History in a Nutshell


Ins & Outs of Barbados

July 17, 2023

There are archaeological remains of an Amerindian presence in Barbados from around the time of Christ – Barrancoid, Arawak and Carib Indians have all left evidence of settlements here. The Spanish and Portuguese adventurers who rode the prevailing North-East Tradewinds in the 1500’s named it Los Barbados but chose not to settle. The English chanced upon the island in 1625 and for them it represented a golden opportunity to acquire a colony with tremendous scope for agricultural development. They returned in 1627 when Captain William Powell brought with him 80 settlers and several slaves captured en route. After initially planting tobacco and cotton, leading planters drew on Brazil’s experience in sugar cane production to introduce the production of sugar, molasses and rum. As the sugar industry flourished, the large labour force needed was sought firstly from indentured servants from Ireland and Scotland and then large numbers of slaves from Africa. With a high value of sugar and low labour costs, fortunes were made and Barbados was referred to as one of the richest spots of ground on earth. 

Young canes in growing in Barbados

As most of the planters were resident, some of their vast wealth helped to develop the island’s infrastructure. One facet of this was the establishment by 1639 of Barbados’ own Parliament and in 1652, the Charter of Barbados declared “no taxation without representation”. Barbados, a tiny island of 166 sq. miles, had global significance in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is the only place outside of the USA that George Washington visited, the British established a military garrison, Carlisle Bay became a major shipping hub for the New World, the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere was built, the oldest ecclesiastical seminary, Codrington College, was created and the list of globally signifigant firsts goes on.

The British took the initiative for the rest of the world by abolishing the slave trade in 1807 with emancipation following in 1834-38. In 1843 Samuel Jackman Prescod became the first non-white Member of Parliament and in 1886 Conrad Reeves became the first black Chief Justice. 

Nevertheless, many inequalities existed in what historians refer to as the ‘Dark Century’. The flames of discontent finally erupted in the form of the 1937 riots. A group of highly educated black leaders emerged and in 1950 Universal Suffrage was at last a reality. In 1966, Barbados gained independence from Britain under the leadership of National Hero, Errol Walton Barrow. 55 years later Barbados was ushered into republic status by the current Prime Minister, the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, with His Royal Highness Prince Charles (now King Charles III)  honouring the occasion with his attendance on November 30th 2021. 

Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, with His Royal Highness Prince Charles (now King Charles III) 

This snapshot does not do justice to what is a fascinating and extraordinarily rich history. For further reading visit the bookshop at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society or Barbadosbooks.com

Things to do

From swimming with sea turtles, partying under the stars, exploring the rugged east coast to enjoying the island’s duty free shopping, Barbados has something for everyone.

History in a Nutshell