The Cedula Population of 1783
Cedula seemed to have laid the foundation for the development and growth of Trinidad’s social and economic structure. It was used to attract immigrants to the island. True colonization of Trinidad did not begin until the end of the 18th century, when the Spanish King acted on the advice of a French planter then the historic Cedula of Population was issued. In 1977 it was Phillip Rose Roume de Saint- Laurent a member of an aristocratic French family who helped in building the French empire in Louisiana and the Caribbean…and now a prosperous planter from Grenada visited and purchased land in Diego Martin. He didn’t just settle he returned to Grenada and encouraged other French families and free slaves to come to Trinidad. Saint- Laurent then journeyed to Spain and petitioned the King to grant free colonist and other free entry to Trinidad. .
This resulted in the Spanish Government readily issuing the Cedula of Population on the 24th November 1783 to grant land and other inducements to the colonists under certain terms. These were: To each white person of either sex, ten (10) quares were allotted, plus half that quantity for each negro slave that any such person should import with him. Any free negro or mulattoo coming to settle “in the quality of an inhabitant and chief of a family” received half of the allotted land that would have allotted if he was white. But the land was only offered to the person only if they were Roman Catholic resulting in most of the new settlers being French. As a result of the Cedula, almost overnight Trinidad was transformed into a colonized island.
Population increased significantly from a mere 2,700 in 1783 to 17,800 in 1789. 10,000 of who were African slaves, imported in large numbers because of the term the Cedula presented land for each slave owned. French or French based patois that is still present in the current culture of Trinidad soon became the main language spoken. Also in 1789 as a result of the French Revolution, even French families fled france and its colonies and joined their fellowmen in Trinidad which they could have done because of the Cedula of Population.
The British Conquest
The first priority of the British in the immediate years of victory was to increase the defense of the island against enemy attack. Fort Picton (named after the governor who built it) and Fort George (named after the King of England) were created on hilltops overlooking the Gulf of Paria. Even though they were constructed they didn’t see any military action. The 19th century did not start auspiciously for the new British colony. It was a blessing in disguise when Port of Spain went up in flames and burnt to the ground in the great fire of 1808. This provided the incoming governor, Sir Ralph Woodford a free hand in planning the reconstruction of the Capital city. Woodford also continued previous governor Chacon’s good work in opening up the interior of the island for development. 1830’s was a major time in Trinidad history. British Parliament passed an act abolishing slavery, effective on the 1st August 1834, much to the dismay of planters whose estates depended on large amounts of cheap labour. Britain decreed that ex slaves were obliged to serve an apprenticeship period; four years for domestic slaves and six years for field slaves. Slaves were less than happy about this so called “false freedom”.
Governor of the island proclaimed general emancipation bowing to the pressure to free all slaves at the same time on the 1st August 1838. Council of Government, made up largely of planters appointed an Agent of Immigration who was someone responsible to find alternative sources of field labour, since slave labour seemed to be no more. Various groups were tried but with little success: Portuguese, free Africans from Africa and Americans. Planters then turned their attention to Asia, where the workers turned out to be satisfactory. The first batch of Indians came to shore on May 30th 1845 via the Fatel Rozak . More were bought in but as time went on and the Indian population had significantly increased the Indian government banned emigration to Trinidad. Then the Chinese were brought in between 1848 and 1866 as a result of the temporary halt in Indian Immigration, but the Chinese weren’t as successful. They soon moved away creating a small close knit community of sharp witted entrepreneurs. Chinese immigration ended in 1866 by which time Indian immigration had resumed.
The 19th century was the gradual awakening of certain social consciousness. Non whites were becoming increasingly aware of their lack of power under the colonial system, which did not give right to a locally elected House of Assembly. Then calls for reform became apparent. Colonial office in London appointed a commission to investigate in 1888. It wasn’t till 1925 that the first extremely restricted election was held but much happened before this event. 1889 Trinidad found itself with a dependant when the colonial office decided that Tobago could no longer stand on its own (collapse of sugar based economy, 1884). This began the unitary state of Trinidad and Tobago. The 20th century began in turmoil. The government’s attempt to impose new taxes on water gave rise to the Water Riots of 1903, which ended in the burning of the Red House. Meanwhile in1857 the first oil well was being drilled in south Trinidad, a discovery that was to change the course of Trinidad’s history. The industry didn’t lift off until 1910 and by 1936 Trinidad was the leading oil producer of the British Empire. With the country’s inept interest in Black Gold the other sectors were neglected leading to a sharp decline in agriculture and manufacturing. Emphasis on oil meant the creation of a new class of workers for the oil industry. Oil field riots of 1937 plus militant nationalism which followed finally succeeded in persuading the British that the island should be allowed elected representation.
It was postponed temporarily due to the onset of the Second World War, but post war labour government was sympathetic to the cause and in 1946 the first adult suffrage election was held. Still it was very limited from democracy, but nevertheless it was the first step towards independence. 1956 was the year a new totally nationalistic party was formed, the PNM headed by Dr. Eric Williams. They won 13 of the 24 seats becoming the first Party Government. They also established a West Indian federation in the later years of the 1950’s. Trinidad was the designated Federal capital until the Federation fell in May 1961. National elections in 1961 saw the PNM winning 20 of the 30 seats and moving fully to achieve independence on August 31st 1962 to become an independent nation. PNM remained in power for 30 years cutting the nation’s last ties with the British on August 1st 1976 and Trinidad and Tobago was declared a Republic.