Today is Independence Day in Barbados. The island was an English and later British colony from 1625 until 1966. Since 1966, it has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, modelled on the Westminster system, with Elizabeth II as head of state.
Some evidence suggests that Barbados may have been settled in the second millennium BCE, but this is limited to fragments of conch lip adzes found in association with shells that have been radiocarbon-dated to about 1630 BCE. Fully documented Amerindian settlement dates to between about 350 and 650 CE. The arrivals were a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid from mainland South America. A second wave of settlers appeared around the year 800 (the Spanish referred to these as “Arawaks”) and a third in the mid-13th century (called “Caribs” by the Spanish). This last group was politically more organized 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, that by 1541 a Spanish writer claimed 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 found colonies in the North American mainland and the smaller islands of the West Indies. Although Spanish and Portuguese sailors had visited Barbados, the first English ship touched the island on 14th May 1625, and England was the first European nation to establish a lasting settlement there from 1627. England is commonly said to have made its initial claim to Barbados in 1625, although an earlier claim may have been made in 1620. Nonetheless, Barbados was claimed from 1625 in the name of James I of England. There were earlier English settlements in The Americas (1607: Jamestown, 1609: Bermuda, and 1620: Plymouth Colony), and several islands in the Leeward Islands were claimed by the English at about the same time as Barbados (1623: St Kitts, 1628: Nevis, 1632: Montserrat, 1632: Antigua). Nevertheless, Barbados quickly grew to become the third major English settlement in the Americas due to its prime eastern location.
The first English ship, which had arrived on 14 May 1625, was captained by John Powell. The first settlement began on 17 February 1627, near what is now Holetown (formerly Jamestown), by a group led by John Powell’s younger brother, Henry, consisting of 80 settlers and 10 English laborers. The latter were young indentured laborers who according to some sources had been abducted, effectively making them slaves. Courten’s title was transferred to James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, in what was called the “Great Barbados Robbery.” Carlisle then chose as governor Henry Hawley, who established the House of Assembly in 1639, in an effort to appease the planters, who might otherwise have opposed his controversial appointment.
In the period 1640–60, the West Indies attracted over two-thirds of the total number of English emigrants to the Americas. By 1650, there were 44,000 settlers in the West Indies, as compared to 12,000 on the Chesapeake and 23,000 in New England. Most English arrivals were indentured. After five years of labor, they were given “freedom dues” of about ₤10, usually in goods. (Before the mid-1630s, they also received 5 to 10 acres of land, but after that time the island filled and there was no more free land.) Around the time of Cromwell, a number of rebels and criminals were also transported there. Parish registers from the 1650s show, for the white population, four times as many deaths as marriages.
Sugar cane cultivation in Barbados 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 English settlers as the wealthy planters pushed out the poorer. Some of the displaced farmers relocated to the English colonies in North America, most notably South Carolina. To work the plantations, Africans – primarily from West Africa – were imported as slaves in such numbers that there were three for every one planter. Increasingly after 1750 the plantations were owned by absentee landlords living in Britain and operated by hired managers. The slave trade ceased in 1807 and slaves were emancipated in 1834. Persecuted Catholics from Ireland also worked the plantations. Life expectancy of slaves was short and replacements were purchased annually.
The introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil in 1640 completely transformed society and the economy. Barbados eventually had one of the world’s biggest sugar industries. One group instrumental in ensuring the early success of the industry were the Sephardic Jews, who had originally been expelled from the Iberian peninsula, to end up in Dutch Brazil. As the of the new crop increased, so did the shift in the ethnic composition of Barbados and surrounding islands. The workable sugar plantation required a large investment and a great deal of heavy labor. At first, Dutch traders supplied the equipment, financing, and African slaves, in addition to transporting most of the sugar to Europe. In 1644, the population of Barbados was estimated at 30,000, of which about 800 were of African descent, with the remainder mainly of English descent. These English smallholders were eventually bought out and the island filled up with large African slave-worked sugar plantations. By 1660, there was near parity with 27,000 blacks and 26,000 whites. By 1666, at least 12,000 white smallholders had been bought out, died, or left the island. Many of the remaining whites were increasingly poor. By 1680, there were 17 slaves for every indentured servant. By 1700, there were 15,000 free whites and 50,000 enslaved blacks.
Due to the increased implementation of slave codes, which created differential treatment between Africans and the white workers and ruling planter class, the island became increasingly unattractive to poor whites. Black or slave codes were implemented in 1661, 1676, 1682, and 1688. In response to these codes, several slave rebellions were attempted or planned during this time, but none succeeded. Nevertheless, poor whites who had or acquired the means to emigrate often did so. Planters expanded their importation of African slaves to cultivate sugar cane. One early advocate of slave rights in Barbados was the visiting Quaker preacher Alice Curwen in 1677: ” “For I am perswaded, that if they whom thou call’st thy Slaves, be Upright-hearted to God, the Lord God Almighty will set them Free in a way that thou knowest not; for there is none set free but in Christ Jesus, for all other Freedom will prove but a Bondage.”
By 1660, Barbados generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined. This remained so until it was eventually surpassed by geographically larger islands like Jamaica in 1713. But even so, the estimated value of the colony of Barbados in 1730–31 was as much as ₤5,500,000. Bridgetown, the capital, was one of the three largest cities in English America (the other two being Boston, Massachusetts and Port Royal, Jamaica.) By 1700, the English West Indies produced 25,000 tons of sugar, compared to 20,000 for Brazil, 10,000 for the French islands and 4,000 for the Dutch islands. This quickly replaced tobacco, which had been the island’s main export.
The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, but not the institution itself. In 1816, slaves rose up in the largest major slave rebellion in the island’s history, of 20,000 slaves from over 70 plantations. They drove whites off the plantations, but widespread killings did not take place. This was later termed “Bussa’s Rebellion” after the slave ranger, Bussa, who with his assistants hated slavery, found the treatment of slaves on Barbados to be “intolerable”, and believed the political climate in Britain made the time ripe to peacefully negotiate with planters for freedom. Bussa’s Rebellion failed. One hundred and twenty slaves died in combat or were immediately executed, and another 144 were brought to trial and executed. The remaining rebels were shipped off the island. In 1826, the Barbados legislature passed the Consolidated Slave Law, which simultaneously granted concessions to the slaves while providing reassurances to the slave owners. Slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire 18 years later, in 1834. In Barbados and the rest of the British West Indian colonies, full emancipation from slavery was preceded by an apprenticeship period that lasted four years.
In 1884, the Barbados Agricultural Society sent a letter to Sir Francis Hincks requesting his private and public views on whether the Dominion of Canada would favorably entertain having the then colony of Barbados admitted as a member of the Canadian Confederation. Asked from Canada were the terms of the Canadian side to initiate discussions, and whether or not the island of Barbados could depend on the full influence of Canada in getting the change agreed to by the British Parliament at Westminster.
In 1952, the Barbados Advocate newspaper polled several prominent Barbadian politicians, lawyers, businessmen, the Speaker of the Barbados House of Assembly and later as first President of the Senate, Sir Theodore Branker, Q.C. and found them to be in favor of immediate federation of Barbados along with the rest of the British Caribbean with complete Dominion Status within five years from the date of inauguration of the West Indies Federation with Canada.
However, plantation owners and merchants of British descent still dominated local politics, owing to the high income qualification required for voting. More than 70 percent of the population, many of them disenfranchised women, were excluded from the democratic process. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Progressive League in 1938, which later became known as the Barbados Labour Party
Adams and his party demanded more rights for the poor and for the people, and staunchly supported the monarchy. Progress toward a more democratic government in Barbados was made in 1942, when the exclusive income qualification was lowered and women were given the right to vote. By 1949, governmental control was wrested from the planters, and in 1958 Adams became Premier of Barbados.
From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of the ten members of the West Indies Federation, a federalist organization doomed by nationalist attitudes and the fact that its members, as British colonies, held limited legislative power. Grantley Adams served as its first and only “Premier”, but his leadership failed in attempts to form similar unions, and his continued defense of the monarchy was used by his opponents as evidence that he was no longer in touch with the needs of his country. Errol Walton Barrow, a fervent reformer, became the people’s new advocate. Barrow had left the BLP and formed the Democratic Labour Party as a liberal alternative to Adams’ conservative government. Barrow instituted many progressive social programmes, such as free education for all Barbadians and a school meals system. By 1961, Barrow had replaced Adams as Premier and the DLP controlled the government.
With the Federation dissolved, Barbados reverted to its former status, that of a self-governing colony. The island negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with Britain in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados finally became an independent state on 30 November 1966, with Errol Barrow its first Prime Minister, although queen Elizabeth II remained the monarch. Upon independence Barbados maintained historical linkages with Britain by becoming a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. A year later, Barbados’ international linkages were expanded by obtaining membership of both the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Barbadian cuisine, also called Bajan cuisine, is a mixture of African, Indian, Irish, Creole, and British influences. A typical meal consists of a main dish of meat or fish, normally marinated with a mixture of herbs and spices, hot side dishes, and one or more salads. The meal is usually served with one or more sauces. The national dish of Barbados is cou-cou and fried flying fish with spicy gravy. I’ll give you a two-fer today: a video on cou-cou and flying fish, followed by a recipe for pepperpot, one of my favorites.
2lbs stewing steak, cubed
2 pig’s trotters, split and chopped
2lbs ox tail, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 scotch bonnet peppers, minced
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
fresh basil, chopped
fresh thyme, chopped
Place the stewing steak in a non-reactive mixing bowl with a generous amount of lime juice. Set aside for one hour.
Put the pig’s trotters and oxtail in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring slowly to the boil, skim, and continue to simmer.
Remove the stewing steak from the lime juice and add to the pot. Fill the pot with fresh hot water. Add the cinnamon stick, and cloves, plus basil, thyme, salt and sugar to taste. Also add the onion, garlic, and hot pepper. Simmer gently, covered, for at least 4 hours, until the meat is very tender.
Refrigerate overnight. Reheat the next day to boiling point. You can serve the soup then, or continue to refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day for several days. Flavor develops over time.