Thursday, January 08, 2015

There is a corner of a Caribbean field that will be, forever... Latvian?

The history of colonialism is filled with the quirky and the unexpected, if you know where to look. And I am reminded, courtesy of Michael Palin's "New Europe", of one of the more unlikely attempts at establishing an overseas colony.

When you think of the Caribbean, you think of the English and the French, the Spanish and the Dutch, who, between them, stitched up a controlling interest in the various islands, growing sugar and attacking each other's shipping. And yes, the Danish had their little corner (now the US Virgin Islands), one which, obscurely, denied the Brandenburgers a Caribbean colony.

'Tis a pity about the design...
the Courland Monument in Plymouth, Tobago
Tobago was a particularly coveted island, which at various times in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was contested by the English, French, Dutch, Spanish and even the Swedes. It changed hands thirty-three times.

But the first successful European settlers, who arrived in 1654, were there courtesy of an agreement with Oliver Cromwell, and they were Courlanders, from modern-day Latvia. In return for his support in the dispute between England and the Netherlands, Duke Jacob Kettler was given the right to attempt to set up a colony on Tobago, which probably would have gone fairly smoothly had it not been for the extremely unwelcoming Carib Indians and equally hostile Dutch, who set up a rival, and rather more successful, colony nearby.

Driven off by the Dutch in 1659, the island was returned to them by the Treaty of Oliwa in 1660 but, despite a number of attempts to re-establish themselves, the Courlanders sold Tobago in 1689. One can only wonder what might have happened had they been successful...

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