logo

Barbados


Barbados

The first indigenous people were Amerindians The Arawaks were short, olive-skinned people who bound their foreheads during infancy to slope it into a point. They considered this along with black and white body painting to be attractive. The CaÏques (chiefs) and influential members of the tribe wore nose plugs and/or rings made of copper and gold alloys. They were an agricultural people and grew cotton, cassava, corn, peanuts, guavas, and papaws (papaya). The cotton was woven and used for armbands and hammocks. Cassava was ground and grated to be made into casareep, a seasoning used in cooking. The Arawaks also used harpoons, nets, and hooks, to fish for food.
In 1200, the Arawaks were conquered by the Caribs. The Caribs were a taller and stronger Amerindian tribe than the Arawaks. They were also cannibals. They were a warlike and savage people who are reported to have barbecued their captives and washed them down with cassava beer. In the History of Barbados, for example, it is reported that Caribs ate an entire French crew in 1596. They were incredibly accurate bowmen and used a powerful poison to paralyze their prey.

The origin of the name Barbados is controversial. It was the Portuguese that were the first to conquer (discover) and name the island. As early as 1511, the island is referred to as Ilha dos Barbados (island of the bearded ones) in an official Portuguese document. 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 Amerindians occupying 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 mapmaker Vesconte de Maggiola showed and named Barbados in its correct position north of Tobago.

Portuguese conquistadors seized many Caribs on Barbados and used them as slave labour on plantations in Venezuala. Other Caribs fled the island.  Having wiped out the native population the Portuguese and Spanish passed the island by in favor of larger islands.

Consequently, the first English ship that touched the island on May 14th 1625 under the command of Captain John Powell found the island unihabited. The island was therefore claimed on behalf of King James I.  On February 17th 1627, Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves to occupy and settle the island. This expedition landed in Holetown formerly known as Jamestown. The colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639.  People with good financial backgrounds and social connections with England were allocated land. Within a few years much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton plantations.

During the 1630s, sugar cane was introduced to the agriculture. The production of sugar, tobacco and cotton was heavily reliant on the indenture of servants.  Large numbers of Celtic people, mainly from Ireland and Scotland, went to Barbados as indentured servants. Over the next several centuries the Celtic population was used as a buffer between the Anglo-Saxon plantation owners and the larger African population, variously serving as members of the Colonial militia and playing a strong role as allies of the larger African slave population in a long string of colonial rebellions. As well, in 1659, the English shipped many Irishmen and Scots off to Barbados as slaves, and King James II and others of his dynasty also sent Scots and English off to the isle: for example, after the crushing of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.
Many of these white slaves and indentured labour (referred to as Red Legs) live amongst the black population in caves along St. Martin's River and other east coast regions. 

A potential market formed for slaves and sugar-making machinery by the Dutch Merchants who were to supply Barbados with their requirements of forced labour from West Africa. The slaves came from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon.  The Barbadians dominated the Caribbean Sugar Industry in these early years. The sugar plantation owners were powerful and successful businessmen who had arrived in Barbados in the early years. 

Many natural disasters occurred in the late 1600s, such as the locust plague of 1663, the Bridgetown fire and a major hurricane in 1667. Drought in 1668 ruined some planters and excessive rain in 1669 added to their financial problems. However, investment continued in sugar and slaves and was perceived to have good prospects.  But this was not to last.  By 1720 Barbadians were no longer a dominant force within the sugar industry. They had been surpassed by the Leeward Islands and Jamaica.










Return to Directory