Like their South American neighbours, the islands of Trinidad and Tobago were inhabited by indigenous people, mainly the Caribs and the Arawaks, prior to their discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1498. Trinidad was in the hands of the Spanish from the 15th century by the British in 1797. During the Spanish rule, very few Spanish people settled in Trinidad and by the 1780's, Spain through the Cedula Act, invited all Catholic nations, to come to Trinidad. This was during the time of the French revolution, and many French fleeing the conflicts between the Royalians and the Republicans accepted the offer made by the Spanish to colonise Trinidad.
French planters from the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe can during this time. The plantation owners cultivated sugar cane, coffee and cocoa, and brought with them African slaves to cultivate the land. When the British arrived, they met a country ruled by the Spanish with French speaking citizens.
Tobago's history is very different from that of Trinidad. It changed hands many more times and was ruled at one time or another, by the Spanish, Dutch, French and British.
Trinidad became a British colony in 1802 and Tobago in 1814. They were enjoined administratively by the British in 1889 and then politically linked as a joint colony in 1890.
With the abolition of slavery, the Indians who began to arrive in Trinidad in 1845, as indentured labourers met a shortfall in labour for agriculture. They emigrated from Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Punjab and other provinces, and had both Muslims and Hindus among them. Chinese and Portuguese from the island of Madeira, also came as indentured labourers. Early this century, many Syrian and Lebanese also came to Trinidad and played an important role in commerce, particularly in the textile and retail industries.