Governor, Don José María Chacón surrendered the island to a British fleet of 18 warships under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby on February 18, 1797.
Tobago's development was similar to other plantation islands in the Lesser Antilles and quite different from Trinidad's. During the colonial period, French, Dutch, British and Courlanders (Latvians) fought over possession of Tobago, and the island changed hands 22 times - more often than any other West Indian island.
Tobago was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1814. The two islands were incorporated into the single crown colony in 1888 with Tobago reduced to the status of a Ward of Trinidad until the formation of the independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago on 31st August, 1962.
With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the new British colony of Trinidad was left with a severe shortage of labour. This was exacerbated by the abolition of slavery in 1833. To deal with this problem, Trinidad imported indentured servants from the 1830s until 1917. Initially, Chinese, free West Africans, and Portuguese from the island of Madeira were imported, they were replaced by hard-working Indentured workers from India. In addition, large numbers of ex-slaves migrated from the Lesser Antilles to Trinidad.
The American Merrimac Oil Company drilled what is said to be, "the first successful well in the world at La Brea in 1857, where oil was struck at 280 feet. Estimated oil production in Trinidad in 2005 was about 150,000 bbl/day.