World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

History of Barbados


History of Barbados

Barbados was inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs at the time of European colonization of the Americas in the 16th century. The island was an English and later British colony from 1625 until 1966. Since 1966, it has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, modelled on the Westminster system, with Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados, as head of state.


  • Prehistory 1
  • Early history 2
  • 1627–1639 3
    • Early English settlement 3.1
  • 1640–1790 4
    • England's civil war 4.1
    • Sugar cultivation 4.2
  • 1800s (decade)–1920s 5
  • 1930s–present 6
  • Modern state 7
  • Sugar cane and slavery 8
  • Political history 9
    • Confederations, and political union proposals 9.1
  • Notes 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


Some evidence suggests that Barbados may have been settled in the second millennium BC, but this is limited to fragments of conch lip adzes found in association with shells radiocarbon-dated to c.1630 BC.[1] Fully documented Amerindian settlement dates to between about 350 to 650 AD, by a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid, who arrived from mainland South America. A second wave of migrants appeared around the year 800 (the Spanish referred to these people as "Arawaks") and a third in the mid-13th century (called "Caribs" by the Spanish). This last group was more politically organised and came to rule over the others.

Early history

Frequent slave-raiding missions by the Spanish Empire in the early 16th century led to a massive decline in the Amerindian population of Barbados so that by 1541 a Spanish writer could claim they were uninhabited. The Amerindians were either captured for use as slaves by the Spanish or fled to other, more easily defensible mountainous islands nearby.[2]

From about 1600 the English, French and Dutch began to found colonies in the North American mainland and the smaller islands of the West Indies. Although Spanish and Portuguese sailors likely had visited Barbados, England was the first European nation to establish a lasting settlement in Barbados from 1627. England is commonly attributed as making their initial claim of Barbados in 1625, though reportedly an earlier claim may have been made in 1620. Nonetheless, by 1625 Barbados was claimed in the name of King James I of England. There were earlier English settlements in The Americas, (1607: Jamestown, 1609: Bermuda, and 1620: Plymouth Colony), and several islands in the Leeward Islands were claimed by the English at about the same time as Barbados (1623: St Kitts, 1628: Nevis, 1632: Montserrat, 1632: Antigua). Nevertheless, Barbados quickly grew to become the third major English settlement in the Americas due to its prime eastern location.


Early English settlement

The settlement was established as a proprietary colony and was funded by Sir William Courten, a City of London merchant who owned the title to Barbados and several other islands. Thus, the first colonists were actually tenants and much of the profits of their labour returned to Courten and his company.[3]

The first English ship arrived on 14 May 1625 and was captained by John Powell. The first settlement began some time later on 17 February 1627, near what is now Holetown (formerly Jamestown).[4] The group was led by John Powell's younger brother, Henry, who arrived with 80 settlers and 10 English labourers. The latter were young indentured labourers who, according to some sources, had been abducted, effectively making them slaves.

Courten's title was transferred to James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, in what was called the "Great Barbados Robbery." Carlisle then chose as governor Henry Hawley. It was he who established the House of Assembly in 1639, in an effort to appease the planters who might otherwise oppose his controversial appointment.

In the period 1640–60, the West Indies attracted over two thirds of the total number of English emigrants to the Americas. By 1650 there were 44,000 settlers in the West Indies, as compared to 12,000 on the Chesapeake and 23,000 in New England. Most English emigrants arrived as indentured. After five years of labour, they were given 'freedom dues' of about ₤10, usually in goods. (Before the mid-1630s, they also received 5 to 10 acres of land but after that time the island filled up and there was no free land.) Around the time of Cromwell a number of rebels and criminals were also transported. The death rate was very high (Parish registers from the 1650s show, for the white population, four times as many deaths as marriages.)

Before this the main stay of the infant colony's economy was the growth export of tobacco, but tobacco prices eventually fell in the 1630s as Chesapeake production expanded.


England's civil war

Around the same time fighting during the Lord Willoughby surrendered. The conditions of surrender were incorporated into the Charter of Barbados (Treaty of Oistins), which was signed in the Mermaid's Inn, Oistins, on 17 January 1652.[5]

Sugar cultivation

The introduction of sugarcane from Dutch Brazil completely transformed society and the economy. Barbados eventually had one of the world's biggest sugar industries after starting sugar cane cultivation in 1640.[6] One group which was instrumental for ensuring the early success of the sugar cane industry were the Sephardic Jews, who had originally been expelled from the Iberian peninsula to end up in Dutch Brazil.[6] As the effects of the new crop increased, so did the shift in the ethnic composition of Barbados and surrounding islands. The workable sugar plantation required a large investment and a great deal of heavy labour. At first, Dutch traders supplied the equipment, financing, and African slaves, in addition to transporting most of the sugar to Europe. In 1644 the population of Barbados was estimated at 30,000, of this amount about 800 were of African descent, with the remainder mainly of English descent. These English smallholders were eventually bought out and the island was filled up with large African slave-worked sugar plantations. By 1660 there was near parity with 27,000 blacks and 26,000 whites. By 1666 at least 12,000 white smallholders had been bought out, died, or left the island. Many of the remaining whites were increasingly poor. By 1680 there were seventeen slaves for every indentured servant. By 1700, there were 15,000 free whites and 50,000 enslaved blacks.

Due to the increased implementation of slave codes, which created differential treatment between Africans and the white workers and ruling planter class, the island became increasingly unattractive to poor whites. Black or slave codes were implemented in 1661, 1676, 1682, and 1688. In response to these codes, several slave rebellions were attempted or planned during this time, but none succeeded. Nevertheless, poor whites who had or acquired the means to emigrate often did so. Planters expanded their importation of African slaves to cultivate sugar cane.

By 1660, Barbados generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined. This remained until it was eventually surpassed by geographically larger islands like Jamaica in 1713. Even though, in 1730–31 the estimated value of the colony of Barbados was as much as ₤5,500,000.[7] Bridgetown, the capital, was one of the three largest cities in English America (the other two were Boston, Massachusetts, and Port Royal, Jamaica.) By 1700, the English West Indies produced 25,000 tons of sugar, compared to 20,000 for Brazil, 10,000 for the French islands and 4,000 for the Dutch islands.[8] This quickly replaced tobacco plantations on the islands which were previously the main export.

As the sugar industry developed into its main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates that replaced the smallholdings of the early English settlers. In 1680 over half the arable land was held by 175 large planters who held at least 60 slaves. The great planters had connections with the English aristocracy and great influence on Parliament. (In 1668 the West Indian sugar crop sold for £180,000 after customs of £18,000. Chesapeake tobacco earned £50,000 after customs of £75,000). So much land was devoted to sugar that most food had to be imported from New England. The poorer whites who were moved off the island went to the English Leeward Islands or, especially, to Jamaica. In 1670, the Province of South Carolina was founded, when some of the surplus population left Barbados. Other nations benefiting from large numbers of Barbadians include: British Guiana, as well as Panama.

1800s (decade)–1920s

The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, but not the institution itself. In 1816, slaves rose up in the largest major slave rebellion in the island's history. Twenty thousand slaves from over seventy plantations rebelled. They drove whites off the plantations, but widespread killings did not take place. This was later termed "Bussa's Rebellion" after the slave ranger, Bussa, who with his assistants hated slavery, found the treatment of slaves on Barbados to be "intolerable", and believed the political climate in the UK made the time ripe to peacefully negotiate with planters for freedom (Davis, p. 211; Northrup, p. 191). Bussa's Rebellion failed. One hundred and twenty slaves died in combat or were immediately executed; another 144 were brought to trial and executed; remaining rebels were shipped off the island (Davis, pp. 212–213).

In 1826 the Barbados legislature passed the Consolidated Slave Law which simultaneously granted concessions to the slaves whilst also providing reassurances to the slave owners.[9]

Slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire eighteen years later, in 1834. In Barbados and the rest of the British West Indian colonies, full emancipation from slavery was preceded by an apprenticeship period that lasted four years.

Statue of Lord Nelson in National Heroes Square which predates the more famous Nelson's Column by some 27 years.

In 1884, the Barbados Agricultural Society sent a letter to Sir Francis Hincks requesting his private and public views on whether the Dominion of Canada would favourably entertain having the then colony of Barbados admitted as a member of the Canadian Confederation. Asked of Canada were the terms of the Canadian side to initiate discussions, and whether or not the island of Barbados could depend on the full influence of Canada in getting the change agreed to by the United Kingdom.

Bridgetown Harbour in 1902


In 1952 the Barbados Advocate newspaper polled several prominent Barbadian politicians, lawyers, businessmen, the Speaker of the Barbados House of Assembly and later as first President of the Senate, Sir Theodore Branker, Q.C. and found them to be in favour of immediate federation of Barbados along with the rest of the British Caribbean with complete Dominion Status within five years from the date of inauguration of the West Indies Federation with Canada.

However, plantation owners and merchants of British descent still dominated local politics, owing to the high-income qualification required for voting. More than 70% of the population, many of them disenfranchised women, were excluded from the democratic process. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Labour Party in 1938, then known as the Barbados Progressive League.

Adams and his party demanded more rights for the poor and for the people, and staunchly supported the monarchy. Progress toward a more democratic government in Barbados was made in 1942, when the exclusive income qualification was lowered and women were given the right to vote. By 1949 governmental control was wrested from the planters and, in 1958, Adams became Premier of Barbados.

Modern state

From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the Errol Walton Barrow, a fervent reformer, became the people's new advocate. Barrow had left the BLP and formed the Democratic Labour Party as a liberal alternative to Adams' conservative government. Barrow instituted many progressive social programmes, such as free education for all Barbadians and the school meals system. By 1961, Barrow had replaced Adams as Premier and the DLP controlled the government.

With the Federation dissolved, Barbados reverted to its former status, that of a Organization of American States.

Sugar cane and slavery

Sugar cane cultivation began in the 1640s, after its introduction in 1637 by Pieter Blower. Initially, rum was produced but by 1642, sugar was the focus of the industry. As it developed into the main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates which replaced the small holdings of the early English settlers as the wealthy planters pushed out the poorer. Some of the displaced farmers relocated to the English colonies in North America, most notably South Carolina.[10] To work the plantations, black Africans - primarily from West Africa - were imported as slaves in such numbers that there were three for every one planter. The slave trade ceased in 1807 and slaves were emancipated in 1834. Persecuted Catholics from Ireland also worked the plantations. Life expectancy of slaves was short, and replacements were purchased annually.

Sugar cane dominated Barbados' economic growth, and the island's cash crop was at the top of the sugar industry until 1720.

Increasingly after 1750 the plantations were owned by absentee landlords living in Great Britain and operated by hired managers.[11]

Roberts (2006) shows that slaves did not spend the majority of time in restricted roles cultivating, harvesting, and processing sugarcane, the island's most important cash crop. Rather, slaves involved in various activities and in multiple roles: raising livestock, fertilizing soil, growing provisional crops, maintaining plantation infrastructure, caregiving, and other tasks. One notable soil management technique was intercropping, planting subsistence crops between the rows of cash crops - which demanded of the slaves skilled and experienced observations of growing conditions for efficient land use.[12]

"Slaveholders often counted as 'married' only those slaves with mates on the estate. For example, the manager of Newton estate ... recorded 20 women with coresident husbands and 35 with mates elsewhere. Members of the latter group were labeled single, members of extended units, or mother-child units".[13][1]

Political history

Carrington (1982) examines politics during the American Revolution, revealing that Barbadian political leaders shared many of the grievances and goals of the American revolutionaries, but that they were unwilling to go to war over them. Nevertheless, the repeated conflicts between the island assembly and the royal governors brought important constitutional reforms which confirmed the legislature's control over most local matters and its power over the executive.[14]

From 1800 until 1885, Barbados then served as the main seat of Government for the former Grenada, where it remained until the territory of the Windward Islands was dissolved.

Soon after Barbados' withdrawal from the Windward Islands, Barbados became aware that Tobago was going to be amalgamated with another territory as part of a single state.[15] In response, Barbados made an official bid to the British Government to have neighbouring Island Tobago joined with Barbados as a political union.[16] The British government however decided that Trinidad would be a better fit and Tobago instead was made a Ward of Trinidad.[17][18]

African slaves worked on plantations owned by merchants of English and Scottish descent. It was these merchants who continued to dominate Barbados politics, even after emancipation, due to a high income restriction on voting. Only the upper 30 per cent had any voice in the democratic process. It was not until the 1930s that a movement for political rights was begun by the descendants of emancipated slaves, who started trade unions. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Progressive League (now the Barbados Labour Party) in 1938. The Great Depression caused mass unemployment and strikes, and the standard of living on the island fell drastically. Adams continued to advocate more help for the people, especially the poor.

Finally, in 1942, the income qualification was lowered. This was followed by the introduction of universal adult suffrage in 1951, and Adams was elected as Premier of Barbados in 1958. For his action and leadership, Adams would later become a National Hero.

From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the monarchy but also made additional attempts to form other Federation-like entities after that union's demise. When the Federation was terminated, Barbados reverted to its former status as a self-governing colony, but efforts were made by Adams to form another federation composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands.

Errol Walton Barrow was to replace Grantley Adams as the advocate of populism, and it was he who would eventually lead the island into Independence in 1966. Barrow, a fervent reformer and once a member of the Barbados Labour Party, had left the party to form his own Democratic Labour Party, as the liberal alternative to the conservative BLP government under Adams. He remains a National Hero for his work in social reformation, including the institution of free education for all Barbadians. In 1961, Barrow supplanted Adams as Premier as the DLP took control of the government.

Due to several years of growing autonomy, Barbados, with Barrow at the helm, was able successfully to negotiate its independence at a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados finally became an independent state and formally joined the Commonwealth of Nations on 30 November 1966, Errol Barrow serving as its first Prime Minister.

Confederations, and political union proposals

A number of proposals have been mooted in the past to have Barbados integrated with either neighboring countries or once even the Canadian Confederation. To date all have failed, and one proposal even led to deadly riots in 1876 when Governor John Pope Hennessy tried to pressure Barbados' politicians to integrate more firmly into the Windward Islands. Governor Hennessy was quickly transferred from Barbados by the British Crown following the situation. In 1884 attempts were then made by the influential Barbados Agricultural Society to have Barbados form a political association with the Canadian Confederation. From 1958-1962 Barbados became one of the ten states of the West Indies Federation. Lastly in the 1990s, a plan was devised by the leaders of Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago to form a political association between those three governments. Again this deal was never completed, following the loss of Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford in the Barbadian general elections.


  1. ^ Estate, real estate and houses on it

See also


  •  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Department of State (Background Notes).
  • Hoyes, F. A. 1963. The Rise of West Indian Democracy: The Life and Times of Sir Grantley Adams. Advocate Press.
  • Williams, Eric. 1964. British Historians and the West Indies. P.N.M. Publishing Company, Port-of-Spain.
  • Scott, Caroline. 1999. Insight Guide Barbados. Discovery Channel and Insight Guides; fourth edition, Singapore. ISBN 0-88729-033-7
  1. ^ Peter Drewett, 1993. "Excavations at Heywoods, Barbados, and the Economic Basis of the Suazoid Period in the Lesser Antilles", Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society 38:113-137; Scott M. Fitzpatrick, "A critical approach to c14 dating in the Caribbean", Latin American Antiquity, 17 (4), pp. 389ff.
  2. ^ Hilary McD. Beckles, A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market (Cambridge University Press, 2007 edition), pp. 1-6.
  3. ^ William And John, 11 January 201,
  4. ^ Beckles p. 7.
  5. ^ Karl Watson, The Civil War in Barbados, History in-depth, BBC, 5 November 2009.
  6. ^ a b Barbados: Just Beyond Your Imagination. Hansib Publishing (Caribbean) Ltd. 1997. pp. 46, 48.  
  7. ^ Richard B. Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623-1775, p. 144.
  8. ^ Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settlement of North America, 2001 (Viking Putnam; Penguin, 2002), discusses Barbados in the context of North American settlement.
  9. ^ Beckles, Hilary McD (2006). A history of Barbados : from Amerindian settlement to Caribbean single market (2nd ed.). Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. pp. 118–119.  
  10. ^ South Carolina National Heritage Corridor (SCNHC)
  11. ^ Ragatz (1931).
  12. ^ Justin Roberts, "Agriculture on Two Barbadian Sugar Plantations, 1796-97," William and Mary Quarterly 2006 63(3): 551-586.
  13. ^ Morrissey, Marietta, Slave Women in the New World: Gender Stratification in the Caribbean (Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 1989 (ISBN 0-7006-0394-8)), p. 85 and see p. 99 (author assoc. prof. sociology, Univ. of Toledo).
  14. ^ S. H. Carrington, "West Indian Opposition to British Policy: Barbadian Politics, 1774-82," Journal of Caribbean History 1982 (17): 26-49.
  15. ^ "Motion for a select committee", Hansard, HC Deb 30 June 1876 vol 230 cc738-822.
  16. ^ The Parliament of the United Kingdom c/o Hansard system: MOTION FOR A SELECT COMMITTEE.
  17. ^ The Parliament of the United Kingdom c/o Hansard system: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO BILL.—(No. 195).
  18. ^ The Parliament of the United Kingdom c/o Hansard system:

Further reading

  • Beckles, Hilary McD., and Andrew Downes. "The Economics of Transition to the Black Labor System in Barbados, 1630-1680," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 225–247. in JSTOR
  • Blackman, Francis W., National Heroine of Barbados: Sarah Ann Gill (Barbados: Methodist Church, 1998, 27 pp)
  • Blackman, Francis W., Methodism, 200 years in Barbados (Barbados: Caribbean Contact, 1988, 160 pp)
  • Butler, Kathleen Mary. The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica & Barbados, 1823-1843 (1995) online edition
  • Dunn, Richard S., "The Barbados Census of 1680: Profile of the Richest Colony in English America", William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1 (January 1969), pp. 3–30. in JSTOR
  • Harlow, V. T. A History of Barbados (1926).
  • Michener, James, A. 1989. Caribbean. Secker & Warburg. London. ISBN 0-436-27971-1. Especially see Chapter V., "Big Storms in Little England", pp. 140–172; popular writer
  • Kurlansky, Mark. 1992. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny. Addison-Wesley Publishing. ISBN 0-201-52396-5.
  • Howe, Glenford D., and Don D. Marshall, eds. The Empowering Impulse: The Nationalist Tradition of Barbados (Canoe Press, 2001) online edition
  • Molen, Patricia A. "Population and Social Patterns in Barbados in the Early Eighteenth Century," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (April 1971), pp. 287–300 in JSTOR
  • Pariser, Harry S. (2000). Explore Barbados (3rd ed.). Manatee Press.  
  • Dupont, Jerry (2001). "Barbados". The common law abroad: constitutional and legal legacy of the British empire. William S. Hein Publishing. pp. 195–206.  
  • Richardson; Bonham C. Economy and Environment in the Caribbean: Barbados and the Windwards in the Late 1800s (The Press University of The West Indies, 1997) online edition
  • Ragatz, Lowell Joseph. "Absentee Landlordism in the British Caribbean, 1750-1833," Agricultural History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan. 1931), pp. 7–24 in JSTOR
  • Frasier, Henry S. (9 November 1990). Treasures of Barbados. MacMillan Press.  
  • Schomburgk, Sir Robert Hermann (1848). The history of Barbados. Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  • Sheridan; Richard B. Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623-1775 (University of the West Indies Press, 1994) online edition
  • Starkey, Otis P. The Economic Geography of Barbados (1939).
  • Thomas, Robert Paul. "The Sugar Colonies of the Old Empire: Profit or Loss for Great Britain?" Economic History Review, Vol. 21, No. 1 (April 1968), pp. 30–45 in JSTOR

External links

  • Notable dates of Barbadian History - Government of Barbados
  • African influences in Barbados
  • Barbados Museum & Historical Society
  • History, Government Information Services, Government of Barbados
  • — Barbados List of rulers for Barbados
  • Watson, Karl. The Civil War in Barbados. BBC History, 2001-04-01.
  • The Tramways of Barbados: historical survey with map and 16 illustrations
  • Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.