Meanwhile, there were numerous attempts by European powers to settle Tobago during the 1620-40s, with the Dutch, English and Couronians (people from the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, now part of Latvia) all attempting to colonize the island with little success. From 1654 the Dutch and Courlanders managed to gain a more secure foothold, later joined by several hundred French settlers. A plantation economy developed based on the production of sugar, indigo and rum, worked by large numbers of African slaves who soon came to vastly outnumber the European colonists. Large numbers of forts were constructed as Tobago became a source of contention between France, Netherlands and Britain, with the island changing hands some 31 times prior to 1814, a situation exacerbated by widespread piracy. The British managed to hold Tobago from 1762 to 1781, whereupon it was captured by the French, who ruled until 1793 when Britain re-captured the island.
The 17th century on Trinidad passed largely without major incident, but sustained attempts by the Spaniards to control and rule over the Amerindians were often fiercely resisted. In 1687 the Catholic Catalan Capuchin friars were given responsibility for the conversions of the indigenous people of Trinidad and the Guianas. They founded several missions in Trinidad, supported and richly funded by the state, which also granted encomienda right to them over the native peoples, in which the native peoples were forced to provide labor for the Spanish. Escalating tensions between the Spaniards and Amerindians culminated in violence 1689, when Amerindians in the San Rafael encomienda rebelled and killed several priests, attacked a church, and killed the Spanish governor José de León y Echales. Among those killed in the governor’s party was Juan Mazien de Sotomayor, missionary priest to the Nepuyo villages of Cuara, Tacarigua and Arauca. The Spanish retaliated severely, slaughtering hundreds of native peoples in an event that became known as the Arena massacre. As a result, continuing Spanish slave-raiding, and the devastating impact of introduced disease to which they had no immunity, the native population was virtually wiped out by the end of the following century.
During this period Trinidad was an island province belonging to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, together with Central America, present-day Mexico and what would later become the southwestern United States. In 1757 the capital was moved from San José de Oruña to Puerto de España (modern Port of Spain) following several pirate attacks. However the Spanish never made any concerted effort to colonize the islands; Trinidad in this period was still mostly forest, populated by a few Spaniards with a handful of slaves and a few thousand Amerindians. Indeed, the population in 1777 was only 1,400, and Spanish colonization in Trinidad remained tenuous.
Influx of French Settlers:
In 1777, the captain general Luis de Unzaga ‘le Conciliateur’, married to a French Creole, allowed free trade in Trinidad, attracting French settlers and its economy improved notably. Since Trinidad was considered underpopulated, Roume de St. Laurent, a Frenchman living in Grenada, was able to obtain a Cédula de Población from the Spanish king Charles III on 4 November 1783. A Cédula de Población had previously been granted in 1776 by the king, but had not shown results, and therefore the new Cédula was more generous. It granted free land and tax exemption for 10 years to Roman Catholic foreign settlers who were willing to swear allegiance to the King of Spain. The Spanish also gave many incentives to lure settlers to the island, including exemption from taxes for ten years and land grants in accordance with the terms set out in the Cédula. The land grant was 30 fanegas (13 hectares/32 acres) for each free man, woman and child and half of that for each slave that they brought with them. The Spanish sent a new governor, José María Chacón, to implement the terms of the new cédula.