English Discover and Colonize Barbados Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Captain John Powell claimed Barbados for England in 1625. In 1627, Sir William Courteen established England’s second Caribbean colony on the island. Barbados’s settlers founded a plantation economy based on tobacco and cotton, but in the 1630’, sugar supplanted tobacco as the primary cash crop.

Summary of Event

On May 14, 1625, Captain John Powell Powell, John stopped at Barbados on his voyage from Brazil to England. Finding the island uninhabited, Powell claimed it for England and King James I. He named the landing site Jamestown (now Holetown). On Powell’s return trip to England, he stopped at Saint Christopher (Saint Kitt’), settled by the British in 1624, to report his claim to Sir William Courteen, Courteen, Sir William a wealthy merchant who controlled an important English trading company. Courteen, his brother Peter Courteen, Courteen, Peter John Mounsay, Mounsay, John and Captains John Powell and Henry Powell Powell, Henry launched the first expedition to occupy Barbados. [kw]English Discover and Colonize Barbados (May 14, 1625-1640) [kw]Barbados, English Discover and Colonize (May 14, 1625-1640) [kw]Colonize Barbados, English Discover and (May 14, 1625-1640) Colonization;May 14, 1625-1640: English Discover and Colonize Barbados[0980] Expansion and land acquisition;May 14, 1625-1640: English Discover and Colonize Barbados[0980] Exploration and discovery;May 14, 1625-1640: English Discover and Colonize Barbados[0980] Caribbean;May 14, 1625-1640: English Discover and Colonize Barbados[0980] Barbados;English colonization of Colonization;England of Barbados

On February 17, 1627, Captain Henry Powell arrived with eighty settlers and ten African slaves at Jamestown. The settlers immediately felled trees and built log houses along the seashore. They found tropical fruits in abundance and wild hogs for meat. While the settlers cleared land, Powell went to Essequibo, Guiana, to obtain seeds and foodstuffs from his old friend Adrian Groenewegen, the governor of the Dutch colony there. With Groenewegen’s permission, thirty-two Arawak Arawaks Indians returned with Powell to Barbados, to provide seeds and expertise in cultivation. The Arawaks were supposed to remain free men and receive land for themselves but eventually were reduced to slavery Slavery;Barbados .

In May of 1627, Captain John Powell arrived with a cargo of supplies and ninety men and women—mostly indentured servants Indentured servitude . By mid-1627, the Courteen colony had cleared land 7 miles (11 kilometers) inland, built one hundred houses, and started five plantations. The Arawaks helped plant food crops of fruits, cassava, corn, and potatoes, along with cash crops of tobacco, cotton, ginger, and indigo. Barbados’s population increased rapidly, and soon there were a dozen thriving plantations, along with numerous small farms. European indentured servants, African slaves, and Caribbean Indians made up the labor force. Agriculture;Barbados

English politics interfered with Barbados’s development, however. James Hay, Hay, James earl of Carlisle, petitioned King Charles I for title to Barbados. His creditors, primarily a syndicate of London merchants headed by Marmaduke Royden, Royden, Marmaduke supported his petition in order to use Carlisle to gain a foothold in the lucrative island trade. In July, 1627, Charles I awarded Carlisle a patent to the “Caribee” Islands, including Barbados, and named him lord proprietor of the island. To clear his debts, Carlisle leased 10,000 acres (4,045 hectares) to Royden’s syndicate.

When Sir William Courteen discovered this intrigue, he sought help from Philip Herbert, Herbert, Philip earl of Pembroke, who claimed Barbados under a patent from King James I. On February 25, 1628, Pembroke persuaded King Charles to grant him the islands of Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, and Fonseca in trust for Courteen. In response, Carlisle obtained another grant from Charles confirming that Barbados was included in his Caribee Islands patent. The lord keeper Coventry ruled that Carlisle’s patent was valid, so a royal edict went to the governor of Barbados in May, 1629, declaring the earl of Carlisle’s title to the island to be in full force. Thus, Carlisle obtained sovereign rights over Barbados. He received all subsidies, customs, and taxes for ten years and could select the estates he desired for his private domain. The planters, who paid the taxes and subsidies, were caught up in the war of intrigue and litigation between Carlisle and Courteen. Taxation;Barbados

On March 19, 1628, Lord Proprietor Carlisle commissioned Captain Charles Wolferston Wolferston, Charles as governor and commander-in-chief of Barbados for three years. Wolferston arrived in Barbados in June, 1628, with sixty-four men, took over as governor, and claimed jurisdiction over Courteen’s planters. When Governor John Powell opposed this action, Wolferston put him in prison. In October, 1628, Carlisle sent two merchants named Havercamp and Mole with twenty men to start a new plantation. They persuaded some of the Courteen planters to accept Carlisle’s sovereignty, established Carlisle’s private plantation, and returned to England.

On February 26, 1629, Henry Powell arrived with a cargo of supplies and about one hundred men and women. Angered at his brother’s imprisonment, Powell seized Wolferston and William Deane, Deane, William a planter who had defected to Carlisle, then released John Powell from prison and reinstated him as governor. All of the Royden syndicate’s possessions were confiscated, including servants and tobacco. Henry Powell secured a shipload of tobacco from the Courteen planters, along with their pledges of allegiance, and sailed for England, with Wolferston and Deane aboard as prisoners.

Carlisle retaliated in August of 1629 by sending Henry Hawley Hawley, Henry to Barbados as governor. Hawley tricked John Powell and loyal Courteen planters aboard his ship, chained them to the mainmast, and departed for the Leeward Islands, leaving Robert Wheatley Wheatley, Robert in charge as deputy governor. Enraged, Courteen planters mounted an armed attack on Wheatley, but Wheatley won the battle and confiscated all plantations that fell within the Carlisle acreage. Hawley returned in triumph to resume his role as governor in 1630, but the conflict, compounded by severe drought in 1629 and Carlisle’s failure to send supplies from Europe, wrought such devastation in Barbados that the years 1630-1631 became known as the Starving Time Starving Time (1630-1631) .

Barbados regained the lost ground of the Starving Time when it transitioned to sugar Sugar;trade in Trade;sugar production in the 1630’. Dutchmen from Guiana brought sugarcane for planting and technology for producing sugar, and sugar soon supplanted tobacco as Barbados’s chief export. Like tobacco and cotton plantations, sugar plantations Plantation system;Barbados were dependent upon slaves and indentured servants. Dutch merchants supplied slaves from West Africa, and poor English whites came to Barbados as indentured servants. Some servants were kidnap victims, and on occasion, convicted criminals were shipped to Barbados as laborers. Descendants of the white slaves and indentured laborers were known as Red Legs. Visitors to Barbados during the early 1630’s reported the poor conditions in which slaves and servants lived, as well as widespread drunkenness and immorality among the planters. These evils were attributed to the lack of sufficient clergy and a failure to maintain a strong religious influence on standards of behavior. Slavery;Barbados

In December, 1634, the lords commissioner for the plantations ordered that no more “subsidy men” (that is, men of substance who might pay taxes) be allowed to emigrate. In 1635, a total of 707 men and 36 women left London for Barbados. Migration;English into Barbados Among these were very few planters but numerous tradesmen, craftspeople, and servants. By 1639, the population in Barbados had reached ten thousand, and the planters had retrieved their political power. The island’s first Parliament was held in 1639, making Barbados’s Parliament the third oldest legislative body in the Commonwealth, after the British House of Commons and Bermuda House of Assembly. Barbados held so closely to English government, laws, and traditions that it became known as Little England.


Barbados was important to the British for its strategic location, lying to windward (east) of the island chain of the Lesser Antilles and not so vulnerable to attack by the Spanish. The colony proved increasingly profitable as a sugar producer and trading post for the British in the Caribbean. In 1651, Barbados was besieged by Oliver Cromwell’s military forces and forced to sign Articles of Capitulation in 1652. The Parliament, however, turned the articles into a Charter for Barbados and used the charter to win a measure of independence from the English monarchy when it was restored in 1660. From 1640 to 1700, despite periodic slave unrest and destructive hurricanes, Barbados maintained a successful sugar plantation society and economy, and moved ever further toward home rule.

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