THE PITCH LAKE AT LA BREA
Although one cannot say, as is recorded in some histories, that it was Sir Walter Raleigh who discovered the pitch lake of Trinidad, it was surely Sir Walter who publicized it to the world. Concerning its discovery, of course it could not have been due to Sir Walter because, after all, the Spaniards had claimed possession of Trinidad nearly a century before Sir Walter came on the scene, and even though they never settled in the island until nearly another century had passed, it would be very far-fetched to think none of the Spanish mariners in the wake of Columbus had seen it.
But more glaring than that — what about the native peoples? It is said they lost a whole village to the pitch lake. Even if the legend is only a legend and is not even faintly connected to the truth, the fact that the Arawaks were here before any of the outsiders makes it obvious that it is only these people who could have discovered the pitch lake.
But Raleigh is interesting in the affairs of what the school-books calls “The Wonder Lake in Trinidad.” Firstly it must be said that at the time of Raleigh it was really a lake in so far as it was liquid, containing “islands” of solid pitch or asphalt. Raleigh came to Trinidad in March, 1595, not for pitch, of course, but to search for El Dorado, the mythical city of gold. El Dorado was believed to be somewhere in the Guianas, but Raleigh particularly came to Trinidad to intercept and forestall Governor Antonio de Berrio, who was about to leave on the same quest.
In his book, The Discoverie of the Bewtiful Province of Guiana, he talks of sailing north up the Gulf of Paria, and looking at the coast. He said, “I myselfe coasted it in my barge close abord the shore the better to know the islande.” But in sailing close abord the shore he began feeling the tang of the pitch, a pungent smell in the air that burned his nostrils. He began to look and in a few moments he came up to the lake. He was taken aback, and learning from his Arawak guides what the place was called, he said in his book: “At this place, Tierra de Brea, there is that abundance of stone pitch that all the shippes of the world may be therewith loden from thence, and we made trial of it in trimming our shippes to be most excellent good, and melteth not with the sunne as the pitch of Norway, and for those sailing the south parts, very profitable.”
As Raleigh said, they, the Spaniards, trimmed their ships with it and were very satisfied with the results. They seemed to have spent hours at La Brea, or “Tierra de Brea” as the Spaniards called it, which simply meant “Land of Pitch,” and Raleigh watched the black lake and he must have seen the pitch flowing into the tide in some places. Raleigh probably also knew, for he might have been told by the Arawaks, that if a hole be dug in the solid pitch, the space soon fills up with pitch again. He must have marveled at this, the world not knowing anything at all about petroleum in that era, and so he could hardly have guessed that it was the very petroleum pressing up to create the pitch – petroleum made asphaltic by time. It is doubtful, though, whether the Arawaks had conveyed to Raleigh that the asphalt was not just confined to the “lake” but was under the soil of the area in a radus of two to three miles in the vicinity of the lake. In any case since Raleigh did not speak Arawak nor the Arawaks, Spanish, they could not have communicated except with extreme difficulty, but the most pressing thing was that Raleigh was in haste to capture de Berrio before de Berrio got wind of his presence and escaped. Also, Raleigh was anxious to seize the gold of El Dorado.
So the Englishman hurried away, and he managed to burn the capital San Jose, and capture de Berrio but at the end of it he had to go back to England without gold. He returned 22 years later, in 1617, and although his quest was still El Dorado, he called at Trinidad, presumably to see the lake again. He wrote this time: “This Tierra de Brea is a piece of land some two leagues long and a league broad, all of stone pitch…which rises out of the ground in little springs…and so running all the way it hardens in the air and covers all the plaine. There are also many springs of water, and in and among them, freshwater fish.”
In that year, 1617, Raleigh headed straight on to search for El Dorado for there was no de Berrio to kidnap. He was again unsuccessful in finding the fabled Land of Gold and on his return to England he was clamped in the Tower of London on political charges, obviously trumped up, and in the following year, 1618, he was beheaded.
More than a century and a half passed over the Pitch Lake and the governor who was here from 1784 to 1797, Jose Maria Chacon, was ordered by the King of Spain to set up a pitch factory to see what use the pitch could be put to. Chacon established the factory but he could not do much with the pitch.
Governor Ralph Woodford during his term of office here (1813-1828) tried with zest, but he did not get very far, and Lord Harris, who was very enthusiastic, encouraged the second Lord Dundonald, to see if pitch could be used as a fuel. In 1850 Dundonald made many experiments in the gulf, using his barge, but the experiments were not conclusive.
Not too far in the future a man who was to be fascinated with pitch came here. This was the English writer, Charles Kingsley, who was spending the Christmas of 1869 with his friend, Governor Sir Arthur Gordon. Kingsley was not seeking to experiment with pitch. Governor Gordon just brought him down to see “The wonder lake in Trinidad.” Kingsley, passing through the village of La Brea by cart in 1870, writes: “The soil is half-pitch, half brown earth, among which the pitch swells in an out as tallow swells from a candle. It is always in slow motion under the heat of the tropic sun, and no wonder if some of the cottages have sunk right and left in such a treacherous foundation. A stone or brick house could not stand here, but wood and palm thatch are both light and tough enough to be safe, let the ground give way as it will.”
Kingsley seems to be exaggerating, as usual, but this time perhaps only slightly. Because there was a lot more petroleum in the soil in 1869 than there is today, the oozing and ebbing of the pitch in the soil at La Brea was a great deal more active than it is now. Thirty years earlier it was even more so, and the historian E.L. Joseph, who visited La Brea around about the year 1835, wrote: “On landing, a respectable-looking village presents itself. Here and there thick layers of asphaltum overspread the layers of the soil, appearing as though they had been placed there by Man, although, in fact, these layers have burst through the soil.”
At last, towards 1900 a good use was found for pitch. Automobiles were beginning to appear on the roads of the world and a few far-seeing men thought of pitch as the best all-weather surface. But of course, that was nothing new. A San Fernando figure called Julien Maisonneuve, a man from the masses who by dint of hard work rose from the status of an ordinary labourer to be the Borough Council’s Superintendent of Streets, literally begged to be allowed to use pitch (asphalt) on the road, but most of the councillors as well as the various mayors called him mad. Some time around 1870 he was allowed to pave a short section of roadway, but when he was finished he was almost paid off as being totally insane.
But around 1900 when news came that asphalt was being used to pave the roads of the world they were glad to call him back from retirement and asked him to see what he could do to help. But he was tired and had his own pitch factory and so could not do much at that stage. And of course he had absorbed so much criticism and insult that maybe he had no zeal to do much. He preferred to remain with his pitch factory on Broadway where he continued to process pitch into a fuel, and as an insecticide.
And so back to La Brea itself. In 1888 the government gave a contract to work the “lake” and from this time began the large-scale export of pitch. The 1920s saw many countries in the old world and the new hastening to pave their roads to accommodate the procession of cars and other automobiles, and then was when “all the shippes of the world were therewith loden” from La Brea. In 1921 La Brea had 2,616 workers, most of them labourers of the lake and their families.
La Brea, or Tierra de Brea, is only 38 miles from Port-of-Spain due south by road and one does not have to be a Sir Walter Raleigh to discover it.
Copyright NALIS, 2007
LITTLE TOBAGO, THE HOME OF THE BIRD OF PARADISE
Leaving historic Roxborough and continuing along the main road running northeast with the coast, one comes to Speyside, and just about two miles off the Speyside shore, is an islet: the quiet nature reserve called Little Tobago.
Little Tobago came to special attention on September 14, 1909, when a certain Mr Woolford Frist arrived in Port-of-Spain Harbour on board the Royal Mail Steamer “Magdalena.” His destination was Little Tobago and he was being sent there by Sir William Ingram who had recently bought the island. Sir William, who was aware of the trade in the plumage of the beautiful bird of paradise, and who feared the birds’ extinction as a result, wanted to rescue them from the droves of hunters who went to New Guinea to get their feathers to adorn ladies' hats. These hats fetched extremely high prices in London, Paris and other fashionable centres of the world.
It is not certain whether Sir William went to New Guinea himself, but 45 pairs of the birds were captured in their natural habitat — the Aru Islets of New Guinea — and they were dispatched to Little Tobago through Mr. Frist. Sir William knew the birds of paradise would have to remain there, for one of the peculiarities of these birds was that they could not fly very far. That was why, in fact, they had not left the Aru Islets.
No sooner had Mr. Frist got off the SS Magdalena than he journeyed on to Little Tobago and released the 45 pairs of birds. As of that day Little Tobago became famous as the Isle of the Bird of Paradise, although one cannot say that the fame is still justified for no one has reported the sight of these birds for a long while.
The last time the birds were seen was in 1958 when a journalist and a photographer from National Geographic magazine were sent to Little Tobago to see if these birds really existed there, and if so, to see if they could be lucky enough to capture the famous mating dance on film. The custodian of Little Tobago at the time, Jeremiah George, had assured the visitors he would help but that the birds were rarely seen. The three crossed the choppy waters between Speyside and Little Tobago to try to meet the bird of paradise. They hid one hour in the bushes, with the custodian calling “wark, wark, wark,” imitating the bird, but there was no luck. It was nearing dusk on Little Tobago, and time to leave. The custodian made one more try, calling “wark, wark, wark,” and then, depressed, the three got up to go. The journalist was not so depressed as he was skeptical.
Did the birds really exist there? The men were out of the bushes already and walking to the track to get to the boat when Jeremiah called “Wait!” and grabbed the visitors to keep them still. There was complete silence save for the murmur of the sea. Then came the distinct cry: “wark, wark, wark.”
Both the custodian and the visitors were speechless. The custodian was mainly relieved that he had saved the day. There it was, on a branch — the beautiful bird of paradise. From the time it appeared the photographer began clicking his camera frantically.
“You lucky,” the custodian whispered. "It’s a male. The male is the pretty one.”
“It’s really nice.”
“That’s nothing yet. So what if it had sun and you see the colour sparkling. And if you see the mating dance!”
“The mating dance!” the journalist said, “That’s what we came for.”
“That’s almost impossible to see. We’ll have to come back here time after time.”
LITTLE TOBAGO, THE MATING DANCE OF THE BIRD OF PARADISE
It was in that year, 1958, that the courtship dance of the bird of paradise was seen for the first time in the Caribbean, and it is believed it was also the first time it was seen outside of the natural habitat of the birds, the Aru Islands of New Guinea. And of course the place at which this was seen was Little Tobago, the islet not far from the Speyside shore.
The courtship dance was unknown, except to the natives of New Guinea, until the naturalist and explorer, Alfred Russell Wallace, caused excitement in 1857 when he wrote about it. He had presumably heard about it, for he saw it in the wilds of the Aru Islands after braving hardships of every kind to get to the birds’ “territory.”
The bird of paradise, although clothed in only two main colours — brown and yellow, with some green — is regarded as one of the most beautiful birds in the world. It is strongly built, and has heavy claws with which to perch — although its scientific name is Paradisaea apoda — the footless one. This name came about because the bird was first seen in Europe when stuffed, with the feet removed. It has strong feet but very weak wings, and so it cannot fly far. It is the male of these birds that is startlingly beautiful.
Incidentally, they got the name “bird of paradise” in the 16th century when the Portuguese explorer Fernando Magellaes (Ferdinand Magellan) brought cured examples back to Europe. They are fairly large birds, with trailing plumes so beautiful that the bird-hunters in New Guinea went berserk after them, giving the makers of ladies' hats in Europe a field day.
The National Geographic magazine, volume cxiv, no. 3, September 1958, published the account of the two Americans who told the story of the courtship dance. These men were the naturalist, Thomas Gilliard and the photographer, Fred Truslow. These two people (and apparently, the custodian of the nature reserve) spent months camping on the islet of Little Tobago waiting for the courtship dance, and the moment came, as Gilliard describes: "We were slumped behind the blind as dawn filtered through the forest. Several male birds of paradise began calling from near the top of the island. Soon a male called out distinctly a few yards from us."
After describing how the male near him began preening and wiping his bill on the branch, and how it kept up a dialogue of calls with another bird of paradise, he added: "The male in front of us shook his head like a wet dog drying himself, and resumed his preening, running his long tail wires methodically through his bill with a roundhouse sweep of his head. More interested now in displaying, he stretched each wing separately, tightened his body feathers, and emitted four or five deep wark, wark, wark, in rapid succession. This was the beginning of the mating dance. The bird quickened its call, fanned out its wings and put its head under them, raised and twisted its head, reared up as if to dive — in short it became crazed with excitement as its partner, a long-plumed bird, flitted to a nearby tree. And suddenly,” says Gillard, "both birds broke into an amazing dance, charging along the tops of the main display limbs (of the branches) in nearly perfect time. They reminded me of two golden circus poodles performing at the same time. Brought to an apparently unbearable pitch of emotion, the males broke off their synchronized pattern and seemed to lose partial control of their movements. As if crippled, they dragged their legs along the perch, shuffling sideways, but still scurrying head downwards."
Although that was the end of the dance that day, it was not the end of the courtship dance, which took on a new intensity a few days later. But this description is enough to show that the bird of paradise is one of the most amazing creatures in the world, and since 1919 has lived on the islet of Little Tobago almost unsung — that is, if it has survived until the moment. One is grateful to Sir William Ingram for sending to the tiny Aru Islands off New Guinea with thoughts of rescuing the species, and for having sent them to Little Tobago, thereby making that islet a second home to the bird of paradise.
- National Geographic Magazine, cxiv, September 3, 1958.
Copyright NALIS, 2007
Lopinot, the most elevated village in Trinidad (contour-wise) was founded by Charles Josephe Count de Lopinot, who could have been called “a man on the run.” He had left France some time around 1750 to go to the North American French colony of Arcadie, today the combined Canadian territories of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. He left Arcadie around 1755 when the British ejected the French from those regions, and like most of the French from Arcadie he went to the other French colony of Louisiana, where he served as an officer of the French army. But Lousiana, like Arcadie, was not to remain a French colony for long, and Count Charles Josephe de Lopinot decided to move again when Louisiana showed signs of going over to the United States.
(This may have been in the 1870s. Louisiana did not actually go over to the United States until 1803, when it was bought by United States authorities. It became part of the Union in 1812).
When Count de Lopinot left Louisiana he went to France’s flourishing sugar colony of Santo Domingo, and there he established a huge sugar plantation and his fortunes soared. This was several years before the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, but the revolution brought all sorts of convulsions and turmoil to Santo Domingo, including chaos and anarchy. For the watchwords of that revolution — Liberty, Brotherhood, and Equality — caused the slaves to unleash relentless fury against the white planters and create a reign of terror. Most of the planters fled, and Count de Lopinot was one of these. He was concealed in a barrel by one of his slaves and sent as part of a consignment of sugar to Jamaica.
From Jamaica he wrote to the British authorities saying he lost everything fighting alongside the British soldiers and would like some sort of compensation and resettlement. They told him to proceed to their newly conquered island of Trinidad, where the Governor, Thomas Picton, was being instructed to offer help to him. Count de Lopinot arrived in Trinidad on April 29, 1800. He was accompanied by his wife and two children, and it was reported that he had a hundred slaves. On his arrival he learned that Picton had received no word from the Secretary of State for the Colonies. However, being here already he decided to stay.
Having been previously successful in sugar he bought part of a Tacarigua sugar estate on credit, but things did not go too well and he suffered great losses. However, his long military experience must have come to the knowledge of the authorities for in 1805 new Governor Thomas Hislop appointed him Brigadier General of the Trinidad militia.
He had got no compensation from the British for his “services” in Santo Domingo and so now as Brigadier General he applied again. His perseverance paid off. He was asked to select a parcel of land.
He and his slaves struck out into the forested mountains north of the Arouca savannah where he lived. Following the course of a river that is now known as the Lopinot River, Count de Lopinot and his slaves made steady progress through the woods, pushing more than five miles north until at length they came to an attractive valley with a plain almost completely ringed by mountains. The air was cool and the valley seemed ideal for an estate. He obtained the grant of this valley, which contained 478 acres, and being totally fed-up with sugar he decided to grow cocoa. He called the estate La Reconnaissance (The Look-out).
The count and his slaves made the valley flourish and in a short time the name of “Lopinot” became of great importance. A great deal of cocoa was exported down the Lopinot River, and from there to Port-of-Spain. Count de Lopinot became active, politically, and in Ralph Woodford’s regime he was brought into the Council of Government. He remained a member of the Council of Government until his death in 1819. He was buried among the cocoa trees of La Reconnaissance not far from his house.
The village the count left behind was made up of the 100 slaves he brought with him. The cocoa plantations which occupied the valley were mostly gone by the time the 20th Century opened, but Lopinot is still a place of thriving cocoa estates.
More than 200 years have gone by since the “count on the run” came to Trinidad. His life was hectic up to then and he made sure the British compensated him for what he had gone through. And in the end he compensated Trinidad by giving it a beautiful and historic mountain village.
- Various papers, including family letters, on the life of Count de Lopinot
Copyright NALIS, 2008
“Macqueripe” is a word that sprang from one of the native Arawak tribes who settled in the area which carries that name today. This Arawak village lay beside a deeply-indented bay on the coast of the northwestern peninsula, just about six miles from the Bocas to the southwest. It is about three miles from the present-day Chaguaramas Road intersection with the Tucker Valley Road.
The Spaniards called this Arawak village “Macqueripo,” and during the 1780s and until 1797 it was one of the principal Spanish fortresses in Trinidad, fortified with at least one cannon watching over the entrance of the Gulf of Paria. It was a period when, during a Franco-British war in the Windward Islands, the British, resenting the granting of sanctuary in Trinidad to French republicans who harassed them, threatened to seize Trinidad. Yet when the British fleet appeared outside the Gulf of Paria on the 17th February, 1797, the cannons of Macqueripe seemed to have been silent, or, at any rate, they were unable to stop the invasion.
At each end of the waters of Macqueripe there is a promontory, and in that tilted half-moon of a bay French-speaking people who came in as immigrants under a Spanish Cedula of 1783 named the northeastern point, “Point Melee,” (mixed-up Point) and the southwestern, ”Tete Boeuf,” or “Cow’s Head.” With the arrival of these French planters and their slaves the area had been granted out as estates and by the middle of the 19th Century, the estate spreading over the old Macqueripe was called “Prospect.”
And as the 19th Century wore on the prospect seemed distinctly brighter for this estate. An Englishman who had come to Trinidad around the year 1854 mainly to act as a trade liaison in matters concerning Venezuela took up the hobby of shooting, curing, and stuffing humming-birds. It was a hobby that brought him a lot of money, for these were sold at high prices in the fashionable capitals of the world. The man’s name was William Sanger Tucker, and for William, wandering through the valley that led to Macqueripe brought another catch. There in Cuesa Valley and on Prospect Estate he met a young lady who interested him, only that her father, who had taken over the estate on mortgage, was having difficulty with payments. It worried her and he went to the girl’s home to exchange greetings with her father and to see if he could suggest a way out.
The way out was marrying the girl, a move he had thought of even before he had learned of her father’s plight. After marrying the girl, Macqueripe was his home, for he took over the father’s payments and naturally he took over the running of the estate. The plantation flourished and he made a track through the Cuesa Valley - or rather, through the Tucker Valley, as it was now called - right out to the waterside at Chaguaramas. He produced an abundance of fruit and cocoa, etc, and in order to export them he acquired lighters, at one time owning a fleet of 27. William Sanger Tucker died in 1902.
The next interesting episode in the annals of Macqueripe came in 1941, when everything that was developing on the northwestern peninsula had to be wiped out clean, like one does a slate, because of the American forces. The British had leased certain parts of the island for the Americans to build bases, as part of a big Lend-Lease agreement. In pursuit of that agreement the Americans required that all persons and business enterprises leave the northwestern peninsula.
So everything came to a stop as the Americans went ahead building a naval base and air station. In that part of Trinidad whole villages were obliterated from the map — Teteron, Chaguaramas, Point Gourde, Scotland Bay. At Macqueripe the only thing that remained the same was the Macqueripe Hotel, a rather “snooty” hotel on the “cliff” of Macqueripe Beach, although at normal ground level, several hundred feet above the level of the sea.
Some years after the end of the war in 1945 the Americans left — although it could be said they left early for the lease was for 99 years. (The then new Trinidad and Tobago Government under Dr Eric Williams fought for their departure, and they finally pulled out in 1977, after 36 years).
Macqueripe has remained lonely, the hotel deserted. The physical hotel remained intact until about 1980, when owing to the ravages of vandals much more than to the ravages of time, it was demolished and cleared away.
Copyright NALIS, 2007
One of the outlying, obscure little districts, not so much obscure today as it used to be, but a district in which people never took seriously their true county standing, is Mafeking, which adjoins the village of Mayaro on its western side. Mafeking took shape when wardens were growing active in the untouched eastern areas of the country. The name “Mafeking” was given to this area of roughly four square miles just around 1900. The Boer War in South Africa was raging then, and there was great excitement in Trinidad when in the move for Cape Town Mafeking was taken by the British.
Lying, as it does, just across the River Ortoire the people of Mafeking depended on Mayaro for everything, for it was Mayaro, the “town” as it were, that had whatever little commerce the area disposed of. But the Ortoire River is the western boundary of County Mayaro and so Mafeking, on the bank of the river, is at the eastern end of County Nariva. Yet the majority of people in Mafeking and Mayaro, who have not looked at the geography of the places, regard Mafeking as a part of County Mayaro mainly because their children attended its schools and they themselves see the shops and stores as their own. Fortunately, for the purpose of administration (the payment of rates and taxes, et cetera) the regional authority is the same – the Mayaro/Rio Claro Regional Corporation.
Mafeking, like everywhere else in Trinidad, has grown and has become a very different-looking place from what it used to be in the old days. Here, there are no new roads of any consequence that shoot off the essential Mafeking, which is along the Naparima-Mayaro Road, although, along the mile-and-a-half strip there are some splendid, modern, and very beautiful houses, a far cry from what one would have seen in the 1940s. At about the middle of the mile-and-a-half strip, forming a T-junction and running off to the north, is what is known as Mafeking Road, and this road, now with some elegant houses and not like it used to be with just a few shacks, veers to the west towards open high woods, while at the curve, a branch of it turns easterly towards the village of Ortoire. Ortoire Village lies at the mouth of the River Ortoire and beside the coast, but it is in this section that Mafeking is developing most, where the river Ortoire forms a common border between what might be called Inner Mafeking and Ortoire Village. In this area there are a few new buildings on lands that previously got waterlogged and swampy in the rainy season.
But back to the essential Mafeking: one of the most prominent families in this district are the descendants of a man noted for raising the most industrious, numerous, and high-profile children in that section of Trinidad. He is Peter Duncan Campbell, who came to this area in 1920 as overseer on an estate called Nava. He was then a young man of only 22 and he had returned from World War I to which he had gone while still a teenager. He set up his house not too far from Nava Estate, just about midway between the estate and the Mafeking Road junction. He was a white Trinidadian, presumably of Scottish parentage, and he married Annie, a black woman of Mayaro. They produced seven children, and the family has distinguished itself in the economic life at Mayaro. The first Campbell boy, Victor, became prominent in the People’s National Movement government of 1956-1961, in which he was Minister of Works. Just before that he had established a sawmill at Mafeking, a business which, run with a brother, Rupert, made a considerable impact on trade and industry in the region.
Copyright NALIS, 2008
MARACAS - THE VILLAGE
When the British captured Trinidad in 1797 they found that part of the Maracas valley had not only become a village, but that it was well cultivated and was one of the most productive regions in Trinidad.
A survey that year, 1797, showed it was mainly under sugar, but there was some coffee. There were three sugar mills worked by mules, a rum distillery, and four coffee mills. Its population consisted of 22 white families which amounted to 46 persons, and the labourers on the estate numbered 128 slaves and 120 free blacks.
After 15 years of British rule the picture changed sharply. A statement of December 31, 1811 from Governor William Monro to the Secretary of State for the Colonies shows that the population of the valley had doubled. Its 496 people were made up of 74 whites, 190 free blacks, and 232 slaves. At this point the crops had changed: in fact, there were 350 acres under cocoa compared to only 35 under sugar-cane. Coffee took care of about 80 acres.
However, sugar, with its comparatively small acreage, was yielding almost as much as cocoa in terms of poundage, and may have been greater in value. For instance, in 1811 the valley of Maracas produced 63,000 pounds of sugar as compared to 64,000 pounds of cocoa. Coffee yielded just 3,000 pounds.
No wonder that the valley of Maracas was esteemed both by its own settlers and by the authorities — but certainly not by the slaves, who bore the brunt of the work and the sweat and the tears. Yet after Emancipation in 1834 and before the abolition of slavery in 1838 we see most of the Maracas estate-owners claiming compensation for the slaves they had allowed to go. There was the owner of Santa Barbara estate, Juan Ravello; there was William Purcell, who owned Santa Rosa; and one cannot forget the Hernandez family who owned Montserrat estate. Even after the turn of the year 2000 a number of the members of the Hernandez family still lived in the area. There were also the estates of La Merced, La Florida, and La Victoria which, only existing only in name, yet help to tell the story of Maracas Valley.
- Mallet’s report of 1797
- Governor William Monro’s report of 1811
Copyright NALIS, 2008
MARACAS VALLEY AND EL TUCUCHE
Maracas Valley has the distinction of being the first of the Northern Range valleys to be settled, for while the settlement of the other valleys beside it, namely Caura, Santa Cruz, Maraval, Diego Martin and Chaguaramas, date back to the Cédula of Population of 1783, the Valley of Maracas knew settlers since the founding of San José de Oruña (St Joseph) nearly 200 years before.
The fact is that the settlement could have lapsed in the time between, especially so as few women came to the Indies. San José was founded by Domingo de Vera (for Antonio de Berrio) in March 1592.
Because San José, or St Joseph, as we know it, stands at the entrance to the valley the stretch from there to the sea became at once popular to both planters and the authorities, for it was remarkably fertile, and quickly became a place of estates. But it was also a quick and convenient route to the north coast. In any case it was a fine place to keep guard, for from the mountain tops one could spy any enemy ship heading for the Gulf of Paria.
Throughout most of the 18th century Spain maintained a look-out there, and in 1711, the governor, Felix Guzman, climbed the mountains to the guard-post to see if his guards were on the alert. It was reported he was half-dead with fatigue when he reached the top. The mountains to the north of St Joseph overlooked a bay that Spanish navigators had named Maracas — one is not sure why, since maracas are rattles. Could they have heard a rattling sound in that bay? Anyway, it was through this bay that the valley derived its name. On early maps this valley is called Valle de San José.
After the founding of San José de Oruña some of the early settlers followed the river up the valley, not only for the purpose of opening estates on that well-watered terrain but to find the source of that tributary of the Caroni upon which the town was built. That must have been a spectacular moment when they found it for the source is none other than the waterfall — the Maracas Waterfall, with a drop of 340 feet. Maybe it was shortly after this that it was discovered what an excellent view of the sea can be had from these heights. Nearby and towering over Maracas Bay was one of the highest peaks of all the Northern Range. The native people knew it as Tucuche and the Spaniards put on an El (or the) making it El Tucuche.
Copyright NALIS, 2008
Maybe one of the best-known places in Trinidad, which at one time was amongst the most remote, is Mayaro. But this, the largest village in Trinidad, and so unusual, so different from all the rest, is hardly ever seen on the map. Most maps of Trinidad show Pierreville, which is certainly in Mayaro, but Pierreville is not Mayaro. A plea made some two years ago to our mapping division to recognize Mayaro as a village has not had any success.
The ironical thing is that most times when the word “Mayaro” is seen on the map it is as the county, although the name of the county came about because of the village Mayaro. When in 1849 Governor Lord Harris divided the island into counties and wards he had no idea of what the Mayaro region was like; he could not visit it, for there were no roads that led to the east coast. In fact the whole of the interior of the country was covered with impenetrable forests and the only highway to get to Mayaro was the sea. But Lord Harris, inspecting the map and seeing a lone village in the southeast called Mayaro, marked out a county containing it and gave it the name: Mayaro.
This county, a sweep of land 150 square miles in area, took up the entire southeastern corner of Trinidad, with Guayaguayare being the only other village. Guayaguayare, snuggled in the deep bay of Galeota on the southern shore, is 16 miles from Mayaro. Lord Harris divided County Mayaro into two wards, and the odd thing he did was to call the one containing Mayaro, “Guayaguayare Ward,” and, falling into the error of believing that the Trinity Hills really existed and were in the area of Galeota, he called that ward: “Trinity.”
But it is the village of Mayaro that concerns us here. What is Mayaro and where does the name come from? The name, which is Arawak, is said to mean the place of the maya plant, although the maya plant itself is unknown today. Mayaro came into recorded history in 1690 when Capuchin priests from Catalunia in Spain arrived at Trinidad, at the request of a Spanish governor, to convert the natives to the “Holy Roman Catholic faith.” They founded missions, some of which have today become well-known villages such as Savoneta, Mayo and Tortuga, San Rafael and Princes Town, as well as the very first mission to be founded, Purísima Concepcion de Naparima, now the City of San Fernando.
These brave missionaries spent three years at this task, founding missions, with sometimes just one remaining behind and the rest moving on to search for natives to convert. Sixteen of these missionaries had arrived at the Arawak village of Naparima (now San Fernando) in 1687 and in 1690 the last two of them reached a large Arawak village on the east coast. Happily they built a mission church here. But what did the Arawaks call this place? They called it “Mayaro.” Although no one can tell what became of the original mission church, one knows exactly where it was, because it is still the site of the Mayaro Roman Catholic church.
Mayaro, now 317 years since it came into recorded history, seems to have grown more in the last 60 years than in all the time before. It has become one of the fastest-growing areas in Trinidad due to the oil and gas off Punta del Galeota, at Guayaguayare.
There is no dispute as to whether it is the largest village in Trinidad. It is this many times over because of its different settlements — St Joseph, Beau Sejour, Plaisance, Beaumont, St Anns, Radix, Ste Marguerite, Lagon Doux, Grand Lagoon, and Lagon Palmiste. These were all former estates, except Grande Lagoon and Lagon Palmiste. They are all along the coast and give Mayaro 11 miles of beach. Pierreville, the village centre, sprang up on Plaisance Estate. The entire inhabited area of Mayaro village is approximately 15 square miles. All these estates were originally granted by Governor José Maria Chacón under the Cedula of Population of 1783. He made these grants to French royalists along the then remote and inaccessible Mayaro coast, mainly to keep them away from their bitter enemies, the French republicans.
The essential and historic Mayaro, which is the Mayaro where the mission church was built in 1690, is in the area of the Mayaro Roman Catholic church, on what became Radix Estate, and later, just Radix. The population of Mayaro Village, which was only 403 in 1797 and about 4,000 in the census year 1946, is now in 2007, about 15,000 by rough estimate. This figure does not include a “fluid” population of oil-workers and holiday makers.
Copyright NALIS, 2008
ISLANDS OF THE NORTHWEST PENINSULA
ISLETS OF THE BOCAS
When Columbus sailed up the gulf to find open sea, the whale that spouted in front of his ships did nothing more than cause him to give a name to the placid water: Golfo de la Ballena (Gulf of the Whale). Not wanting to take the risk to pass among those jagged rocks of the Bocas that seemed to be the gateway to wide ocean, he skirted the northwest of the land he had called La Trinidad and headed for what he thought was a channel in the land-mass lying to the west. He found it was no channel but a land the natives called “Paria.” However, rather than retrace his course he decided to sail a little way down that coast, mainly because of the natives of those parts gathering on the shore and calling to them. There was one point where the natives appeared to be shouting out something like “Macuro!” and at this place, which he named “Macuro,” he and his men landed, and he, in particular, seemed to have spent there the happiest days of the voyage. Incidentally, the native word “Macuro” simply meant “White men.”
When Columbus went ashore he was entertained by the cacique who considered him a great king and lord that had appeared from the sunrise. But Columbus, after the five or so days he spent at Macuro, wanted to hurry away. He became suddenly anxious, no doubt remembering that the meat and provisions he was taking to the settlement of Isabella (at Hispaniola) were rotting away in the ships’ holds. He told the cacique of Macuro he had to leave. The cacique said a sad farewell. The cacique told him not to be afraid of the rocky islets. The cacique said that it was true, those channels and the expanse to the west was the entry into open sea but that it was in fact safe, with no reefs as the Spaniards suspected, and all one had to do was to wait on the tides. The cacique further said what amounted to: “I am very much surprised that you men who said you came from heaven are afraid of such trivial things. Our people, with much smaller canoes, pass through that channel every day. Go back and wait on the tide, and maybe when the shrieking birds come home from the sunset the tides will shriek too in rushing out, and then your canoes will ride the waters and it will soon be open sea.”
When Columbus came back from Macuro to the islets in the northern channel it must have already been Friday, August 10, 1498. The first of the islets he met had a magnificent, deep-set harbor and he went into it and anchored for the night. The next day the Spaniards found out that the harbor was the only true one in all the three islets. Because of its blue-black water, rather like ink, the Spaniards gave it the name for ink — La Bahia Tinta — or La Tinta Bay, as the English call it. They saw no one.
The next day the Spaniards saw a lot of red howling monkeys. These had long bushy tails, and maybe looked like cats, for Columbus called the harbor “Puerto de los Gatos,” or “Port of the Cats.” It is possible the Spaniards had never seen monkeys before. The next day Columbus sailed around the islet, and deciding that it looked like a snail, he named it “El Caracol” or “The Snail.” But the name which prevailed was the name the natives had given it, mocking the sound of the sea against the rocks — Chacachacare.
When the Spaniards went to the middle islet it seemed just as deserted as the first. But they knew that it was inhabited and that its inhabitants had fled, because they found fishermen’s implements and a good deal of fresh water in little huts by the water’s edge. They called that place “Puerto de las Cabanas,” or “Port of the Cabins.” Columbus found that the islet was shaped like a dolphin so he named it “El Delfin.” Later Spaniards were more impressed with the number of birds’ eggs on the ground for they called it “Huevos” (Eggs). The last islet, the one nearest the mainland, seemed to have had more monkeys than the other two. But Columbus was more taken up with the fact that its coast was so blunt all around, it had neither headland nor harbor, not even an inlet to give shelter from a storm. He called it “Cabo Boto,” or “Blunt Cape.” Later Spaniards called it “Monos,” Spanish for monkeys.
All these things were done when Columbus was merely killing time waiting on the tides. He explored and named the islets on Sunday, August 12, and Monday 13, and the next day he was suddenly on the alert. For the normal sound of the waters had gone quiet. Not only was the passage quiet but the cacique must have taught him a thing or two for he realized the tide was preparing to rush out. It was now Tuesday, August 14. There was a low whistle. And…and was it a shriek? It was goodbye. They spread their sails and lifted anchor and in a quick time they rode out of the gulf. The fear the passage had instilled in Columbus made him look back and call it: “Boca del Dragon.”
As the discoverer (and the discovered!) sailed away he spotted far to the northwest, on the horizon, a lovely silhouette against the sky, and he knew it was another island. He called it “Bella Forma” (Beautiful Outline). But it wouldn’t attract him, though, for now he was hurrying “home” to Hispaniola.
Bella Forma was Tobago. But in his log Columbus’ name for it was also Concepcion. Later we shall say a lot about Concepcion, or Bella Forma, or Tobago of the Caribs. But as Columbus leaves we reflect on the islets of the Bocas, and although there is not much change we think of the Puertos de las Cabanas and would like to spend some time in those cabins too.
THE FIVE ISLANDS
What is known as the Five Islands lie roughly two miles south of the coast of Carenage and southwest of Point Gourde. They are Caledonia, Craig, Lenegan, Nelson, and Rock. Lenegan, Craig and Rock are very little used. Caledonia is the largest of these islets, and although the name “Rock” implies that Rock is the smallest, the smallest is Craig. Caledonia is the first of the islets as one goes due south from St Peter’s Bay on the Carenage coast. Close to its southwest coast is the tiny Craig, and not too great a distance to the west of Craig is Lenegan. About 3/4 mile almost due south of Caledonia and almost the same size as it, is Nelson Island. Less than a quarter-mile due west of Nelson Island is Rock.
In the Spanish days these islets were known as “Las Cotorras,” which means “The Parrots.” During East Indian indentureship Caledonia was frequently used as a place of quarantine. It was also the place where Uriah Butler spent six years in detention - from the outbreak of war in September, 1939, until the end of the war (in Europe) in May 1945. Nelson Island was at times used for the purpose of quarantine and it also became known as a place for the detention of political prisoners. During the civil unrest known as the Black Power Riots of 1970 quite a number of political “activists” were held there, including George Weekes, president-general of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, and Makaandal Daaga, who became known as the leader of the Black Power movement.
THE ISLANDS OF DON GASPAR AND DON DIEGO
The other islands that call attention are the islands of Don Gaspar and Don Diego. By far the largest of all the islets in the Don Gaspar and Don Diego groups is what is known as Gaspar Grande and this was given by Governor Jose Maria Chacon around 1785 to Don Gaspar for his contribution, which does not appear to have been recorded. Gaspar Grande had been used as a fortress to protect Trinidad but it did not prove effective when the British came in 1797.
Chacon also gave another islet to Don Gaspar. This was much smaller than the first - a tiny islet - and this took the name “Gasparillo.” It is often called “Centipede Island” on some maps, as it is said to teem with these creatures. However, Gasparillo is its proper name.
The two islets to look at now are what are called the Diego Islands, and they can be looked upon as arguably the most useful of all these little isles. These were given to Don Diego around 1785. They are both less than a mile from the southern tip of Pointe Gourde, on the southwest of the peninsula, and they are both about the same size, midway between the huge islet of Gaspar Grande and the tiny Five Islands. The first of these Diego islets is Carrera, and Carrera has been used exclusively for the detention of dangerous criminals since 1877. The second is Cronstadt, which one can call an industrial islet. The main activity on Cronstadt is quarrying, and a number of industries have quarrying posts there.
Copyright NALIS, 2007
As one crosses the bridge from the Cocal, going south, the sign says, "Welcome to Mayaro." And then, on crossing the bridge, one enters the tiny but vibrant village of Ortoire. And of course one is in Mayaro.
But the sign is not taking into account that this is not like going to Tunapuna, nor to Siparia, nor to Princes Town, which shortly after you see such signs you arrive in those places. What the sign is doing is welcoming you into the County of Mayaro. The river is the northern boundary.
Ortoire is no more Mayaro than Guayaguayare is Mayaro, although both are in the County of Mayaro. If one leaves Port-of-Spain or San Fernando, or any point, telling one’s friends "I’m going to Mayaro," it is understood that one is not going to the county, as such, but to the village of Mayaro. True, although the map-making section of Lands and Surveys does not recognize there is a Mayaro village since one does not see it indicated on the map, Mayaro, as a village, does in fact, exist!
But to look at Ortoire. Ortoire, on the northern side of coastal Mayaro, must have been one of the early places to interest the Spaniards in that region because of the River Ortoire, from which it gets its name. Although this river was originally named for the rare guacharo cave-birds, the early maps showing: “Rio de Guacharo,” the name “Ortoire” prevailed because its source is in the Ward of Ortoire, County Victoria. Indeed, one of the objectives of San Fernando businessmen in the mid-nineteenth century was to open up the country "from sea to sea," using the Ortoire to transport logs to the Savana Grande region. At least that was the design of William Eccles who, with these businessmen, formed the Naparima Harbour, Land, and Tramroad Company.
From this it will be seen that the river was much more navigable in those days. At its mouth, where today one finds the village of Ortoire, there was already a settlement, although since the river was bridgeless it meant that not only Ortoire, but Mayaro village and its settlements, as well as Guayaguayare, were effectively cut off from the north. Perhaps one could say cut off from the whole of Trinidad because on all the other sides there was either the ocean or impenetrable forests. True enough in 1850 Lord Harris had had his chief surveyor, St. Luce D’Abadie, cut a trace from the outskirts of Mission (Princes Town) to the Mayaro coast, so D’Abadie must have laid a makeshift bridge, perhaps a sort of raft-ferry. There is evidence that this means of crossing the river on the Mayaro trace existed because both Patrick Keenan, who carried out an enquiry on Education in Trinidad, and Charles Kingsley, who also came here in 1869, crossed the Ortoire at that point.
It is certain that by the 1880s there would have already been a raft-ferry at the village of Ortoire — a large wooden platform, guided across the river by a ferryman pulling on a cable. He would have been a public servant, crossing people going about their business, the public as well as government officers. He would have been on call night and day to take people across the river.
This matter of crossing would never have been a problem for the proprietors and estate-owners of the area because they would have had their own private boats. However the appearance and growth of the village of Ortoire had nothing to do with such matters. How then did the village spring up? What attracted the people?
It was most certainly the estate people from the adjoining Point Radix who came down to live beside the "big" river. Radix was the French immigrant from the Cedula of 1783 who was granted the whole of the northern headland of Mayaro Bay, the headland called Point Radix, as a result. The early fishermen of Ortoire certainly came from this group. The river attracted fishermen because, apart from the groupers it became known for, its "mouth" formed a grand estuary which enabled boats to sail right in from the sea to a partially-sheltered beach which fronts the village.
Ortoire, so tiny, doesn’t seem to have been taken into account when the census came in 1901, although it had long since been the home of a few hundred people. Point Radix as an estate may have declined by then, but the Ganteaume estate of St Joseph, not more than a mile away, kept it vibrant. By 1911 bustling St Joseph had at least a shop and a school and no doubt other amenities, but there is no evidence that the people of Ortoire wanted to leave their happy home "next door." They cherished their kitchen gardens, ate chip-chip, the groupers of Ortoire, "wild-meat" as well as the fish of the sea, and the cascadura from nearby on the Cocal, and they earned their daily bread (and sweet-bread) mainly from the coconut plantations at St Joseph.
Copyright NALIS, 2007
PARADISE ESTATE IN SAN FERNANDO
Not long after Governor José María Chacón declared San Fernando a town in 1792, the former “Village of Naparima,” which was on the northern fringe of a rambling estate known as “Paradise,” began to encroach on the Paradise lands in a bid for the expansion of the town.
So the relationship between the San Fernando officials and the estate owners could not have been very cordial. But it happened that every dry season San Fernando was harassed by the lack of water, and when it established a Town Council in 1846 the councilors made an agreement with the then estate owner, William Eccles, to allow the townsfolk to get water from the estate wells in the dry season.
However from Saturday, July 3, 1852 Paradise Estate was not just to be a watering hole for San Fernando. Governor Lord Harris had held the first horse-race meeting in Trinidad at Christmas 1851, and it was a big affair which drew much attention to Port-of-Spain. William Eccles reacted to this because the Queen’s Park was formerly an estate also known as “Paradise,” and the rivalry between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando being as sharp as it remained later, William Eccles decided that he was going to have an even better horse-race meeting, in an even better paradise!
Horse-owners in the Naparimas were as determined as was William Eccles to have the Naparimas “get their own back” on Port-of-Spain, and even The San Fernando Gazette got involved. In an effort to bring the venue to wide attention the newspaper wrote: “Everyone who has visited Naparima knows the beautiful park-like savannah of Paradise Estate with its undulating eminences and beautiful trees of perpetual verdure. The well-kept lawns, the neatly-trimmed fences and the carefully cultivated cane-fields by which it is surrounded have nothing of the wildness which we generally associate with tropical climates.”
The “perpetual verdure” itself took up a goodly part of what today is southwestern San Fernando. From the area of the present hospital facing Harris Promenade, which was a strip of land just donated to San Fernando by Lord Harris, it went south to the area where Rushworth Street was cut in 1864, and as far easterly as the track that was Cipero Street, a western boundary of San Fernando at that time. Then it came close to the San Fernando Hill, finding its way to what is now Court Street, a street named after the first Court House (still standing) built in 1865, and the final stretch of the race course ended where it started, in the area of the present San Fernando hospital, near to the western end of Harris Promenade. The course somewhat followed the boundaries of the estate.
The article, while suggesting that the neat fences and the fields of sugarcane were not the only attractions, added: “The abrupt hill of San Fernando, with its double summit forms a prominent object in front.”
That “front” would have been in the area of Prince of Wales Street, a street that was made following a visit to Trinidad by the Prince of Wales and his brother in 1880.
Many of the races in this San Fernando race-meeting of 1852 seem to have started in front of the estate house which appears to have been where today’s Irving Park can be found.
(Irving Park, which lies between Irving Street and Freeling Street, became a “park” in the 1960s. It was named for Governor Sir Henry Turner Irving who served here from 1874 to 1880. Irving was followed by Sir Sanford Freeling, who served from 1880 to 1883).
The course was a winding circuit of about a mile long, making sudden turns to the right and to the left and sudden dips and rises. That day of the races it rained heavily, making the track slippery and dangerous, and causing a lot of hilarity because of horses and riders falling, with, fortunately, no injury, and also a number of close races, which had people screaming with excitement. The day ended up brightly with the sun and was enjoyable beyond any telling of it, and who can say that William Eccles and the race-horse owners, and spectators too — who can say they could not assure Lord Harris that their horse-races were more thrilling than his effort of 1851?
Oddly enough, those Naparima races of Saturday, July 3, 1852 hastened San Fernando’s development and also hastened the end of Paradise Estate. Eccles, who had meticulously prepared his ground for the races, had visitors among the racing crowd who were looking far beyond the races. Chief among them were those making up the municipal body of San Fernando. For the next year when Ordinance 10 of 1853 came into force, giving San Fernando a Borough Council, the first mayor, Dr. Robert Johnstone, thought how splendid it would be to have houses on those race-course lands bringing in a hefty sum in house rates for the coffers of the Borough Council. To him and his councilors this would serve many purposes, among them: improve the town itself, improve the appearance of the place, and also give the Borough Council the wherewithal to introduce useful amenities.
In good time the estate could hardly resist mayoral offers and the Borough Council bought a huge section of the Paradise Lands to establish what it called “Paradise Village.” Between 1852 and 1872, for example, a lot took place to make Paradise Estate dwindle radically. In that period quite a number of the Paradise streets were constructed, such as Broadway, Lewis, Harris, Gordon, Sutton, Irving and Freeling — all named for governors who did something special for San Fernando. At this time the Borough Council, which was wrestling with the problem of a proper cemetery for San Fernando, set aside a few acres of land and established Paradise Cemetery in January 1868.
In 1878 a Convent was built by the Sisters of St Joseph de Cluny near the northern gate of the cemetery. Continued development of Paradise Village, especially in the section enclosed by Sutton Street, Broadway, Rushworth Street, and Cipero Street, brought the situation to a point where in 1897 the Borough Council just had to maintain the streets, introduce sanitary measures like garbage collection, and declare Paradise Village to be in the Town of San Fernando.
By the end of the 19th century there was not much remaining of the old Paradise Estate, and what remained was so little that it attracted little or no interest, and it remained virtually unchanged throughout the whole of the 20th century. This area was the last section of the great, sprawling pasture and was left with the name: Paradise Pasture.
Nearing the end of the 19th century Paradise Pasture persisted as a pasture for cattle, and its pond, known as “Paradise Pond,” was one of the main sources of the town’s drinking water. That is until San Fernando got its first waterworks in 1899, with water flowing in pipes for the first time. But Paradise Pasture was also the main home for cricket in San Fernando, and at least one great batsman, Olivierre of St. Vincent, hit a six that sailed over many samaan trees and sent the ball into the pond.
In the new century — the 20th — Paradise Pasture became known for Naparima College, which was erected on its southwestern fringes in 1900, and later on an elementary school was built, namely San Fernando E.C. The First World War, which broke out in 1914, helped Paradise Pasture by accounting for a Drill Hall towards its northern end.
As early as 1942 the modern San Fernando hospital began construction on the northwestern fringes of the pasture, and this hospital was completed and opened in 1955.
In 1959 the “pasture” saw men knocking hammer on iron, pushing saw against timber, and shovel into cement, and discovered it was the start of construction of a concert hall. This concert hall, called The Naparima Bowl, was opened on 27th August 1962 — just four days before the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago.
So we reflect on Paradise Estate, which has come a long way, and which has survived in the little remnant, Paradise Pasture. The area is nothing like it was on that special day of the Naparima races: Saturday July 3, 1852.
Copyright NALIS, 2008
The name Pointe-à-Pierre at once gives away a little of the history of its settlement. For the word is French, meaning “Point at the Stones” or Stony Point, and being French does not make it difficult to deduce that the area was settled by the French people who came here under the Cèdula of Population of 1783.
Although Pointe-à-Pierre bordered the popular Naparimas it did not seem to be very popular at the outset, for a few years after its settlement one counted only seven proprietors who were established in the area. Among them were Mandillon, le Fevre, Letain, and V. Pechier. However, these few proprietors were the owners of 205 slaves and 44 people of color. The seven land-owning and slave-owning families comprised 41 persons, and their collective estates contained six sugar mills, one distillery, and three cotton mills.
This region, which was just a little north of San Fernando, was known as Punta de Piedras by the Spaniards, meaning the same thing, “Stony Point,” and in fact it was the incoming French who had translated this name to Pointe-à-Pierre. But although that point or headland was stony the rest of the Pointe-à-Pierre area was so fertile and productive that when the British took Trinidad from the Spaniards in 1797, although its population was only 290, it was an area of importance. On the entry of the British it became of even greater importance and of great attraction, hence the reason that 15 years later (in 1812) the 1797 population of 290 had grown to 846.
The Spanish division or partida was now called quarter and the Commandant of that Quarter of Pointe-à-Pierre, La Source Mandillon, watched over vast areas of coffee and of plantain, and over 200 acres planted in sugar cane. There were still the three sugar windmills that were there in 1797, but there were 23 sugar mills turned by cattle, five mills worked by steam, and no fewer than 24 rum distilleries. These distilleries produced 7,650 gallons of rum. Pointe-à-Pierre was at the time challenging many esteemed sugar areas and as early as 1817 there were such flourishing sugar estates in the Quarter as Plaiance, Concorde, Bon Accord, Plein Palais and La Carriere.
There were many estates in the Quarter of Pointe-à-Pierre, each having its own labour force, and so it was only after Emancipation that the essential Pointe-à-Pierre village took shape. Many of the former slaves abandoned the area altogether after the abolition in 1838, and in 1841 the planter, Lewis Pantin, told a labour enquiry: “There are about 500 squatters at a place called Gasparee, and there is another settlement of squatters nearby, near my estate of Bonne Aventure. There are also numerous squatters settled on the line of road from Concorde to Bonne Aventure.”(Gasparee is the present-day Gasparillo).
This was just about the time Pointe-à-Pierre village took life, around the fringe of Plaisance, La Carriere, and Plein Palais. It was a fascinating area, not only of sugarcane but also of coconuts; however the most attractive thing to all and sundry were nearby hot springs. The hot sulphur springs were believed to be health giving, drawing a lot of people to the area.
In 1849, Lord Harris, establishing counties and wards in place of the quarters established the Ward of Pointe-à-Pierre (20,500 acres) within a county he named for the English queen, Victoria. Pointe-à-Pierre got a railway station in 1882, when the railway was extended to San Fernando. However, it was the area of the hot springs that seemed to attract most of the population, although with the forming of the Southern Main Road with the estate tracks, “the line of road” that Lewis Pantin spoke about in 1841 had become even more crowded. Yet the population of the district was not great. The census of 1841 showed a population of 4,393, for the whole ward.
Between that era and 1912 Pointe-à-Pierre remained an area of peacefulness and yet of flourishing sugar estates. Although one might have said the area was sleepy, the chimneys were always smoking, the sugar mills were always turning, and the rum distilleries were always throbbing with life. The San Fernando wharf, only one train station away, was always stocked high with Pointe-à-Pierre produce. But in 1913 came a big change, a change which was to last for all times. An oil prospecting company calling itself Trinidad Leaseholds Limited bought up all the estate lands to establish an oil refinery.
Pointe-à-Pierre then became the name for oil, for the refinery, although it changed hands three times, has become the most formidable in the region, and the wealth from its products is Trinidad’s lifeline. It is now called Petrotrin, and has made Pointe-à-Pierre a more important place than it ever was.
Copyright NALIS, 2008
PUERTO DE LOS ESPANOLES, THE PORT OF THE SPANIARDS
When Columbus sailed away without stopping at Margarita, two of his disgruntled seamen decided they would come back the following year and get the pearls denied them. These two were Alonzo de Ojeda and Americo Vespucci. Columbus had always made sure he hid his chart so that none of his crew would know how he sailed, but these two managed to steal it. On arrival in Spain they got word to the king and queen that there was an island of pearls in the Indies and promised to bring treasures to them. Ferdinand and Isabella were pleased, and the two pirates sailed away in 1499.
Following the path of Columbus they entered the gulf by way of the Serpent’s Mouth, but unlike Columbus they did not land on the “Macuro” coast, maybe for the conscience sake, but it was reported that they came ashore at Trinidad, took natives as slaves, and rode the tide out through the Dragon’s Mouth. When they got to Margarita they saw there were already abundant natives to dive for pearls. After helping themselves to enormous treasure, they noticed the coast of the mainland stretching far to the west and they turned towards the mainland to see if what the Macuro cacique had said was true, that where he was standing was no island but a continent.
It was mainly because of this journey that Puerto de los Hispanioles or the Port of the Spaniards came into the picture. For in sailing westerly along the coast, Hojeda and his crew committed so many depredations, sacking the little villages, looting and plundering them, seizing gold and other native gems, that when he went back to Spain and flouted his pearls and gold it drew all sorts of pirates into these waters.
(As an aside, the voyage ended when Hojeda and his crew reaching and entering a huge gulf of about 60 miles across and running south about 140 miles into the land, came upon a lake called by the natives Maracaibo. Americo Vespucci, who came from Florence, remarked that the houses in the lake, being on stilts, put him in mind of Venice (Venezia), the City on Water. They therefore referred to the place as Venezuela or Little Venice.)
As was said, because of the wealth Hojeda displayed when he went back to Spain, pirates and sea dogs began to infest that coast. Coming from Europe as they did, they all followed the path of Columbus, sailing south to find the channel — today the Columbus Channel — then entering the Serpent’s Mouth to steer due north to the Dragon’s Mouth, and out to open sea to get to pearl-rich Margarita, and of course to sack the helpless villages on the north coast of the mainland.
Some of them, tarried in the gulf between Trinidad and the mainland, sacking, searching and looting, and one shudders to think of what may have happened to Macuro and its gentle cacique and wonderful people. Ruthless conquistadores like Jeronimo de Ortal, Alonzo de Herrera, Diego Ordaz, and Antonio Sedeño reaped a harvest of riches and death.
That was the period when the region became alive and when the sea people began to frequent the little port of the Spaniards. Many nationalities came, and many were the galleys, frigates, bergantins, corvettes, and sloops taking in not just relief, but wood and fresh water. Of course, as was said, these rovers of the sea were not all Spaniards, and so the Spaniards, resenting the strangers, began to point out that Trinidad was under the dominion of Spain, and that the port was for the use of Spanish seamen. So they declared it to be Puerto de los Españoles, or Port of the Spaniards.
- Admiral of the Ocean Sea: Samuel Morrison
Copyright NALIS, 2008