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.
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.
As the sugar industry developed into the main commercial enterprise,
Barbados was divided into large plantation estates, which replace the small
holdings of the early British settlers. Some of the displaced farmers relocated
to British colonies in North America. To work the plantations, slaves were
brought from Africa; the slave trade ceased a few years before the abolition
of slavery throughout the British empire in 1834.
Plantation owners and merchants of British descent dominated local politics.
It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began
a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir
Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Labor Party in 1938. Progress toward
more democratic government for Barbados was made in 1951, when the first
general election under universal adult suffrage occurred. This was followed
by steps toward increased self-government, and in 1961, Barbados achieved
From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of 10 members of the West Indies
Federation, and Sir Grantley Adams served as its first and only prime minister.
When the federation was terminated, Barbados reverted to its former status
as a self-governing colony. Following several attempts to form another
federation composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands, Barbados
negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with the
United Kingdom in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress,
Barbados became an independent state within the British Commonwealth on
November 30, 1966.
On July 4, 1973, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Jamaica
signed a treaty in Trinidad to found the Caribbean Community and Common
Market (CARICOM). In May 1974, most of the remaining English-speaking Caribbean
states joined CARICOM, which now has 14 members. Barbados also is a member
of the Caribbean Development Bank, established in 1970, with headquarters
in Bridgetown. The eastern Caribbean's Regional Security System, which
associates Barbados with six other island nations, also is headquartered
in Barbados. In July 1994, Barbados joined the newly established Association
of Caribbean States (ACS).
As a member of CARICOM, Barbados supported efforts by the United States
to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate
the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed
to contribute personnel to the multinational force, which restored the
democratically elected government of Haiti in October 1994.
In May 1997, Prime Minister Owen Arthur hosted President Clinton and
14 other Caribbean leaders during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in
Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation
on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and development, and trade.
The ruling BLP was decisively returned to power in May 2003 elections,
winning 23 seats in the Parliament with the DLP gaining seven seats. The
Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, who also serves as Minister of Finance and
Minister of Culture, has given a high priority to economic development
and diversification. The main opposition party, the DLP, is led by Sen.
Clyde Mascoll, who was elected President of the DLP in 2001, as part of
a party reorganization.