The history of Barbados is being rewritten as recent archaeological discoveries suggest the island was inhabited as early as 1600 B.C. The first inhabitants were the Amerindians (Arawaks then Caribs), who arrived from Venezuela. The Arawaks, an agricultural society, were conquered by the savage Caribs, a cannibalistic society, around 1200 AD.
Pedro a Campos, a Portuguese explorer, stopped on Barbados is 1536 en route to Brazil. He named the island Los Barbados (the bearded-ones), presumably after the island’s fig trees, whose roots have a beard-like resemblance.
When in 1625 Captain John Powell landed on Barbados, he found the island uninhabited and claimed it for England. The Caribs may have deserted the island, or they may have been overtaken by Spaniards who imposed slavery on them and brought slavery to the island before deserting it in favor of the larger Caribbean islands. In 1627, John’s brother Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves, establishing the island’s first European settlement at Jamestown, on the west coast near what is now Holetown. Early on, settlers cleared the land for tobacco and cotton crops; however, these proved to be unprofitable, so sugar cane was selected as an alternative. The shift to sugar cane production had a tremendous impact on the island’s future, as it brought many changes. First, sugar production was not viable for small farmers due to the financial outlay; large plantations soon took over. The sugar industry prospered, and the ‘landed gentry’ from England flocked to Barbados hoping to make their fortunes. They lived extravagantly, as is evident in the many ‘great houses’ across the island, many of which are open for public viewing today. Finally, African slaves took the place of European indentured workers, drastically decreasing the white population of the island. In 1816, a slave named Bussa led the island’s first slavery uprising. Today, Bussa is a national hero, and the Emancipation Statue bears his name. The slave trade continued until 1834, when the Emancipation Act was passed, introducing a four-year apprenticeship period until the complete abolition of slavery in 1838.
Barbados remained a British colony until 1961, when the island was granted internal autonomy. On November 30th, 1966, led by premier Errol Barrow, Barbados became an independent nation. Today, the country maintains ties to the British monarch through the Governor General, and is a member of the commonwealth.
Tourism dates back to the 1700s, when George Washington visited the island with his brother-in-law who had tuberculosis, hoping to improve his condition. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that visitors from Canada and the United Kingdom started transforming tourism into a major industry. Today, the island’s economy is a healthy mix of tourism, financial services, informatics, and light industry.