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History of Barbados

It is unknown when Barbados was first settled, but it was no later than about 350-650 AD by the Saladoid-Barrancoid people from South America. The islands then received a second major immigration wave in the 800s by the Arawaks, and a third by the Caribs in the 1200s. The Caribs essentially took full control over the island from a political and power perspective.

After the Spanish arrived to the region in the 1500s they became interested in Barbados as far as cheap labor was concerned. In the first half of this century the Spanish carried out regular slave-raids, almost completely depopulating the island by 1540 most of whom were taken as slaves and others who fled the island for protection from the Spanish.

In 1627 the British settled on Barbados (in what is now known as Holetown) and the island quickly became a base for the British who found the island ideally situated in the far east of the Caribbean. The island was quickly populated, primarily by indentured servants, who received land grants once their time had been fulfilled, until all land had been distributed by the mid-1630s.

In the 1640s and 1650s, with revolution in the United Kingdom, chaos ensued in Barbados as the governor and members of their elected assembly argued over who they supported in England. During this time and in these battles, the island was also banned from trading with the Netherlands, a significant trading partner at the time, striking a substantial blow to Barbados's economy. However, just prior to this ban on trade with the Dutch, the sugarcane industry was introduced and rapidly expanded.

From the 1640s the sugarcane industry rapidly grew, this is industry is quite labor intensive so rich land owners bought out small lands and began importing African slaves, altering the island's land ownership patterns as well as altering the ethnic makeup. This industry supported Barbados's rise as the largest exporter among the British colonies. However, it also pushed out most of the ethnic British population who came as indentured servants as they were replaced by African slaves who were cheaper to employee and had no working condition standards that had to be met.

The slaves on Barbados were generally treated poorly and a number of slave rebellions rose up, most notably "Bussa's Rebellion" in 1816. This rebellion failed, but helped encourage the United Kingdom to eventually outlaw slavery in 1834. Despite the freedom of these former slaves, there were minimum income requirements to vote so the British minority continued to rule the island's politics through the century and well into the 1900s. It wasn't until 1942 that the income requirement was lowered and women were given the right to vote and the primarily black population gained political power.

In 1966 Barbados negotiated independence from the United Kingdom, but remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Since this time Barbados has shifted gears economically from the sugar cane industry to focusing on tourism. They have been quite politically stable as well.

This page was last updated: March, 2013