The Sugar Revolution, the introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil, in the 1640s was highly lucrative but came at great social cost
In 1627, 80 Englishmen aboard the William and John landed on the Caribbean island and founded Jamestown (close to today’s Holetown), in the name of King James I.
The early settlers struggled to develop a profitable export crop and faced difficulties in maintaining supplies from Europe.
However, the Sugar Revolution, the introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil, in the 1640s was highly lucrative and over the next decade more than two thirds of English emigres to the Americas went to Barbados.
By 1650 there were 44,000 settlers in the West Indies, as compared with 12,000 in Virginia and 23,000 in New England.
But while this shift to sugar yielded huge profits, it came at a great social cost. Thousands of West African slaves were shipped across the Atlantic to work the plantations.
Small family farms were sold and swallowed up by plantation owners and many of the white residents moved on to Jamaica and the North American enclaves, most notably North Carolina.
In the early 1640s, historians estimate there were around 37,000 whites and 6,000 blacks; by 1684 there were 20,000 whites and 46,000 blacks; and in 1834, the year slavery was abolished, there were 15,000 whites and 88,000 blacks or mixed race people.
The sale of sugar, or white gold as the colonists called it, reaped huge profits because it was a scarce commodity in European markets.
Slave laws enacted in 1936 separated society into three categories of persons, free, indentured, and enslaved, with race being a main determinant of status.
Sugar continued as an integral part of the country’s economy into the 19th century, while workers suffered from low wages and minimal social services.
By the 1930s, political unrest erupted into a labour revolt which challenged the existing order and led to the full legalisation of trade unions and the extension of the political franchise.
Reforms in the 1940s led to the institutionalisation of mass political organisations and curtailed the power of the elite.
Black political leaders gained ascendancy by 1944, universal adult suffrage was adopted in 1950, and full internal self-government was achieved in 1961.
Barbados became independent on November 30, 1966, during a time when the country’s economy was expanding and diversifying.