Tortuga, named after the multitude of turtles (morocoys) which roamed the landscape, is a small village approximately 10 sq. km in size. It was well-known as a thriving agricultural community with several groups contributing to its economic development.
This region was settled by a diverse group such as white and coloured Frenchmen who came generally after the 1783 Cédula de Población. They fled to Trinidad from Grenada after bitter fights with the British. The Cédula de Población also encouraged Roman Catholics of friendly nations to take up land grants in Trinidad. (N.B. Trinidad became a British colony in 1797). Many French settlers continued to move to Trinidad even under British rule and Trinidad became a French Creole dominated society although, we were never a French colony officially under French rule.
The French were noted for successfully cultivating high quality cocoa on the fertile soils of the Montserrat Hills. They soon began to dominate the trades as well as “King Cocoa” from the 1860s to 1880s. They also made significant contribution to the parish of OLM as priests and benefactors.
Following emancipation, many freed men squatted in the high woods of Tortuga and environs as they could not legitimately purchase land. Peons (a racial admixture of Amerindian, Spanish and African who migrated from Venezuela, the Main), formed a significant part of the population after 1850. They contributed labour, including skilled labour, on the cocoa estates.
The peons came mainly from the Cumana Province of Venezuela where verdant acres of coffee and cocoa were cultivated on the fertile soils of areas such as Yaguaraparo. Other Peons who worked as labourers formed part of the peasant population. A census of 1891 listed 142 Venezuelan immigrants in the Montserrat region of the Central Range.
The peons generally used the term “Spanish” to define themselves regardless of the diversity of their racial composition. They were largely Roman Catholic and Spanish speakers.
The everyday lifestyle of the peons of Montserrat is evident in the writings of Eusebio Valerio. He was born in Tortuga in 1880. His parents were Jose Tiburcio Valerio and Elenore Valerio. His parents were both native Trinidadians. His father was of Caucasian (Spanish) and Amerindian descent and his mother was African- Carib. Valerio’s grandparents had emigrated from Venezuela in the early nineteenth century and settled in Tortuga. Valerio’s father cultivated a cocoa plantation on a contractual basis until he died in 1895. Valerio was sent to a school run by Mr. Louis Mc Carthy, two miles away at Hardbargain.