THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF TRINIDAD
Publication No. 317.
The Right of France to Tobago. Presented in Paris.
Source : --British Museum. Additional MSS. 32816.
Published by the courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.
Translated from the French.
April 12th, 1749.
We have already announced that the King has not only
not ceded the Island of Tobago to anyone but since the war
His Majesty has ordered no change of any kind and that if
the Governors General of the French Isles have allowed
filibusters to return there after suspension of hostilities, it is
principally to avoid them becoming pirates and they were
permitted this tolerance until, to avoid the effects of the
threats made by the Proclamation of the English Governor of
Barbados, in the early days of November, it became necessary
to send a detachment of soldiers in the two frigates Juno and
Favorite to cruise for some months amongst the Island against
pirates and interlopers.
Since this declaration, the report of the cruise of these
frigates has been received. In January arriving in sight of
Tobago, an English frigate came to reconnoitre and was told
that they were cruising against pirates and it then took route
for the Bay of Jean Ie Mort with a goelet which accompanied
it. The two French frigates went to anchor in the same
harbour. The Sicur de Montalais, who commanded, sent an
Officer on board and asked the Captain if he had need of
anything. Upon this the Captain replied that he had need
of water. The French Commander then allowed him three
days for that and left on the morrow to anchor in the harbour
He had been here several days in this habour occupied ;n
taking steps against the proceedings threatened by the
Governor of Barbados against the French filibusters when on
January 31st four English frigates appeared at the mouth
of the bay.
At once an Officer was sent on board Lhe Commander of
these frigates to warn him that if le came to carry out tile
threa-s of the Gov(ernor of Barbados, the two Royal frigates
would oppose him. As soon as the Officer boarded the
English ship the Commander asked him what the French
were doing in the English Islands. The Officer without
replying to this question, carried out the commission entrusted
to him and the English having replied in terms hardly decent
that he would sink the two loyal frigates ; the French Officer
took his departure, when the English Commander called him
back and told him that he had not come to break the peace
but to see what the French wcrc doing. Before leaving, the
Officer enquired whether he wished to anchor in Roquclabay;
he replied that lie had anchors for that and also sails to keep
the sea. He then tried to enter the bay but not being able to
do so, he went and anchored with the four frigates at Sandy
Point, three leagues from Roquelabay.
On the 6th Feb"uary, the Captain of one of the frigates
went with his boat aboard the French Commander to claim
three sailor dcscrtirs who were returned to him. He said that
his Commander would come to see him if the currents allowed
it, to which a polite reply was made. But on the 9th of
February, the Sieur de Montalais, having no more provisions
except those necessary for the return to Martinique, he went
to that Island and Icl the English frigates at Tobago and is
ignorant what they did.
In any (ase the commission given to the two frigates when
sent to the Islands had no other object than to protect the
commer(,c of the subjects of His Majesty against pirates and
interlopers. The Commandant, as those of other vessels sent
out by the King since the suspension of aris, liad orders most
positive to conduct himself witl tne English ships in conformity
with Article 16 of the Preliminaries ; it is clear that the
Sicur de Montalais had so carefully complied and this is also
clear from the first memoir ofMons Yorke on the first meeting
with a frigate.
The Governor of the French Islands has no authority to
prescribe thle contrary and his Commission has always included
the duty of preserving the Island of Tobago against the
projects of the Governor of Barbados. This is merely following
the example of all his predecessor s in the government of the
French Islands vwho since the Island of Tobago was acquired
by the Crown of France, have been continually attentive to
It is certain that he has never diminished the rights of the
King upon that Island. This is easy to show in recalling the
origin of these rights and the use made of them up to the
present and the account which follows will serve at the same
time to destroy the pretensions made in the second memoir
of Mons Yorke.
If in order to establish the rights of the King to the Island
of Tobago, it is necessary to go back to the times mentioned
in this memoir, we are prepared and in a position to maintain
that France possessed this Island long before it fell into the
hands of the Dutch from whom the French captured it in
the year 1677. It was in fact included in the concession
made to the Compagnie FranaiLe des Isles de 1'Amerique
formed in 1642 and who appointed as their Governors
Sieur Vueiul and Sicur Remy.
It is true that afterwards some English tried to settle
there but they did not stay long and Ihecy were driven out
in 1666 by the Sieur de Vincent, Governor of the French
Island of Grenada who made prisoners of them and left a
garrison in Tobago.
But all the incidents previous to the year 1677 have no
effect. The Dutch were plainly in possession of the Island
in 1676 when the Comte d'Estrees Vice Admiral of France,
made the first effort. They had a considerable fort and a
numerous garrison. They had sent to defend it Admiral
Binckes with a squadron of 10-12 ships. The Vice admiral
attacked the place by land and by sea, he destroyed the
Dutch squadron after a sharp fight but being unable to carry
the fort in his first assault, lie returned the next year and
after becoming master of the fort when Admiral Binckes
perished, he remained there and made the garrison prisoners
of war and took possession of the Island. This possession was
confirmed to France by the Treaty signed the following year
at Nimeguen of which Article 7 is in these terms Chacun
demeurera saisi y jouira effectivement des Pays, Villes et
Places, Terres, Isles et Seigneuries tant au dedans que dehors
de 1'Europe qu'il tient et possede a present sans etre trouble
ni inquiete directement ni indirectement de quelque facon
que se soit."
The Dutch have not since then the slightest claim to this
Island. The Comte de Blenac and Mons d'Amblemont who
were successively Governor General of the French Islands to
the end of last century, sent there from time to time, vessels
and detachments of troops to prevent any foreigners from
settling there. They took there themselves and planted
notices and their successors have always maintained an equal
interest in this Island.
Their have however several times been projects for
foreign settlement in the Island of Tobago but these projects
have never been executed which have authoritatively confirmed
the rights of France to this Island.
In 1699 the Agent of the Duke of Courland at the Havre
proposed to the Dutch that they -sould cede to his Master
their rights in the Island of Tobago. The late King being
apprised of this proposal wrote to his Ambassador at the
Hague to whom the Pcnsionaire Heinzius replied that they
had not forgotten the cession made by the Treaty of Nimeguen
and that there was no question of settling Dutch in Tobago.
We soon learnt that the Duke of Courland had applied to
the English and had formed a Company in London for
Tobago. The late King instructed his Ambassador to the
Britannic Court to object and the Dukes of Portland and
Jersey, Secretaries of State replied that the project would
come to nothing and the Duke of Jersey and the English
Admiralty declared formally that no settlement was contem-
plated in the Island of Tobago, then or in the future.
The war which was declared shortly afterwards, passed
without any attempt by any foreign power on this Island.
During this war and after the peace of 1713, the French
Governors continued to make visits without ever finding any
In 1729 we were informed that the Duke of Montague,
on pretext of expenses made on St. Lucia by virtue of the
concession which hle had surprised from His Britannic Majesty
and which had been revoked, was attempting to obtain one
for the Island of Tobago and had for this object made an
arrangement with the family of Mons Po)ntz who pretended
to have right; trom tie Duke of Couiland. The King
instructed his Ambassador to oppose the new concession and
to demand its revocation if it had been granted. Mons
Townsend, Secretary ot State, told him that an application
had been made by the Duke of Montague but he did not
think it would succeed. In fact no concession was made and
the Duke of Montague abandoned the proposal.
However in 1730 or 1731 there were rumours that the
English intended to make settlements upon the Island of
Tobago and upon St. Croix, another Island belonging to
France. At this memoirs were sent to Messrs. Walpole and
Waldegrave and the rumours were found to be without
foundation. The King disposed of St. Croix to the Danes
and Tobago remains as it was.
The French of the other Islands have continued to go
there for wood and fishing of turtles and since the cessation
of arms, the filibusters have returned there and on the Island
is to be found a Frenchman who for 15 years has had a
considerable cultivation of land.
Upon this simple exposition of fact:, of which the proofs
can be produced, it is easy to judge the claim made nowadays
on the part of Great Britain to the Island of Tobago. But to
convince more and more how slightly founded is this
pretension, it remains to consider the reasons on which
Mons Yorke rests in his memoir.
They are reduced to stating that the Island belonged to
Great Britain before the Dutch were evicted, that they were
but usurpers when Vice Admiral Comte d'Estrecs took it
from them, that this conquest was but a passing invasion
unaccompanied by any settlement, that the Treaty of
Nimeguen does not include the cession of the Island of Tobago
and that this Treaty only requires them to keep such as they
hold and possess and that France had never been in possession
of Tobago, that since 1686 the Duke of Courland has petitioned
the Britannic Court for permission to resettle at Tobago with
the same privileges as the King Charles II had accorded
in 1664 and that he renewed his petition in 1699 and that
he was always refused and finally that the English Governor
of Barbados had always had the title of Governor of Tobago.
But firstly it is noted that France has possessed the Island
before the Dutch were defeated and even beforcl the alleged
concession made by Charles II, King of Great Britain, in 1664
to the Duke of Courland ; but discussions cf affairs prior to
1676 arc useless since at that time the Dutch had the real and
Secondly if the possession be thus regarded as usurpation
on the part of the Dutch, why had a Vice Admiral of France
to make two consecutive and heavy attacks as those of
Comte d'Estrees in 1676 and 1677 against this settlement.
Is one to suppose that Great Britain would have allowed
tranquilly the execution of these two attacks, the success of
which were celebrated by two medals, if it were able to justify
a sound claim to the Island which was the object.
Thirdly the history of these times established that the
conquest of the Comte d'Estrees was not considered a passing
invasion. If the Island was not settled at once and if one is
not there now, that is a matter for France which does not give
anyone any right on the Island ; moreover it is clear that
it has never abandoned possession, to the contrary it has
always taken care to prevent any stranger from settling.
Fourthly the representation of the Duke of Courland to
the Britannic Court, far from militating against French rights,
are on the contrary a new confirmation since the action taken
by that Court in 1699, as the memoir of Mons Yorke shows,
in rejecting that request always, were without doubt the
result of the representations made by the lat- King through
Finally whatever advantage the Britannic Court may
draw from the title of Governor of Tobago which is usually
given to the Governor of Barbados, one knows quite well that
this sort of appelation is absolutely indifferent with respect to
claims by other powers. Besides the Goxernor of Barbados
declares himself Governor of the Windward Islands of
Guadeloupe. Are we to conclude then that Martinique,
which is in that position, also belongs to Great Britain.
One can only believe that after these details there can
remain no doubt about the legitimacy of the rights of the
King of France to the Island of Tobago. There results
naturally that His Majesty can make such settlement there
as he considers a propos without any power having any reason-
However always desirous of doing anything which depends
on it to .,how proofs of a firm and constant resolution to
maintain and cement stronger the union which is so happily
restored between the two nations it consents to suspend all
settlement in the Island of Tobago and even to evacuate the
French there but for this France asks
First that the King of Great Britain also gives orders that
her Governors shall undertake nothing upon this Island and
that the English now there also evacuate.
Second that there are immediately appointed Commissaries
to discuss without delay which are the Islands belonging to
the two Crowns and those which are neutral.
One cannot doubt that these two conditions will be
accepted by the Britannic Court. It is the only means of
avoiding for ever any dispute on these matters as is the wish
of all treaties between these two countries.