History Files

The Americas

Caribbean Islands


Modern Barbados (Lesser Antilles)
AD 1953 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1953-2022), British Colony (1953-1966), Independent Constitutional Monarchy (1966-2020), & Independent Republic (2020-On)

The island republic of Barbados is the easternmost of the Windward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles chain in the Caribbean Sea. It sits to the east of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and to the south-east of St Lucia, on the eastern edge of the Caribbean region in the Americas. The island is otherwise fully surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean.

Barbados is a one million year-old coral island which was formed during the clash between the Atlantic crustal plate and the Caribbean tectonic plate, with associated volcanic activity. Today it is notable for its white sand beaches, while its name is derived from Bearded Fig Trees which once were abundant on the island.

Recent archaeology indicates that Native Americans from what is now Venezuela arrived around 1623 BC. They crossed the sea in dugout canoes to settle along the coast. They left very little evidence of their presence however, other than utensils and other tools which had been crafted from shells, along with the usual refuse and burial sites. They departed for unknown reasons around AD 600, with the Arawaks filling the gap around AD 800. The stronger and more aggressive Caribs arrived around 1200 to take control.

During his fourth and final voyage to the West Indies, Christopher Columbus reached Barbados in 1502 for the growing Spanish empire before progressing to Martinique. Spaniards took control for their Spanish Colonies but soon left for larger Caribbean islands, leaving Barbados uninhabited. In 1536, Portuguese arrived on their way to Brazil, and Pedro Campos named the island. Portugal claimed it until 1620 but did not settle it. Instead wild hogs were left there to breed and multiply, and provide a source of meat during stops at the island.

In 1627, England took Barbados, having already staked its own claim. By this time the Carib population had entirely disappeared. Barbados founded a parliament, the 'House of Assembly', in 1639 and has enjoyed uninterrupted parliamentary governance ever since, giving it the third oldest parliament in the world.

Initial attempts at growing tobacco and cotton proved economically insufficient, so the colonists began planting sugarcane. This required large-scale farming which forced out smaller farmers, although indentured service by Europeans disappeared, and the white population was drastically reduced. Imported African slave numbers mushroomed, thanks to arrivals from what are now Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

After the British empire abolished slavery in 1834, emancipation was granted in Barbados in 1838. A host of factors contributed towards economic suffering and reduced income from sugarcane. Britain was engaged in a series of wars, during which protectionism gave way to free trade, with competition from beet sugar reducing prices for sugarcane sales. A royal commission in 1896 investigated the distress, but nothing was done until violence erupted in 1937. Only then did financial aid begin to arrive.

Queen Victoria's United Kingdom organised its Windward islands into a federated colony in 1822, with the governor of Barbados also serving as the governor of the Windward Islands. Barbados was removed from the federation in 1885, and was formed into a separate colony. Britain created a 'Federation of the West Indies' in 1958 which included all of the British West Indian islands, in the hope that the federation would become an independent state. When Jamaica withdrew in 1962, though, the federation collapsed. Barbados became an 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy' in 1966, and a presidential 'Independent Republic' in 2020.

The island retained its bicameral parliament which consists of an elected assembly and a senate which is partially appointed by the president and partially by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The prime minister also heads the island's elected government, with the candidate for the post being selected from the assembly or senate by the president. Barbados remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The island's estimated population (as of 2014) is 286,100. Some ninety-two percent are black, about three percent mixed, and the rest are white, South Asian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern. While English is the official language, most Barbadians speak Bajan, a dialect which has been influenced by other English-speaking islands but which can be very difficult for English speakers to understand. About seventy-five percent of the population belongs to a wide variety of Christian denominations, with Anglican and Pentecostalists representing the two largest. About twenty percent profess to have no religion.

The full list of islands which make up the Lesser Antilles chain includes Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Redonda, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Caribbean Islands

(Information by John De Cleene, with additional information from Washington Post Digest (17 September 2020), from Spain in the Americas (National Geographic supplement, February 1992), and from External Links: About Barbados (Barbados.org), and Barbados Integrated Government, and Barbados (Rulers.org), and Barbados (Zárate's Political Collections), and Totally Barbados.)

1953 - 1959

Sir Robert Duncan Harris Arundell

UK governor.


The British authorities unite their West Indian islands into a 'Federation of the West Indies' in an attempt to form a unified independent nation. The federation does not receive the sustained support which it needs. Instead, each constituent part appears to drive towards becoming a separate, independent nation.

1959 - 1967

Sir John Montague Stow

UK governor (governor-general from 1966).


The British 'Federation of the Leeward Islands' collapses, but St Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla remain part of the autonomous 'Federation of the West Indies' which is designed to foster the independence of the West Indian islands.

Bathsheba Beach in Barbados, in the Caribbean
Bathsheba Beach, on the eastern coast of Barbados, is known for its spectacular rock formations, yellow ochre soft sand, and good surfing, but it can be dangerous for swimming with its strong undercurrent


The 'Federation of the West Indies' collapses when Jamaica withdraws from it. However, Barbados has already been granted internal self-government (in 1961). Now Barbados begins to plan its own path to independence while the United Kingdom seeks a fresh system for managing the West Indies.


Barbados becomes independent of the United Kingdom, in the format of an 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy'. The British monarch remains the island's head of state, and is represented locally by a governor-general.

Errol Walton Barrow of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) becomes the island's first prime minister and is referred to as the 'Father of Independence'. He has already led internal governance on the island since 1961 and will lead the government until 1976.

He has, and will continue to, expand industrial development and free education, establishing 'National Health Insurance' and social security, increasing tourism, and helping to found the 'Caribbean Free Trade Association', which is now referred to as the Caribbean Community (Caricom).

Barbados Blackbelly sheep
Barbados blackbelly sheep thrive in hot and humid climates, originating from Barbados and being a cross between European woolled sheep and West African hair sheep breeds - and also being devoid of wool

1967 - 1976

Sir Winston Scott



Tom Adams of the Barbados Labour Party replaces Prime Minster Errol Walton Barrow, the only prime minister to be known by Barbadians up to this point (people who are born in Barbados are 'Barbadian' by nationality, but Caribbean natives in general, and Barbadians in particular, refer to them as 'Bajans' (pronounced 'bay-juns'). Adams steers the country in a more conservative direction.


Sir William Douglas

Acting governor-general.

1976 - 1984

Sir Deighton Lisle Ward



Sir William Douglas

Acting governor-general for a second time.

1984 - 1990

Sir Hugh Springer


1990 - 1995

Dame Nita Barrow

First female governor-general. Died in office.


Owen Arthur of the Barbados Labour Party becomes prime minister. His leadership, which lasts until 2008, significantly reduces unemployment (by twenty percent) and increases tourism and agriculture. He leads the later movement to replace the British monarch as head of state, a movement which will bear fruit in 2020.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II 1953
Elizabeth II and Philip, duke of Edinburgh, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the queen's coronation on 2 June 1953 - between them stand the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne

1995 - 1996

Sir Denys Williams

Acting governor-general.

1996 - 2011

Sir Clifford Husbands


2011 - 2012

Elliot Belgrave

Acting governor-general.


Sandra Mason

Acting governor-general (returned to office in 2018).

2012 - 2017

Sir Elliot Belgrave

Governor-general for a second time.

2017 - 2018

Sir Philip Greaves

Acting governor-general.


Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party becomes the first female prime minister of Barbados. She is a vocal advocate of addressing issues on climate change. She praises Denmark's plan to establish a fund which is dedicated to paying for loss and damage due to climate change, and urges other countries to endorse the plan.

She also recommends reforming the United Nations security council to eliminate the veto power which is held by the 'big' five members, otherwise known as the 'P5', with these being the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Queen Elizabeth II at the moment of her coronation in 1953
Queen Elizabeth II is shown here in a famous official photograph of her in her coronation robes from June 1953, confirming a reign which would last for seventy years

2018 - 2021

Dame Sandra Mason

Governor-general for a second time (later president).


Barbados entirely cuts ties with the United Kingdom, becoming a fully 'Independent Republic'. The island nation exhibits a sentiment which is spreading throughout the former British colonies of the West Indies which involves a growing sense of injustice around the former slave trade. However, Barbados does remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

2021 - On

Dame Sandra Mason

First president (former governor-general).


At least two painful exchanges take place between island governments in the Caribbean and the earl and countess of Wessex during their week-long tour of the British-linked Caribbean islands.

Comments during a meeting on Antigua & Barbuda makes likely a future pursuit of full independence. St Kitts & Nevis also reveals its plan to cut ties with the United Kingdom, as do the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica.

Caribbean independence supporters in St Vincent in 2022
Protesters in St Vincent during the royal visit by the earl and countess of Wessex in 2022 showed that calls for independence were not going away

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