Christopher Columbus first spotted Chacachacare Island on his third New World voyage on August 12, 1498 and dubbed it El Caracol because of its shape. Since then, it has served as a cotton plantation, a whaling station and, as it is most known for, a leper colony. It is now named for the native cotton that grows on the island.
The Spaniards grew cotton on the island and established a whaling station. By 1791, the island had a sizable population living there. Then it was given to an Irishman, Gerald Fitzpatrick Carry, for services rendered to the King with the proviso it would be returned if needed by the King. He used it for agriculture and grew sugar apples and cotton. In 1813, Venezuelan patriot Santiago Mariño, who later joined forces with Simón Bolivar, used Chacachacare as a base to launch an invasion of Venezuela during its war of independence with only 45 "Patriots".
In the 1800’s, Chacachacare was used as a health spa and retreat for Trinidadians. In 1880, Dominican nuns built St. Catherine’s Church, a school, and a convent on land that was willed to the Church in 1842. In 1896, a lighthouse was built on the island. It was once the highest lighthouse in the world and now has been downgraded to second place. It is still maintained by a lighthouse keeper to this day.
There are conflicting reports about when the leper colony was established on the island. Some say the late 19th Century. Others say it was built in 1887. Newspaper reports date it back to the early 1920s when the British government decided to separate those infected with the disease from the rest of the population. Patients were moved from a hospital in Cocorite and were forced to leave family and loved ones for Chacachacare not knowing if they would ever see them again. The colony housed around 250 patients. They lived in several buildings scattered on the island and was forced to care for themselves other than aid of the nuns, Dominican and French. Those who couldn't care for themselves were confined to the Sunda Bay Hospital on the island. In 1950, the Dominican nuns, those who did not succumb to the disease, left and were replaced by a local nursing staff.
In 1942, U.S. and Puerto Rican Marines occupied part of Chacachacare during the war. They built barracks and separated themselves from the leper colony with a barbed wire fence. On July 24, 1984, the leper colony closed and the remaining patients, some of whom had spent over 4 decades of their lives on the island, returned to Trinidad to try to live some semblance of a normal life. The Trinidad Coast Guard had set up a small security post and used the old buildings for living quarters and administrative offices on Chacachacare in the late 1990's, but abandoned it six months later cause of its haunted reputation.
Supposedly, the nun who committed suicide in the chapel kept them on their toes. I have found several versions of the story about this nun. The one mentioned on GHI had her falling in love with a Venezuelan sailor. After their relationship was discovered, they were told to split up which led to her hanging herself over the altar in the chapel. Another version states the guy wasn't a sailor but a priest. A third one says she committed suicide after discovering she had become pregnant by a local fisherman. On GHI, they spoke to a priest who told them about a supposed (I say supposed because it's growing harder to trust any information at all they air on the show) American nun named Sister Mary Luigi who was told to go to Guyana and didn't want to. She was found dead in the water and was unsure whether or not she jumped or fell.
Whomever she may be, there are reports of a young nun haunting the convent, sometimes seen walking around with a lantern at night. Witnesses have also reported hearing voices, noises and footsteps, seeing apparitions, shadows, being pushed, feeling cold spots.
Today, the island is overseen by the Chaguaramas Development Authority. They have proposed constructing hotels on the island while also preserving the remains of the leper colony, but nothing as of yet has been put in to motion.