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According to accounts by descendants of the aboriginal Arawak tribes on other local islands, the original name for Barbados was Ichirouganaim.

The origin of the name "Barbados" is controversial. The Portuguese, en route to Brazil or sometimes the Spanish, are credited as the first European nation to discover and name the island. They dubbed the island either Os Barbados or Los Barbados which is said to be Portuguese for the Bearded Ones. It is a matter of conjecture whether the word "bearded" refers to the long, hanging roots of the bearded fig-tree (Ficus citrifolia), indigenous to the island; to bearded Caribs inhabiting the island; or to the foam spraying over the outlying reefs giving the impression of a beard. In 1519, a map produced by the Genoese cartographer Vesconte de Maggiola showed and named Barbados in its correct position north of the island of Tobago. On some historic maps, the island has also been spelled as "Barbadoes". Due to the findings of documented remains throughout the island, some of which dates back over 3000 years. It has been established that Barbados was previously inhabited thousands of years before its the re-discovery by Europeans. Notable sites are in Saint Lucy (the northern part of the island).

Early history

New archaeological discoveries suggest that Barbados may have been inhabited as early as some time in the 1600s BC.[1] Better known is the migration of the Amerindians, who traveled across this part of the Atlantic Ocean by canoe from the Orinoco River region of Venezuela.

This was followed by the Arawak Indians who first arrived in the island around 350–400 BC. A few historical remains of their settlement have been found in areas of Silver Sands, Stroud Point, Chancery Lane, Pie Corner, Saint Luke's Gully, and Mapp's Cave. They were then conquered by the Caribs, as evidenced by a dramatic decline in their population around 1200 AD. The Caribs later disappeared from the island. While no direct cause has been determined, a possible combination of famine, disease, abduction, and enslavement in larger islands by the Spanish or Portuguese have all been suggested as probable causes.

Of especial note are the Portuguese, who visited the island briefly while en route to Brazil, that are responsible for leaving behind the wild boars that would greet the first British settlers.

Early British colonization

The British found an island uninhabited when they first arrived in 1625 and claimed it in the name of King James I of England. This first ship, which arrived on 14 May, was captained by John Powell. The first settlement landed some time later on 17 February 1627, near what is now Holetown (formerly Jamestown). The group was led by Captain John Powel, who arrived with 80 settlers and 10 slaves—these first ten slaves were among the sometimes kidnapped and other times runaway English or Irish youth—Black slaves came later. This settlement was funded by Sir William Courteen, a London merchant who owned the title to Barbados and several other unclaimed islands. Thus, the first colonists were actually tenants and the profits of their labour returned to Courteen and his company.

Courteen would later lose this title 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 very early years, the majority of the population was white and male, with African slaves providing little of the workforce. Cultivation of tobacco, cotton, ginger and indigo was handled primarily by European indentured labour until the start of the sugar cane industry.

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 British settlers as the wealthy planters pushed out the poorer. Some of the displaced farmers relocated to British colonies in North America, most notably South Carolina. To work the plantations, tribal peoples of 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 Britain and operated by hired managers.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

From 1800 until 1885, Barbados then served as the main seat of Government for the former British colonies of the Windward Islands. During the period of around 85 years the resident Governor of Barbados also served as the Colonial head of the Windward Islands. After the Government of Barbados officially exited from the Windward Island union in 1885, the seat was moved from Bridgetown to St. George's on the neighbouring island of 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.[5] In response, Barbados made an official bid to the British Government to have neighbouring Island Tobago joined with Barbados as a political union.[6] The British government however decided that Trinidad would be a better fit and Tobago instead was made a Ward of Trinidad.[7][8]

African slaves worked on plantations owned by merchants of British descent. It was these merchants who continued to dominate politically even after emancipation, due to a high income restriction on voting. Only an exclusive 30%, therefore, 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 quality of life on the island lowered drastically. Adams continued to advocate more 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, with Adams elected the Premier of Barbados in 1958. For his actions, Adams would later become a National Hero.

From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the West Indies Federation, an organisation doomed to failure by a number of factors, including what were often petty nationalistic prejudices and limited legislative power. Indeed, Adams' position as "Prime Minister" is a gross misnomer, as all of the Federation members were still colonies of Britain. Adams, once a political visionary and now a man blind to the needs of his country, not only held fast to his notion of defending the monarchy but also made additional attempts to form similarly flawed Federation-like entities after that union's demise. When the Federation was terminated, Barbados had 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 people's advocate and it was he who would eventually lead the island into Independence. 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 was able to successfully negotiate its own 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 November 30, 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 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 10 states to form the West Indies Federation. Lastly in the 1990s, a plan was devised by 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 the Sandiford in the Barbados general elections.

See also


  •  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. ^ [1][2]. Archived 2009-10-31.
  2. ^ Ragatz, (1931)
  3. ^ Justin Roberts, "Agriculture on Two Barbadian Sugar Plantations, 1796-97," William and Mary Quarterly 2006 63(3): 551-586
  4. ^ S. H. Carrington, "West Indian Opposition to British Policy: Barbadian Politics, 1774-82," Journal of Caribbean History 1982 (17): 26-49
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ The Parliament of the United Kingdom c/o Hansard system: MOTION FOR A SELECT COMMITTEE.
  7. ^ The Parliament of the United Kingdom c/o Hansard system: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO BILL.—(No. 195.)
  8. ^ 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
  • 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 (Jan. 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 Chap. 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 (Apr., 1971), pp. 287–300 in JSTOR
  • Pariser, Harry S. (2000) Explore Barbados (3rd Ed. ed.) Manatee Press ISBN 1-893643-51-4 Retrieved 7 February 2010 
  • 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
  • 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 (Apr., 1968), pp. 30–45 in JSTOR

External links


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