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

The origin of the name "Barbadosmarker" is controversial. The Portuguese, en route to Brazilmarker, are credited as the first European nation to discover and name the island. They dubbed the island os Barbados, which is 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 Tobagomarker. On some historic maps, the island has also been spelled as "Barbadoes". Note: Barbados was already inhabited thousands of years before the Europeans came. Some of the oldest documentedremains were found in Saint Lucymarker (the northern part of the island), which dates back over 3000 years.

Early history

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

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 Holetownmarker (formerly Jamestown). The group was led by Captain John Powel, who arrived with 80 settlers and 10 black slaves. 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 Carolinamarker. 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 a few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1834. Persecuted Catholics from Irelandmarker also worked the plantations.

Sugar cane dominated Barbados' economic growth, and the island's cash crop was at the top of the sugar industry until 1720. The 1907 Nuttall Encyclopedia reports the island's population as 182,000.

Gypsies purged from Europe and other captured nomads were also brought to Barbados as slaves. The Europeans mixed these groups in with the existing groups to form servants for export to the Americas, particularly to the plantations owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Political development

From 1800 until 1885, Barbados then served as the main seat of Government for the former Britishmarker 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'smarker on the neighbouring island of Grenadamarker, where it remained until the territory of the Windward Islands was desolved.

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

Local enslaved people of Africa and Ireland worked for the 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. Despite his loyalty to the British Crown (a trait which would later become his downfall), Adams wanted 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 out-dated 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 BLP, 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 within the Commonwealth of Nations on November 30, 1966, with Errol Barrow serving as its first Prime Minister.

See also


  • 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

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Kurlansky, Mark. 1992. A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny. Addison-Wesley Publishing. ISBN 0-201-52396-5.

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