Brief History

Unusually for the Caribbean, the island remained entirely in the possession of the British until its independence in 1966. It was first encountered in 1625 by the British ship Olive Blossom, whose crew, finding it uninhabited, took possession in the name of James I. The first settlement was made at the direction of Sir William Courteen under the patent of Lord Leigh (Ley), afterwards Earl of Marlborough, to whom the island had been granted by the king. Two years later, a compromise having been effected with Lord Marlborough, a grant of the island was obtained by the Earl of Carlisle, whose claim was based on a grant, from the king, of all the Caribbean islands in 1624; and in 1628 Charles Wolferstone, a native of Bermuda, was appointed as governor. In the same year sixtyfour settlers arrived at Carlisle Bay and the present capital was founded.

It was sugar that brought the Africans to Barbados, creating a rural-industrial proletariat decades before the English Industrial Revolution. Blacks not only cut cane: at the centre of every plantation was the factory: the sugar mill - Barbados has one of the few remaining in the Caribbean, at Morgan Lewis - and the boiling house and the sugar curing house, perhaps a distilling house for the manufacture of rum. Much skill was required, particularly from the sugar-boilers.

During the Civil War in England many Royalists sought refuge in Barbados, where, under Lord Willoughby (who had leased the island from the Earl of Carlisle), they offered determined resistance to the forces of the Commonwealth. Willoughby, however, was ultimately defeated and exiled.

After the Restoration, to appease the planters, doubtful as to the title under which they held the estates which they, had converted into valuable properties, the proprietary or patent interest was abolished, and the crown took over the government of the island; a duty of 4.5% on all exports being imposed to satisfy the claims of the patentees. In 1684, under the governorship of Sir Richard Dutton, a census was taken, according to which the population then consisted of 20,000 whites and 46,000 slaves. The European wars of the 18th century caused much suffering, as the West Indies were the scene of numerous battles between the British and the French. During this period a portion of the 4.5 % duty was returned to the colony in the form of the governor's salary.

In the course of the American War of Independence Barbados again experienced great hardships owing to the restrictions placed upon the importation of provisions from the American colonies, and in 1778 the distress became so acute that the British government had to send relief. For three years after the peace of Amiens in 1802 the colony enjoyed uninterrupted calm, but in 1805 it was only saved from falling into the hands of the French by the timely arrival of Admiral Cochrane. Since that date, however, it remained unthreatened in the possession of the British. The rupture between Great Britain. and the United States in 1812 caused privateering to be resumed, the trade of the colony being almost destroyed. This led to an agitation for the repeal of the duty, but it was not till 1838 that the efforts to secure this were successful. The abolition of slavery in 1834 was attended by no ill results, the slaves continuing to work for their masters as hired servants, and a period of great prosperity succeeded. The proposed confederation of the Windward Islands in 1876, however, provoked riots, which occasioned considerable loss of life and property, but secured for the people their existence as a separate colony. Hurricanes would always remain as the scourge of Barbados, those of 1780, 1831, and 1898 being so disastrous as to necessitate relief measures on the part of the home government.

Barbados had the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth (after Westminster and Bermuda). However, plantation owners and merchants of British descent dominated local politics, owing to the high income qualification required for voting. More than 70 percent of the population 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, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Progressive League in 1938, which later became known as the Barbados Labour Party.

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.

From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the West Indies Federation, a federalist organisation doomed by nationalist attitudes and the fact that its members, as British colonies, held limited legislative power. Grantley Adams served as its first and only "Premier", but his leadership failed in attempts to form similar unions, and his continued defence of the monarchy was used by his opponents as evidence that he was no longer in touch with the needs of his country. 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 a 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 self-governing colony. The island negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with Britain in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados finally became an independent state on 30 November 1966, with Errol Barrow its first Prime Minister, although Queen Elizabeth II remained the monarch. Upon independence Barbados maintained historical linkages with Britain by becoming a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

flag
Imperial Flag
map of Barbados
1700 Map of Barbados
1731 Map of Barbados Island
1760 Map of Barbados Island
1775 Map of Barbados
1835 Map of Barbados
1844 Map of Windward Islands
1853 Map of Barbados
1895 Map of Barbados
1901 Map of Barbados
1980 Map of Barbados
Administrators of Barbados
1625 - 1966
Significant Individuals
1625 - 1966
Historical barbados
Images of Barbados
National Archive Barbados Images
Articles
Hurricane Janet - Barbados 1955
Winifred K. O'Mahony tells the story of living through what was one of the most powerful Hurricanes to have ever hit the Caribbean and how the colonial authorities attempted to deal with the disaster.
Timeline
c1500 Caribs disappear from the island, probably transported by Spanish
1536 Portuguese find island uninhabited
1625 John Powell claims Barbados for 'James K.of E. and this island'
1627 The first English settlers arrive
1639 The House of Assembly is established
1642-1652 English Civil War: influx of both Parliamentarians and Royalists, who proclaim Charles II king. Sugar manufacture begins.
1651 Parliament sends a fleet to Barbados and the island surrenders
1652 Articles of Agreement confirm the Assembly, and liberty of conscience
1660-80 Charles II knights eleven gentlemen of Barbados. White indentured labour largely replaced by black slaves from West Africa.
1671 George Fox, Quaker leader, visits
1675 First slave rebellion
1680-82 White labourers mostly leave, to Carolinas, founding Charleston, South Carolina; and to other West Indian islands, especially Jamaica
From 1682 The sugar-producing planter class now is dominant. They inter-marry with British aristocracy, and buy seats in Parliament.
1751 George Washington visits, his only journey outside the American mainland
1785 British government establishes a permanent land force in the eastern Caribbean, based in Barbados
1808 British Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade comes into effect
1816 Large-scale insurrection: plantations are sacked and much sugar destroyed, but only one white dies: 176 slaves are killed, 214 executed
1817 Act of Assembly gives free coloureds right to testify in court
1831 Assembly grants full rights to free coloured, including vote (though at high property qualification). Huge hurricane devastates island
1834 British Act of Parliament abolishing slavery comes into effect: planters are compensated (but not former slaves).
1843 The first coloured man, Samuel Jackson Prescod, is elected to House of Assembly, followed by the black Conrad Reeves. He persuades Assembly to widen franchise, and resists the British attempt to federate Barbados with neighbouring islands.
1922 Sugar prices collapse. Depression and widespread unemployment follow.
1924 Democratic League founded, with links to British Labour Party
1935 Grantley Adams, black Oxford-educated lawyer, is returned to Assembly
1937 Four days of rioting. Adams defends detainees, requests a visiting Royal Commission
1939 Royal Commission reports. Its conclusions are considered so damaging that much is suppressed until the end of war
1943 Women and labourers get vote
1944 General Election. Adams first majority party leader in House of Assembly, as leader of Barbados Labour Party.
1946 Adams becomes first premier
1955 Democratic Labour Party is formed, led by Errol Barrow
1958 The Federation of The West Indies is formed. Sir Grantley Adams is elected as federal prime minister
1962 Barrow and DLP sweep into power in Barbados election as Federation collapses
1966 Barbados becomes independent. Two-party system is firmly established
Further Reading
Glimpses of a Governor's Life
by Sir Hesketh Bell

Bondsmen and Bishops
by J Bennett

Genealogies of Barbados Families
by James Brandow

Be Of Good Cheer: Service In War And Peace
by Gerald Bryan

Some Early Barbadian History
by P Campbell The Cavaliers and Roundheads of Barbados
by Nicholas Davis

Englishmen Transplanted: The English Colonization of Barbados 1627-1660
by Larry Gragg

A History of Barbados
by Vincent Harlow

The Career of W L Heape Colonial Administrator 1919 - 1958
by Colin Heape

The Natural History of Barbados
by Griffith Hughes

The English Civil War in Barbados, 1650-1652
by J Hutson

A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados
by Richard Ligon

Barbados. A study of North-American West-Indian relations, 1739-1789.
by David Makinson

Sweet Negotiations: Sugar, Slavery, and Plantation Agriculture in Early Barbados
by David Makinson

The Sugar Barons
by Matthew Parker

History of Barbados
by John Poyer

Little England: Plantation Society and Anglo-Barbadian Politics, 1627-1700
by Gary Puckrein

The History of Barbados
by Sir Robert Schomburgk

The Redlegs of Barbados
by Jill Sheppard

King George’s Keys
by Sir Robert Stanley

Times Remembered in Africa and the Caribbean
by Sir John Stow

Barbados, The Civilised Island
by Karl Watson

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