Barbados became officially independent on 30 November 1966, ending approximately 350 years of British rule. This module provides an overview of the key events on Barbados’ road to independence.
Road to Independence
Prehistoric Barbados is believed to have been inhabited by cave-dwellers of the Siboney culture, from Florida. At an unknown later time, Arawaks arrived from South America. The latter were agriculturists, and excellent weavers and potters. They survived invasions and raids by the warlike Caribs (also from South America), which took place before the 1490s. By the early 1500s, Spanish and Portuguese sailors had sighted the island. It was invaded in 1518 by Spanish colonists from Hispaniola. No Spanish settlement was made, as there appeared to be no mineral resources, but the island acquired a Spanish name – Barbados (or ‘bearded’), apparently a reference to local fig trees. By 1536 the island was deserted, either because the slavers had depopulated it or because the remaining inhabitants had fled.
In 1625 it was formally claimed for King James I of England. In 1627 English immigrants settled there and King Charles I granted a Barbados patent to Lord Carlisle; after 1660, this patent was surrendered to the Crown and a 4.5 per cent duty on exports levied, which, bitterly resented, was levied until 1838. Between 1627 and 1640, the island was settled by British colonists, who brought with them indentured labour from Britain and some enslaved Africans, to produce tobacco, cotton and indigo. The introduction of sugar in the 1650s had led to the development of large plantations, and by 1685 the population was around 50,000, consisting mainly of African slaves. By the end of the 18th century, Barbados had 745 plantations worked by more than 80,000 African and African-descended slaves. Harsh working conditions led to slave revolts in 1702 and 1816. Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833–34.
The office of Governor and a Council were introduced in 1627, and a House of Assembly was constituted in 1639, but, due to the property qualifications for the franchise, this was dominated by plantation owners. An Executive Committee, created in 1881, evolved functions similar to those of ministerial government. The franchise was widened in 1944 and other political parties existed by 1946. Universal adult suffrage followed in 1951, a full ministerial system in 1954, and Cabinet government in 1958.
The Barbados Labour Party (BLP), which developed out of the trade unions, was set up under the leadership of Grantley Adams, and began working for economic improvement and the extension of political rights. The BLP, led first by Adams, and after 1958 by Dr Hugh Cummins, gained a majority in the House of Assembly between 1944 and 1961. In 1955 a split in the BLP led to the formation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), led by Errol Barrow, who won the 1962 elections.
Thus, by 1958, Barbados had virtual self-government under a democratic system, a status formally recognised in 1961. Nominated members ceased to sit on Executive Committee, and the Governor became bound to accept the decisions of this Committee.
Barbados had been a member of the Federation of the West Indies, set up in 1958. When the Federation was dissolved in 1962, the Barbados Government announced its intention to seek independence separately.
In 1964, Executive Committee was abolished and its remaining duties were transferred to the Cabinet. The Legislative Council was replaced by a Senate.
The Barbados Constitutional Conference was convened in June 1966 and was attended by representatives of all three parties in the Barbados Legislature, who all agreed on the aim of separate independence. All the parties at the Conference were unanimous in wishing Barbados to be accepted as a member of the Commonwealth and in agreeing that the executive authority of Barbados should be vested in Her Majesty and exercisable on her behalf by a Governor-General. Independence Day was set for Wednesday, 30 November 1966.
On the advice of Premier Barrow, the old Legislature was dissolved on 10 October 1966, some two months before its statutory life of five years expired, and elections were held on 3 November 1966. Unlike previous elections, which used single-member constituencies, this election was contested using two-member constituencies, in which each voter had two votes. The result was a victory for the Democratic Labour Party, which won 14 of the 24 seats. The BLP won eight seats and the Barbados National party won two seats
At the stroke of midnight on 29 November 1966, Barbados became an independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth, ending 361 years of British rule. Barbados was the fourth British dependency in the Caribbean to become independent, following Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), and Guyana (1966). Errol Barrow became the first Prime Minister and Sir John Stow was the first Governor-General.
At independence in November 1966, Barbados formally adopted the Westminster parliamentary system of government, with a governor general representing the British monarch. Rights and privileges accorded to the governor in 1652 by Britain formed the basis for the Constitution of 1966, which provides for a bicameral parliamentary system headed by a Prime Minister and cabinet.
Under the Constitution, Parliament consists of the British monarch, represented by the Governor-General, the Senate, and the House of Assembly. The Governor-General is appointed by the monarch and serves at the monarch’s pleasure. Executive authority in Barbados rests with the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, and a cabinet of at least five ministers. The Constitution provides for an elected House of Assembly and appointed Senate.
The United States immediately recognised Barbados’ independence when it opened the American Embassy in Bridgetown on Independence Day 1966. Barbados was admitted to the United Nations in December 1966. Barbados joined the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1967. On July 4, 1973, the founding nations of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Jamaica signed the original Treaty of Chaguaramas in Trinidad thus establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
First Independence Programme
“To be young and to be alive in Barbados tonight, I feel as if I were in paradise already.”
Those rapturous words were spoken by Errol Walton Barrow just moments after he took delivery of Barbados’s constitutional instruments of independence (from the Duke of Kent) on the night of Wednesday 30 November 1966.
The Official Programme of Events started on 27 November 1966 with a regatta in Carlisle Bay and the opening of the Hilton Hotel. The following day, their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Kent were officially welcomed at the then Seawell Airport and that night there was a reception by His Excellency the Governor and Lady Stowe at Government House.
On the eve of Independence, there was a State Banquet, following which the activities reached their peak at the Garrison Savannah. A series of impressive displays included the Barbados Regiment, the Combined Military Band, the Royal Barbados Police Force Mounted Troop, a “Living Flag” presented by scholars of secondary schools and the “Coat of Arms” presented by the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts.
Following prayers, Governor Sir John Stowe and then Premier Errol Barrow, took their place at the flag-staff just a few minutes before midnight for the historic flag raising ceremony. The Barbados flag was to be raised for the first time by Lieutenant (now Captain) Hartley Dottin.
The Programme of Celebrations continued with the State Opening of Parliament later on Wednesday November 30, and over the following days, events included informal visits by the Duke of Kent to the Barbados Regiment and ships of the Royal Navy, an Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition at Queen’s Park, a Historical Pageant in Independence Square, and finally a State Service of Dedication and Thanksgiving on Sunday, 4 December 1966.
Meaning of Independence
Barbados becoming an independent nation, now meant that Britain, no longer controlled the affairs of the country. It was now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister and the locally elected Cabinet. Independence also meant that a Constitution, symbols, emblems, an army, and passports had to be developed for the country. As an independent nation, Barbados assigns Ambassadors overseas who represent the country. They sign treaties on behalf of Barbados and become members of various international organisations. This is important, as it gives the country equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies and treaties.
Written by: Mandy Law