Stone building

As one of the oldest 'colonies' in the New World, Barbados has many heritage resources to celebrate, preserve and protect.


Some evidence suggests that Barbados may have been settled in the second millennium BC, but this is limited to fragments of conch lip adzes found in association with shells radiocarbon-dated to c.1630 BC. Fully documented Amerindian settlement dates to between about 350 to 650 AD, by a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid, who arrived from mainland South America. A second wave of migrants appeared around the year 800 (the Spanish referred to these people as "Arawaks") and a third in the mid-13th century (called "Caribs" by the Spanish). This last group was more politically organised and came to rule over the others.

Frequent slave-raiding missions by the Spanish Empire in the early 16th century led to a massive decline in the Amerindian population of Barbados so that by 1541 a Spanish writer could claim they were uninhabited. The Amerindians were either captured for use as slaves by the Spanish or fled to other, more easily defensible mountainous islands nearby.


From about 1600 the English, French and Dutch began to find colonies in the North American mainland and the smaller islands of the West Indies. Although Spanish and Portuguese sailors likely had visited Barbados, England was the first European nation to establish a lasting settlement in Barbados from 1627. England is commonly attributed as making their initial claim of Barbados in 1625, though reportedly an earlier claim may have been made in 1620. Nonetheless, by 1625 Barbados was claimed in the name of King James I of England. Despite earlier settlements by England in the New World, Barbados quickly grew to became the third major English settlement in the Americas due to its prime eastern location.

Barbados in many respects was England's first experimental tropical agricultural export colony, and was successful for a number of related reasons. Contemporary opinion in the late seventeenth century acclaimed it the 'richest spote of ground in the worlde.' Private English capital, with the Crown's blessing, financed settlement in 1627. Market conditions for its first commercial crop, tobacco, enabled the accumulation of quick profits, which were later utilised to finance the shift to sugar production in the 1650s, after large scale, high quality Virginian tobacco production caused a glut on the European market and prices plummeted.

In the first decade, when settlement was tenuous, the first Barbadian settlers encountered no opposition from Spanish or French rivals, nor was there a native Amerindian presence to overcome. In fact, the opposite occurred. Amerindians were brought from Guiana in order to instruct the early settlers in survival skills, such as knowledge of local foods and preparation methods, and the most effective ways of clearing dense tropical forest. The Dutch were also helpful in nurturing the young colony. A locally elected legislature or House of Assembly was formed in 1639, which along with a nominated advisory Council and the Crown's representative, the Governor of the island, ruled the island in tandem with the state sanctioned religion, the Anglican Church.

Just as the attempts at alternate crops such as indigo and ginger seemed doomed to failure, international affairs conspired to create an economic opening which guaranteed the survival and prosperity of Barbados. The Dutch in north-east Brazil and their allied community of Sephardic Jews were expelled from Recife and Bahia. Barbadian planters such as the Draxes, made contact with individuals fleeing Brazil, and a most successful transference of the sugar industry took place. The climate and soil conditions in Barbados were perfect for the growing of this sweet grass.

In a short space of twenty years, the economic phenomenon known as the Sugar Revolution transformed the face of Barbados forever. Tropical luxuriance gave way to a carefully controlled garden-like appearance of the entire island, as almost complete deforestation occurred. Not only was nature subjected to man's tight control, but profound demographic and economic changes created a whole new society.

Source: Various - including Wikipedia, BBC News, Karl Watson