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History of Barbados
 
 
 

Early History

The first indigenous people are thought to be Amerindians who arrived from Venezuela around approximately 350-400 BC. The Arawak people were the second wave of migrants, arriving from South America around 800. In the 13th century, the Caribs arrived from South America in the third wave, displacing both the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoid culture. For the next few centuries, the Caribs – like the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoid – lived in isolation on the island.

The Portuguese briefly claimed Barbados from the mid-1500s to the 1600s, and may have seized the Caribs on Barbados and used them as slave labour. Other Caribs are believed to have fled to neighbouring islands. Apart from possibly displacing the Caribs, the Portuguese left little impact and by the 1610s left for South America, leaving the island almost uninhabited. Some Arawaks still live in Barbados.

British Colonial Rule

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 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.

Emigration to the Carolinas

The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina. It was a private venture, financed by a group of English Lords Proprietors, who obtained a Royal Charter to the Carolinas in 1663, hoping that a new colony in the south would become profitable like Jamestown. Carolina was not settled until 1670, and even then the first attempt failed because there was no incentive for emigration from northern areas of Northern America. However, eventually the Lords combined their remaining capital and financed a settlement mission to the area led by John West. The expedition located fertile and defensible ground at what was to become Charleston (originally Charles Town for Charles II of England), thus beginning the English colonisation of the mainland. The original settlers in South Carolina established a lucrative trade in provisions, deerskins and Indian captives with the Caribbean islands. They emigrated mainly from the English colony of Barbados and brought African slaves with them. North Carolina remained a frontier through the early colonial period.

At first, South Carolina was politically divided. Its ethnic make-up included the original settlers, a group of rich, slave-owning English settlers from Barbados; and Huguenots, a French-speaking community of Protestants.

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 a few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1834. Persecuted Catholics from Ireland 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.

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.


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