History of Barbados

Brief History of Barbados

Barbados the eastern-most Caribbean island, was inhabited by Amerindian Arawaks, who at war with and eventually driven from the island by the Caribs from Venezuela during the 1200’s.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Barbados, in 1536, on their way to Brazil, led by the ‘explorer’ Pedro a Campo, who named the island Los Barbados (bearded-ones). Due to the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain in 1494, Barbados was on the Spanish side of the line of demarcation that separated the Portuguese empire from the Spanish territories, and therefore did not settle there. In 1492 when the Spanish did arrive, they didn’t settle on the island, leaving it for other nearby islands.

In 1624, the first English ship, led by Captain John Powell, landed on the island was claimed for the King of England, King James I (British control over Barbados would last from 1625 until independence in 1966). A few years later the first colonists arrived and settled in Jamestown (now Holetown), north of modern Bridgetown. Soon much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton plantations.

The colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639, being the 3rd ever Parliamentary Democracy in the world. The majority of the population however, was excluded from participating in public affairs because political power was based on the ownership of land.

In 1637, a Dutchman, Pieter Blower, brought sugar cane to Barbados. The colonists initially used the cane for making rum, but they began to refine the juice into crystallized sugar by 1642. sugar cane was an expensive and labour intensive, crop, causing the consolidation of small farms into larger plantations. More labour was needed, in the form of slaves from Africa and ‘servants’ from Europe. Oliver Cromwell exiled thousands of prisoners to Barbados (and Jamaica). The Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series of 1701 records 25000 slaves in Barbados, of which 21700 were white. The ‘Redlegs’ (sometimes known as Redshanks and Scotland Johnnies) are survivors of the indentured servants in Barbados during the seventeenth century.

The late 1600’s brought natural disasters, such as the locust plague of 1663, the Bridgetown fire and a major hurricane in 1667, Drought in 1668 followed by excessive rain in 1669. By 1720 Barbados were no longer dominant within the sugar industry.

Tourism started early in Barbados, by the early 1700’s it had been a fashionable place to ‘restore ones health’. George Washington visited the island for six weeks with his tuberculosis-stricken half brother in hope of beating his illness.

The 1816 ‘Busa’ revolution was the most important rebellion in Barbados, whilst it was a failure in the end it played its part it the fight towards emancipation. Led by Bussa an African slave, it lasted for four days four days until finally Bussa was killed in the battle, the ‘leaders’ of the rebellion were captured and executed.

When slavery was finally abolished in 1834, but for four years after emancipation, slaves were put into an apprenticeship which ended on August 1, 1838, with the freed Bajans celebrating in the streets.

Political awakening within the black population started to grow. In 1937 there was social unrest which prompted the creation of trade unions and the first modern political party, the Barbados Labour Party. The Leader of the BLP, Grantley (he later became Sir) Adams, became the first Premier of Barbados and achieved many social and constitutional reforms. He then led Barbados to the ‘West Indian Federation’ in 1958 and became the first and only Prime Minister of the West Indies until 1962. Barbados gained full Independence on November 30, 1966 under the then Premier, Errol Walton Barrow of the Democratic Labour Party, who later became the island’s first Prime Minister.

Read more about Barbados National Heroes

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Barbados | Dominica | Grenada | Jamaica | St Lucia | Trinidad | Tobago