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Barbados - History

Since wind currents made it relatively difficult to reach under sail, it was not conquered and reconquered like most of its Caribbean neighbors. British sailors who landed on Barbados in the 1620s at the site of present-day Holetown on the Caribbean coast found the island uninhabited. As elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean, Arawak Indians may have been annihilated by invading Caribs, who are believed to have subsequently abandoned the island.

The history of the early settlement of Barbados is being revised as a result of recent archaeological discoveries unearthed at the site of Port St. Charles in the northern parish of St. Peter. Artefacts and evidence point to settlement some time around 1600 BC. The first indigenous people were Amerindian - the Arawaks, also known as the Taino - who arrived in the country from Venezuela. In 1200, the Arawaks were conquered by the Caribs, a cannibalistic people said to be very warlike and extremely savage. In the History of Barbados, it is reported that Caribs ate an entire French crew in 1596.

The first Europeans to land on Barbados were the Portuguese, who stopped en route to Brazil. Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos named the island Los Barbados (bearded-ones), presumably in recognition of the island's fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance.

In the map of the world by Giacomo, Cosmographo in Venetia, published in 1546, Barbados is not mentioned; it is found however under the name of Baruodo in the map of Michaelis Tramezini, engraved by Julius de Musis, and published in 1554. Zaltery published in 1566 in Venice Il Desegno del Discoperto della Nova Franza. The island is called in this map S. Barduda, and its position is to the east of St. Vincent. In a map entitled Totius Orbis Descriptio,' it is mentioned under the name of S. Barbudos.

Despite the Caribs' warlike nature, the island was taken over by the Spanish, and the Caribs were enslaved. Barbados was known to the Spaniards as early as the commencement of the sixteenth century, and apparently supplied Indians as slaves for their mines in Espaola. Slavery, and the contagious European diseases small pox and tuberculosis ended the Carib presence on the island. However, the Spanish chose not to stay, and left the island open for anyone who wanted to colonise it.

The first English ship arrived on 14 May 1625 under the command of Captain John Powell. He claimed the island on behalf of King James I. On 17 February 1627, Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and ten slaves to occupy and settle the island. That expedition arrived at what is now called Holetown, formerly Jamestown, on the west coast of the island.

The colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639, at that time only the third Parliamentary Democracy in the world. From the arrival of the first British settlers in 1627-28 until independence in 1966, Barbados was a self-funding colony under uninterrupted British rule. Nevertheless, Barbados always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. Its House of Assembly, which began meeting in 1639, is the third-oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, preceded only by Bermuda's legislature and the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Within a few years, much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton plantations. During the 1630s, sugarcane was introduced. The production of sugar, tobacco and cotton was heavily reliant on labor from indentured servants. White civilians who wanted to emigrate overseas did so by signing an agreement to serve a planter in Barbados for a period of five or seven years. To meet the labor demands, people were kidnapped in England, and convicted criminals were also shipped to the island.

The original settlers of Barbados were not all good men, nor were they great. Many of them, in fact, were sent much against their inclinations. They certainly were a parcel of as notorious villians as any transplanted this long time. But, when they got here, they stayed here, and their descendants after them. Descendants of the white slaves and indentured labour (referred to as Red Legs) still live in Barbados among the black population in St. Martin's River and other east coast regions.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2017 17:46:38 ZULU