Chaguaramas and our National Identity:1900-1979
May 23, 2022

By Marianna Burke

Chaguaramas is often associated with beaches and nature hikes for tourists (both native and foreign). But for informed Trinidadians, it is also connected to the call for independence and nationalism.

When you look at Chaguaramas, you may see a tourist destination. A place with beautiful, calm waters; a place to spend the day with family and or friends, at the water park, on hikes, snorkeling, riding bicycles, or ziplining. But Chaguaramas is more than a tourist destination. It is an important area that has left an indelible impact on our national identity and the heritage of Trinidad and Tobago.

Chaguaramas was first inhabited by the indigenous people, who gave the area its name. It was later colonized by French settlers who came to Trinidad on the invitation of the Spanish. By the eighteenth century, these settlers, with the labour of enslaved Africans, produced large quantities of sugar and coffee for export.[1] Also of historical significance was the surrender of the island by the Spanish to the British on February 18th, 1797. This occurred after a token resistance where Spanish squadron Commander, Admiral Apodoca, destroyed his fleet in Chaguaramas Bay to avoid its capture by the British Navy.[2]

The Post- Emancipation Era

Initially, in the post-emancipation era, groups of the newly freed African population established fishing villages in Teteron, Scotland and Macqueripe Bays; as well as on Monos and Chacachacare islands.[3] There was also a farming or agricultural community in La Cuesa Estate, (present-day Tucker Valley).

Chaguaramas was home and a source of income for the farmers that lived in Tucker Valley before the Second World War. The valley contained cocoa, sugarcane and coconut estates. The valley consists of 2,225 hectares or 5,500 acres.[4] It was named after William Sanger Tucker, a businessman who owned the La Cuesa Estate and Macqueripe Bay. Tucker settled in Trinidad in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Presently, there are several reminders of Tucker’s family in the area. For instance, Tucker’s wife, a devoted Anglican contributed to the construction of the St Chad’s Chapel on Tucker Valley Road.[5] Another reminder of the Tucker family is the tomb of his daughter, Amiela Tripp in the church yard.[6] She was married to her father’s business partner, Edgar Tripp, an industrialist who pioneered electric lighting in Trinidad.

St Chad’s Church, Tucker Valley, Chaguaramas

St Chad’s Church, Tucker Valley, Chaguaramas

https://nationaltrust.tt/location/st-chad-church/

Tomb of Amelia Tripp

Tomb of Amelia Tripp

http://trinitrekkercamille.blogspot.com/2018/08/places-to-walk-in-trinidad-tucker.html

 

The American Occupation

Chaguaramas was home to elite, non-African families like the Tucker family as well as the descendants of the formerly enslaved. [7] But, due to World War II, the British and the United States signed the

 

Destroyers for Bases Deal. In this agreement, the United States received a military base in Chaguaramas and an air base in Wallerfield. Located in a strategic position during World War II, Trinidad (a British colony at the time) was a checkpoint for planes and vessels leaving Latin America for Europe or Africa. According to Bridget Brereton,

“Vessels and civilian planes from South America had to stop in Trinidad for clearance to proceed to North American and European destinations. This involved a large censorship department serving as cover for British and US agents searching for Latin Americans engaged in smuggling and espionage to Germany through Spain and Portugal both neutral countries. Because Trinidad was the assembly point for the vital oil tankers, the waters around the island were infested with German submarines and they sometimes surfaced and shelled reconnaissance planes based on the island; occasionally they landed at lonely beaches in the eastern Caribbean to exercise their crews, and the US Air Force stationed some blimps (airships) at Trinidad for inspection and reconnaissance.” [8]

As a result, there are many relics of the US military presence in the country. The Teteron Military Base currently occupied by the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment previously belonged to the US military. The American Navy Construction Brigade (Sea Bees) began building the base on March 1, 1941. It was formally completed on August 1, 1941.[9] In preparation for World War II, the US army constructed military bunkers all over Chaguaramas. They paved roads and built infrastructure on the north-western peninsula, such as the Chaguaramas road to Macqueripe, known as the Tucker Valley Road.[10] They used Macqueripe Bay as a submarine base during World War II, from 1941 to 1972. Even after the war ended, the US army built a tracking station in Tucker Valley. The tracking station functioned as an early-warning radar system to detect hostilities from the former Soviet Union.

Tracking Station Photo by SUREASH CHOLAI

Tracking Station Photo by SUREASH CHOLAI, Newsday

https://newsday.co.tt/2018/09/03/chag-tracking-station-damaged-by-quake/

 However, by the end of World War II, nationalist groups called for Chaguaramas to be returned, especially with the emergence of the Peoples National Movement (PNM) headed by Dr. Eric Williams, (the Father of the Nation) who led the charge for independence. According to Michael Anthony:

Williams fought to have the area returned to the people on the grounds that the nation’s coming independence would be incompatible with a large and strategic area of its territory controlled by an “occupying power.”[11]

This struggle for the northwestern peninsula to be returned to Trinidad and Tobago, ended in 1977. The return of Chaguaramas to Trinidad and Tobago is synonymous with the call for independence and nationalism. It was a victory that was long- overdue. As Trinidadians since the 1950’s raised concerns and demanded its return.

The Black Power Movement of 1970

The 1970 Black Power Movement left its mark on the northwestern peninsula. Firstly, this uprising began with university students at UWI (University of the West Indies) St Augustine Campus, protesting against the racist treatment of Trinbagonian students attending Sir George Williams University in Canada known as “The Sir George Williams Affair”. This movement expanded to challenge the economic system where skin colour dictated a person’s opportunity for employment.[12] While this uprising was happening, there was a mutiny on the Teteron Military Base on April 21st, 1970. It was caused by discontent among the junior officers and other ranks concerning the alleged incompetence, ineptitude and corruption of a select core of senior military officers within the armed forces.[13]

Apart from the historical significance of Teteron Base during US occupation, it also plays a key role in maintaining democracy in the country. It was at Teteron Barracks, where soldiers mutinied as they were dissatisfied with their working conditions.[14]  The mutiny was led by Lieutenants Rafique Shah and Rex Lasalle on April 21st, 1970. The aim of the mutiny was to address the aforementioned concerns of junior officers. Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall said one of the positive developments coming out of the events of 1970 was a spirit of nationalism. “There was a big change in the country,”[15]

The leaders of the Black Power Revolution were imprisoned on Nelson Island, the same island where Uriah Buzz Butler (founder and leader of the trade union movement in Trinidad) was imprisoned during World War II.[16] Chaguaramas is important to our history and our sense of nationhood. It is not only a tourist destination. It is a symbol of Trinidad’s determination for independence, and its fight against the threat of imperialism. The natural and built heritage sites in Chaguaramas should remind Trinbagonians of this resoluteness. It is important that the built and natural heritage on the north-western peninsula is preserved so that future generations can learn of our history and appreciate our heritage.

There are many heritage sites in Chaguaramas that were not mentioned, like the Bocas and Five Islands such as Pelican, Lenegan, Caledonia, Craig and Rock. If you would like to learn more about the natural and built heritage sites in Chaguaramas, you can follow the National Trust website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or become a member of the of the National Trust.

Butler's Cottage, Nelson Island

Butler’s Cottage, Nelson Island

https://nationaltrust.tt/heritage-sites/nelson-island/

 

Bibliography

Anthony, Michael. Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997.

Bissessarsingh, Angelo. Virtual Glimpses into the Past: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago. Marabella, Trinidad and Tobago: Queen Bishop Publishing, 2016.

Brereton, Bridget. A History of Modern Trinidad 1783-1962. Kingston: Heinemann, 1989.

  1. Hunte, Camille. “Places to Walk in Trinidad: Tucker Valley Road/Bamboo Cathedral.” TRINI TREKKER. Blogger, August 6, 2018. http://trinitrekkercamille.blogspot.com/2018/08/places-to-walk-in-trinidad-tucker.html.

“Experience Nelson Island.” National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, December 15, 2021. https://nationaltrust.tt/heritage-sites/nelson-island/.

Hébert, Paul. “‘70: Remembering a Revolution’ in Trinidad and Tobago.” AAIHS, September 30, 2016. https://www.aaihs.org/70-remembering-a-revolution-in-trinidad-and-tobago/.

Renne, Denyse. “Black Power and the Mutiny.” Trinidad Express Newspapers, April 30, 2020. https://trinidadexpress.com/news/local/black-power-and-the-mutiny/article_33d70152-875b-11ea-b72e-db8d4bc5cdc4.html.

Rétout Marie Thérèse, and Bertrand Cothonay. Essay. In Stories of Trinidad and Saint Vincent in the Antilles from the Journal of Bertrand Cothonay O.P., 1882-1888, 86–89. St. Anns, Trinidad: West Indiana, 2008.

“Sites & Attractions to Experience in Trinidad.” Visit Trinidad, August 9, 2021. https://visittrinidad.tt/things-to-do/sites-attractions/.

“St. Chad Church.” National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago. Accessed May 4, 2022. https://nationaltrust.tt/location/st-chad-church/.

Superville, Shane, Paula Lindo, Clint Chan Tack, and Laurel V Williams. “Chag Tracking Station Damaged by Quake.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, September 3, 2018. https://newsday.co.tt/2018/09/03/chag-tracking-station-damaged-by-quake/.

Williams, Eric. History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. Port-of-Spain: P.N.M. Pub., 1962.

[1] Rétout Marie Thérèse and Bertrand Cothonay, in Stories of Trinidad and Saint Vincent in the Antilles from the Journal of Bertrand Cothonay O.P., 1882-1888 (St. Anns, Trinidad: Westindiana, 2008), pp. 86-89, 87.

[2] Michael Anthony, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 494.

[3] Angelo Bissessarsingh, Virtual Glimpses into the Past: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago (Marabella, Trinidad and Tobago: Queen Bishop Publishing, 2016), 88.

[4] Michael Anthony, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 579.

[5] Rétout Marie Thérèse and Bertrand Cothonay, in Stories of Trinidad and Saint Vincent in the Antilles from the Journal of Bertrand Cothonay O.P., 1882-1888 (St. Anns, Trinidad: Westindiana, 2008), pp. 86-89, 88.

[6] Angelo Bissessarsingh, Virtual Glimpses into the Past: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago (Marabella, Trinidad and Tobago: Queen Bishop Publishing, 2016), 84.

[7] Michael Anthony, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 119.

[8] Bridget Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad 1783-1962 (Kingston: Heinemann, 1989), 191.

[9] Michael Anthony, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 586.

[10] Michael Anthony, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 586- 587.

[11] Michael Anthony, Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 120.

[12] Hébert, Paul. “‘70: Remembering a Revolution’ in Trinidad and Tobago.” AAIHS, September 30, 2016. https://www.aaihs.org/70-remembering-a-revolution-in-trinidad-and-tobago/.

 

[13] Denyse Renne, “Black Power and the Mutiny,” Trinidad Express Newspapers, April 30, 2020, https://trinidadexpress.com/news/local/black-power-and-the-mutiny/article_33d70152-875b-11ea-b72e-db8d4bc5cdc4.html.

[14] Michelle Loubon, “Old Soldiers Remember the 1970 Mutiny,” Trinidad Guardian, accessed May 11, 2022, https://www.guardian.co.tt/article-6.2.428237.9a2ea86577.

[15] Michelle Loubon, “Old Soldiers Remember the 1970 Mutiny,” Trinidad Guardian, accessed May 11, 2022, https://www.guardian.co.tt/article-6.2.428237.9a2ea86577.

[16] “Experience Nelson Island,” National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, December 15, 2021, https://nationaltrust.tt/heritage-sites/nelson-island/.

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