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LAND SETTLEMENT PART 1 by Dr. Godfrey Vincent

posted 13 Jul 2011, 18:55 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Jul 2011, 19:04 ]

Recently my comrade Sylvestre McLaren began a discourse on Who owns T&T. While he did not venture into specifics, I take this opportunity to join the discourse by examining the history of Trinidad and Tobago in order to trace the trajectory of who owns Trinidad and Tobago. Part I will examine land ownership during the era of Spanish Colonialism in Trinidad.

Dr. Godfrey Vincent is Part-time Assistant Professor of History at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

A former secondary school teacher, Dr. Vincent was a Community activist in Petit/Valley/ Diego Martin/Carenage/ St.James/Maraval area. He is a former member of the United Labour Front; Committee for Labour Solidarity (CLS) and Motion.
He is a former Vice-Chair Person of Youth Voice and former President of Simeon Road Superpan and Co-ordinator of CLS West. He is a former member of the Summit of Peoples' Organisations (SOPO).

He is a Rapso artiste (Brother Cymande)and a former Shop Steward of DC 37, Local 2054 and a delegate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Trinidad was a Spanish colony from 1498 until 1797. During this period, the land and all its possessions were owned by the Spanish Crown. However, due to under population, the Spanish Crown, in 1783, formulated a policy known as the Cedula of Population to encourage migration to Trinidad. Under the policy, all Roman Catholics, who swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown, were offered the right to possess lands free of charge.

Article three of the Cedula of Population stated that: To each white person, either sex, shall be granted four fanegas and two sevenths of land (equal to ten quarrees French measure, or thirty-two acres English measure) and half the above quantity for every negro or mulatto slave that such white person or persons shall import with them, making such a division of the land, that each shall partake of the good, bad and indifferent.

And these distributions shall be recorded in a vellum book of population, specifying the name of each inhabitant, the date of his admission, the number of individuals of his family, his quality and rank; and every such inhabitant shall have an authentic copy from said book for the parcel of land allotted to him, which shall serve as a title to his property in the same.

Moreover, Article four specified that  free negroes and mulattoes who shall come to settle in the said island, in quality of inhabitants and chief of families, shall have half the quantity of land granted to the whites, and if they bring with them slaves, being their own property, the quantity of land granted to them shall be increased in proportion to the number of said slaves, and to the land granted to said negroes and mulattoes, this is, one half of the quantity granted to the slaves of whites; and their titles shall be equally legal and granted in the same manner as to whites.

The large French-slave owners, such as Count De Lopinot, took advantage of this opportunity and migrated with their slaves to Trinidad. Even though white, black and mulatto slave owners were of French descent, the whites received more property than their counterparts.

Hence, in the following years after the proclamation, the white French-speaking slave-owners became the dominant elite class on account of their wealth (ownership of large tracts of land) and influenced the pattern of socio-economic development in the country. For example, the White French creoles, because of their ability to raise capital, dominated the sugar industry which was highly capital-intensive during the period. While Blacks and Mulattoes also owned small sugar estates, they could not compete with the White French creoles. 

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