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British Invasion

On February 18, 1797, a fleet of 18 warships under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby invaded and took the Island of Trinidad. Within a few days the last Spanish Governor, Don José María Chacón surrendered the island to Abercromby.

Just as the British squadron had passed through the Great Bocas channel, a Spanish squadron was discovered at anchor in Chaguaramus Bay, consisting of the following four sail of the line and one frigate: San Vincente (Captain Don Geronimo Mendoza; 84 guns), Gallardo (Captain Don Gabriel Sororido; 74 guns), Arrogante(Captain Don Raphael Benasa; 74 guns), San Damaso (Don Tores Jordan; 74 guns), and Santa Cecilia (Captain Don Manuel Urtesabel; 36 guns), all under the command of Rear-Admiral Don Sebastian Ruiz de Apodaca.

The apparent strength of the battery on Gaspar Grande island, which, mounting 20 cannon and two mortars, commanded and might have disputed, the entrance to the enemy's anchorage,

caused Hardy to order the transports, under the protection of Arethusa, Thorn, and Zebra, to anchor a little further up the gulf, at the distance of about five miles from the town of Port-d'Espagne,

while Alarm, Favourite, and Victorieuse kept under sail between the transports and Port-d'Espagne, to prevent any vessels escaping.

The rear-admiral, with his four sail of the line, anchored, in order of battle, within random-shot of the Spanish batteries and line-of-battle ships, to be prepared in case the ships, having all their sails set and appearing to be ready for sea, should attempt during the night to escape.

The British began to observe flames bursting out from one of the Spanish ships. In a short time three others were on fire and all four continued to burn with great fury until daylight. The Spanish had set the ships on fire as most the marines & seamen were ashore. The San-Damaso escaped the conflagration and, without any resistance, was brought off by the boats of the British squadron.  The Spaniards meanwhile, had abandoned Gaspar Grande and soon after daylight a detachment of the 14th Regiment of Foot occupied the island. In the course of the day the remainder of the troops landed about three miles from Port of Spain, without the slightest opposition, and on the same evening, quietly entered the town itself. This led to the Spanish governor José María Chacón offering to capitulate; on the following day, the island of Trinidad surrendered to the British arms, without an effort at defence and without any casualties.

 

 Fierce fighting continued for the next days. Both sides suffered heavy losses. On Sunday, April 30 the British ceased their attack and began their retreat from San Juan.

Trinidad became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population and Spanish laws. The conquest and formal ceding of Trinidad in 1802 led to an influx of settlers from England or the British colonies of the Eastern Caribbean. The sparse settlement and slow rate of population increase during Spanish rule and even after British rule made Trinidad one of the less populated colonies of the West Indies with the least developed plantation infrastructure. The next year the British invasion force shared in the allocation of £40,000 for the proceeds of the ships taken at Trinidad and the property found on the island.

The King of Spain Charles IV set up a "Council of War" to look into the surrender. By Royal Decree, the ex governor of Trinidad Jose Maria Chacon and Rear Admiral Sebastián Ruiz de Apodaca (who had scuttled his small fleet) were banished for life from the "Royal Domain." Apodaca's case was reconsidered and he was reinstated in 1809, but Chacón died in exile in Portugal.

In August, 1816, former slaves from the US South, who had escaped to the British lines during the War of 1812 and had been recruited as a Corps of Colonial Marines, were settled in Trinidad after serving for fourteen months at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda. After rejecting British government orders for transfer to the West India Regiments, and on the Admiral refusing to continue responsibility for them, they accepted  with reluctance, a government offer of settlement in Trinidad. These ex-Colonial Marines were organised by the authorities in villages according to their military companies.

An attempt was made to circumvent the abolition of slavery in 1833. The first announcement from Whitehall in England that slaves would be totally freed by 1840 was made in 1833. In the meantime, slaves on plantations were expected to remain where they were and work as "apprentices" for the next six years. The use of non-violent protest and passive resistance. On 1 August 1834, an unarmed group of mainly elderly ex-slaves being addressed by the Governor at Government House about the new laws, began chanting "No six years. No six years, drowning out the voice of the Governor.

Peaceful protests continued until a resolution to abolish apprenticeship was passed and de facto freedom was achieved. At the request of Governor Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, on 25 July, "Dr. Jean Baptiste Phillipe the first coloured member of the Council, proposed a resolution to end apprenticeship and this was passed. Full emancipation for all was finally legally granted ahead of schedule on 1 August 1838."