Barbados

The island of Barbados is the most windward, or easternmost, of the Lesser Antilles, bounded by the Caribbean Sea on its western coast and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Barbados was originally peopled by Amerindian migrants from the South American mainland. The Spanish explorers of the first quarter of the sixteenth century encountered a number of indigenous settlements, but when the Portuguese arrived in 1536, they found the island to be deserted. They christened it Los Barbados, which means the bearded ones, after bearded fig trees they found on the island. The most easterly of the Antilles islands, Barbados (viewed here in the late seventeenth century) was settled by English colonists in 1627. Sugar exports made it the wealthiest colony in the British Empire. (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, Connecticut/Bridgeman Art Library) English mariners led by Captain John Powell arrived in 1625 and confirmed the uninhabited status of the island, and Barbados was claimed for the English Crown. The first settlement was established two years later at Jamestown (present-day Holetown) on the western coast, and consisted of eighty European settlers and ten African slaves. The European and African populations would continue to grow from emigration, forced or otherwise, over the course of the seventeenth century. Within a few years of settlement, the colonists had cleared much of the native forest to plant tobacco and cotton, but neither crop performed well. In the 1640s, following the success of sugar growth in Brazil, the settlers began replanting the fields with sugarcane, which was in great demand in Europe and the colonies, both in granulated form and as molasses, which was fermented and distilled to produce rum. Until the introduction of sugar, indentured servants, mainly Irish, performed most of the labor. Some had been kidnapped to the island, inaugurating the colloquialism to be barbadosed, the seventeenth-century equivalent of the later term shanghaied. In order to meet the increased labor demands of sugar cultivation, the planters began importing large numbers of African slaves. Due to its sugar production, Barbados soon became the wealthiest colony of the English empire. The wealth of the sugar plantations, though built on the backs of slave laborers, was nonetheless highly concentrated in the hands of the British-educated elite. This elite planter class dominated all of the important ranks in society, including the English-style administrative positions of council members, assemblymen, militia officers, judges, and justices of the peace. Throughout the course of the seventeenth century, they maintained a black-to-white ratio of 4 to 1, the lowest in the British West Indies. To avoid slave revolts, the planters deliberately avoided the purchase of Coromantees (from West Africa’s Gold Coast, present-day Ghana), as this group had played a key role in the rebellions of Jamaica. This factor, in combination with the island’s open and level terrain (unlike the mountainous and rugged geography of Jamaica, which is more conducive to hiding) and the maintenance of a strong militia, led to a limited number of slave revolts in Barbados, although uprisings occurred, and were suppressed, in 1675 and 1692. Many Barbadians emigrated to South Carolina in the late seventeenth century, where they established slavery and the plantation system for the cultivation of rice. The Legislative Assembly was founded in 1639, and in 1652, Barbados signed a charter with London that guaranteed rule by a governor and a freely elected assembly, dominated by the planter elite, who were granted freedom from taxation without local consent. In addition, customs duties placed on sugar were significantly lower than those placed on tobacco grown on the mainland colonies. This measure of political and economic freedom caused the Barbados colonial elites to side with the British Crown a century later during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 1766 when the governor, Charles Pinfold, and the legislative assembly voted to pay stamp duties. During the subsequent American War for Independence, Barbados again sided with the Crown. The hardship of the war, however, was exacerbated by years of declining profits, lower productivity, and decreased production due to soil erosion. Furthermore, a severe hurricane wrought havoc upon the island in 1780, causing damage with an estimated cost of 1.3 million pounds. The major effect of the American Revolution on Barbados was to weaken the political leverage of the elite planters and deteriorate the foundations of slavery upon which the economy was based. The sugar trade continued to be profitable, but demands for a full resumption of trade with the United States, which had accounted for one-fourth of all produce exports in the prewar years, were met by firm opposition in London; the traditional mercantilist principles of colonial policy demanded a balance of trade in favor of Britain. The war elevated the status of both free blacks and slaves. In addition to military service, they became essential to the economy as peasant farmers, following the virtual loss of imports from North America. Abolition finally came to Barbados in 1834, but it failed to solve the extant inequalities in the distribution of land and wealth. Kevin P. McDonald See also: Caribbean (Chronology); Slavery, Caribbean; Sugar. Bibliography Beckles, Hilary. A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Nation-State. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Dunn, Richard. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624 1713. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972. Handler, Jerome S., and Frederick W. Lange. Plantation Slavery in Barbados: An Archaeological and Historical Investigation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. O’Shaughnessy, Andrew J. An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Watson, Karl. The Civilised Island, Barbados: A Social History, 1750 1816. Ellerton, Barbados: K. Watson, 1979. Bicycle Touring Experiences from Barbados alltravel8The Tropical Island of Barbados – Vagabond Summer alltravel8Barbados latest and breaking national news and regional news from … alltravel8

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