The final stop on my sister’s cruise last summer, prior to the Adventure of the Seas returning to San Juan, was Bridgetown — the capital city of the Lesser Antilles island nation of Barbados:
Last stop was Barbados. The post office had a box inside the port terminal.
Barbados is a sovereign island country situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 62 miles (100 kilometers) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about 104 miles (168 km) east of the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 250 miles (400 km) north-east of Trinidad and Tobago; Barbados is 1,600 miles (2,600 km) southeast of Miami, Florida, and is outside of the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. The island is 21 miles (34 kilometers) in length and up to 14 miles (23 km) in width, covering an area of 167 square miles (432 km²).
The name Barbados is either the Portuguese word Barbados or the Spanish equivalent los Barbados, both meaning “the bearded ones”. It is unclear whether “bearded” refers to the long, hanging roots of the bearded fig-tree (Ficus citrifolia), indigenous to the island; or to the allegedly bearded Caribs once inhabiting the island; or, more fancifully, to a visual impression of a beard formed by the sea foam that sprays over the outlying reefs. In 1519, a map produced by the Genoese mapmaker Visconte Maggiolo showed and named Barbados in its correct position. Furthermore, the island of Barbuda in the Leewards is very similar in name and was once named Las Barbudas by the Spanish. The original name for Barbados in the Pre-Columbian era was Ichirouganaim according to accounts by descendants of the indigenous Arawakan-speaking tribes in other regional areas, with possible translations including “Red land with white teeth”, “Redstone island with teeth outside (reefs)”, or simply “Teeth”
Inhabited by Kalinago people since the thirteenth century, and prior to that by other Amerindians, Barbados was visited by Spanish navigators in the late fifteenth century and claimed for the Spanish Crown. It first appeared in a Spanish map in 1511. The Portuguese visited the island in 1536, but they left it unclaimed, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. An English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in Barbados in 1625; its men took possession of it in the name of King James I. In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and it became an English and later British colony.
In the very early years (1620–1640s), the majority of the labor was provided by European indentured servants, mainly English, Irish and Scottish, with African slaves and Amerindian slaves providing little of the workforce. During the Cromwellian era (1650s) this included a large number of prisoners-of-war, vagrants and people who were illicitly kidnapped, who were forcibly transported to the island and sold as servants. These last two groups were predominately Irish, as several thousand were infamously rounded up by English merchants and sold into servitude in Barbados and other Caribbean islands during this period. Cultivation of tobacco, cotton, ginger and indigo was thus handled primarily by European indentured labor until the start of the sugar cane industry in the 1640s and the growing reliance and importation of enslaved Africans. Persecuted persons of Jewish faith during the inquisition also settled to Barbados.
From its English settlement and as Barbados’ economy grew, Barbados maintained a relatively large measure of local autonomy first as a proprietary colony and later a crown colony. The House of Assembly began meeting in 1639. Among the island’s earliest leading figures was the Anglo-Dutch Sir William Courten.
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 effects 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.”
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 whilst 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. At emancipation in 1833, the size of the slave population was approximately 83,000.
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.
Between 1946 and 1980, Barbados’ rate of population growth was diminished by one-third because of emigration to Britain. 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.
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 November 30, 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.
Today, Barbados has a population of 280,121 people, predominantly of African descent. Despite being classified as an Atlantic island, Barbados is considered to be a part of the Caribbean, where it is ranked as a leading tourist destination. Forty percent of the tourists come from the UK, with the US and Canada making up the next large groups of visitors to the island. In 2014, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Barbados joint second in the Americas (after Canada, equal with the United States) and joint 17th globally (after Belgium and Japan, equal with the U.S., Hong Kong and Ireland).
Formerly The Town of Saint Michael, the Greater Bridgetown area is located within the parish of Saint Michael. Bridgetown is sometimes locally referred to as “The City”, but the most common reference is simply “Town”. As of 2014, its metropolitan population stands at roughly 110,000. The Bridgetown port, found along Carlisle Bay lies on the southwestern coast of the island. The present day location of the city was established by English settlers in 1628 following a prior settlement under the authority of Sir William Courten at St. James Town. Bridgetown is the only city outside the present United States that George Washington visited. The house where he stayed, is included within the boundaries of the Garrison Historic Area. Two of Washington’s ancestors, Jonathon and Gerrard Hawtaine, were early planters on the island. Their grandmother was Mary Washington of Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, England. On June 25, 2011, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison were added as a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
The cruise ship carrying my sister, brother-in-law and nephew returned to its originating port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the morning following her departure from Bridgetown, concluding the seven-day cruise through the eastern Caribbean Sea.