Family history research has been my path to learning about Barbados history, and specifically about the Afro-Barbadian experience.
The island was settled in 1627 by English colonists. There were unsuccessful attempts to establish a sugar cane industry, but success came in the 1640s. It was a very labor intensive crop that required a tremendous amount of human resources. For this, the colonists turned to Africa and the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Between 1640 and 1807, slave catchers captured millions of Africans and sold them to slave traders who forced them onto waiting boats for the voyage of no return, to Brazil and North America. Slave merchants sold thousands of these African men, women, boys, and girls to slave masters for their sugarcane plantations, homes and other businesses in Barbados. Some Irish, Scots and English endured conditions in Barbados that were akin to slavery, but it was the sustained forced labor of the African and her creole offspring that was at the center of the Barbados sugar plantation economy. An economy that at one point, made Barbados wealthiest of all British colonies
African people and their offspring fought to survive the enactment and enforcement of harsh slave laws which included a denial of surnames, religion, education and other fundamental human rights. In fact, under British rule, they were not considered human at all but as chattel or property. These laws were made to ensure complete control over the daily activities of the enslaved and to secure a steady stream of African labor for the colonists’ money making sugar plantations.
The Anglican Church kept Black persons out of vital records for most of the slavery period, with few exceptions. When they did record aspects of their lives, mostly it was as it related to the business of the plantation. Colonial era wills, deeds, shipping logs, newspaper advertisements, plantation ledgers, inventories and government documents may contain genealogical information. During the nineteenth century amelioration and post-emancipation periods, more documentary evidence of the lives of our Black ancestors became available, especially in records created by the local parish churches.
Afro-Bajan ancestors resisted and rebelled against captivity in various ways resulting in their enslavers enacting more and more slave codes. Remarkably, these ancestors found ways to retain significant aspects of African culture. They kept Africa alive in their work, language, oral traditions, religion, food, music, and dance.
The map above contains the names of 18th-century colonists or significant landowners in Barbados. After slavery ended, these are the names that our ancestors took. Is your last name on the map? Note the parish name(s) for a good indication of your ancestors’ trails.