Barbadian americans

by Lloyd E. Mulraine


Proudly referred to as "Little England" by her islanders, Barbados, a small Caribbean country, is the easternmost island in the West Indies island chain, which stretches from southeast Florida to the northern coast of South America. Its nearest neighbor, St. Vincent, is due west. The island is one-sixth the size of Rhode Island, the smallest state of the United States; it is 21 miles (30 km) long and 14 miles (22 km) across at its widest point, with a surface area of 166 square miles (431 sq. km). Although relatively flat, Barbados is composed mostly of coral, rising gently from the west coast in a series of terraces to a ridge in the center. Its highest point is Mt. Hillaby, reaching 1,104 feet (336 m).

According to the 1994 Caribbean Basin Commercial Profile, the population of Barbados in December 1992 was 258,000—52.1 percent of which was female, and 47.9 percent male. Ninety-two percent were of African ethnic origin, four percent white, one percent Asian Indian, and three percent of mixed race. About 70 percent live in the urban area that stretches along the sheltered Caribbean Sea side of the island from Speightstown in the north, to Oistins in the south, and St. Philip in the southeast. The remainder live in villages scattered throughout the countryside, ranging in size from 100 to 3000 persons. Population density is among the highest in the world at 1589.7 people per square mile. The official language of Barbados is English, and the capital is Bridgetown.

There are over 100 denominations and religious sects in Barbados. Seventy percent of the population nominally belongs to the Anglican/Episcopal church, an important heritage of the island's long, unbroken connection with England. The rest belong to such religious groups as Methodist, Moravian, Roman Catholic, Church of God, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, and a host of others. Adult literacy is approximately 99 percent. The national flag, flown for the first time at midnight November 30, 1966, consists of three equal vertical stripes of ultramarine, gold, and ultramarine with a broken trident in the center of the gold stripe.


The word Barbados (pronounced "bar- bay -dos") comes from Las Barbadas, the name given to the island by the Portuguese who landed there in the early sixteenth century. They named it after the fig tree that grew in abundance on the island, and whose branches had great mats of twisted fibrous roots looking like beards hanging to the ground. Barbados is a derivative of barbudo, the Portuguese name for one who has a thick beard.

According to historical accounts, from c. 350 A.D. to the early sixteenth century, various Amerindian civilizations flourished in Barbados. The first wave of settlers, now called Barrancoid/Saladoid, occupied the island from c. 350-650 A.D. The Spaniards in the sixteenth century referred to them as Arawaks. They originated in the Orinoco basin in South America. Archeological findings reveal that they were skilled in farming, fishing, and ceramics. In about 800 A.D. a second wave of Amerindian migrants occupied the island. They were expert fishermen and grew crops of cassava, potato, and maize. They also produced cotton textile goods and ceramics. A third wave of migrants settled on the island during the mid-thirteenth century. The Spaniards called them Caribs. More materially developed and politically organized, they subdued and dominated their predecessors.

In 1625, when the first English ship, the Olive Blossom, on a return visit from Brazil to England, accidentally arrived in Barbados, Captain John Powell and his crew claimed the island on behalf of King James I. They found the island uninhabited. The Amerindians had long departed. During the early sixteenth century, they were victims of the Spaniards' slave raiding missions, and were forced to work on the sugar estates and the mines of Hispaniola and elsewhere.


The party of English mariners who arrived in Barbados on May 14, 1625, were the first Europeans to begin its colonization. On February 17, 1627, the William and John, bearing English settlers and ten African slaves captured from the Portuguese at sea, landed at the present site of Holetown village, and founded the second British colony in the Caribbean, the first being St. Kitts in 1623. The 80 pioneer settlers who disembarked the ship survived on subsistence farming, and exported tobacco and cotton. John Powell, Jr., served as the colony's first governor from April to July 1627. During that same year, Powell also brought 32 Indians from Guiana. They were to live as free people while teaching the English the art of tropical agriculture and regional political geography.

Powell's expedition was financed by Sir William Courteen, an Englishman, but later it was argued that Courteen had no settlement rights to Barbados since he received no royal patent. On July 22, 1627, Charles I granted a patent to James Hay, the first Earl of Carlisle, for the settlement of Barbados. He assumed the status of Lord Proprietor. This Proprietary Patent of 1627 gave the Earl authority to make laws for Barbados with the consent, assent, and approbation of the freeholders.

Due to an error, another royal patent was issued to the Earl of Pembroke, giving him legal ownership of Barbados but creating conflict and confusion on the island. As Carlisle and Pembroke contended for political supremacy over Barbados, the Powell faction, through bold defiance of both contenders, managed to stay in charge of the government. On April 1, 1628, a second patent was issued to Carlisle, revoking that of Pembroke, and Charles Wolverton was appointed Governor of Barbados. When he arrived there, he appointed a group of 12 men to assist him in the administration of the infant colony. In later years a ruling council was appointed by the English government, generally in accordance with the advice of the governor, and its members were usually chosen from the wealthiest and most influential planters. Barbados experienced much political turmoil and instability from 1627 to 1629. On June 30, 1629, Henry Hawley arrived on the island and assumed the governorship. He was a strong, ruthless ruler whose leadership helped to establish political and economic conditions for the development of a society dominated by a small landed elite.

In 1636 Hawley issued a proclamation that henceforth all blacks and Indians brought to the island, and their offspring, were to be received as lifelong slaves, unless there existed prior agreements to the contrary. Barbados thus developed into the first successful English slave plantation society in the New World. Negroes and Indians who worked for white landowners were considered heathen brutes and were treated as chattel. At the same time, there developed a white underclass of indentured servants consisting of voluntary workers, political refugees, transported convicts, and others. By 1640 the social structure of the island consisted of masters, servants, and slaves. The slaves and their posterity were subject to their masters forever, while servants were indentured for five years. After serving their terms, most indentured servants were released from any commitment to their masters. Many were supplied with money and land to start their own farms. The population of the colony grew rapidly, and by 1640 there were 40,000 people living in Barbados, mostly English yeomen farmers and indentured servants drawn there by the opportunity to acquire cheap land and to compete in an open economic system. Fifteen percent of the population were African slaves.

In 1637 sugar cane cultivation was introduced from Brazil. Production of tobacco, the island's main crop, declined as a result of competition from the American colonies, heavy duties imposed by England, and falling prices. Barbadian soil was ideal for the new crop, and the sugar industry prospered, attracting white planters and merchants from a number of European countries. By 1650 Barbados was considered the richest colony in the New World. Planters discovered that African slaves could work much harder in the tropical climate than white indentured servants. In the 1630s the island's black population was less than 800. By 1643 this number increased to slightly less than 6,000 and by 1660, a mere 20 years after the introduction of sugar cane to the island, Barbados developed into a plantation-dominated society in which slaves outnumbered whites by a two-to-one margin. It is estimated that between 1640 and 1807, the year the British Parliament abolished the slave trade in British territory, including Barbados, that some 387,000 African slaves were brought to Barbados as victims of the slave trade. Many of these African slaves were the ancestors of present day Barbadians. The history of Barbados is to a great extent a history of oppression and resistance, the toil and struggles of African Barbadians toward a just and free society.

The slaves were never content under oppression, and they yearned for freedom. In the seventeenth century, several planned rebellions were aborted because of informants. For example, in 1675 two slaves planning rebellion were overheard by a slave woman named Anna, also known as Fortuna, who immediately told her master about the plan. It is recorded that she was recommended for freedom as recompense for her great service to her country, but there is no record that this freedom was ever granted. In 1692 another near rebellion was aborted. Many slaves were executed or died in prison after plots were discovered. The only actual outbreak of armed revolt was the rebellion of 1816.

During the seventeenth century, a new class of Barbadians—mulattos fathered by white masters and their black slave women—began to populate the colony. They were called coloreds, and many of them were freed by their masters/fathers. By the eighteenth century a small community of free persons of mixed racial identity existed in the colony.

Free-coloreds were a problem both for white Barbadians who were determined to exclude them from white society, and for the slaves whom the free-coloreds despised. Whites made every effort to attach the stigma of racial and genetic inferiority to them. As a result, discriminatory legislation was passed in 1721 that stated that only white male Christian citizens of Great Britain who owned at least ten acres of land or a house having an annual taxable value of ten pounds could vote, be elected to public office, or serve on juries.

Despite exclusion by whites, free-coloreds sought to distance themselves from their slave ancestry, sometimes even from their own mothers, and took a strong pro-slavery stand when imperial legislative action at the beginning of the nineteenth century tended toward improvement of the slaves' condition. By 1831 the franchise was extended to free-colored men; however, the property-owning requirements continued to apply to all voters. Thus, only a small minority gained voting rights. With the advent of a general emancipation, the free-colored people lost their status as a separate caste.

In 1833 the British Parliament passed a law that would free the slaves in the West Indies the following year. The Barbados House of Assembly was hostile to the new law, but finally passed it, and the slaves in Barbados, like the rest of the West Indies, became free on August 1, 1834. However, the emancipated people were not entirely free; they were subjected to a four-year apprenticeship period. In addition, the Contract Act was passed in 1840, which in essence gave the planters a continued hold on the emancipated slaves, a condition that lasted well into the next century.

Samuel Jackman Prescod, the first colored man to hold office in Barbados, was elected to the House of Assembly in 1843. Prescod was one of the leading political figures of nineteenth-century Barbados. He became associated with the anti-slavery movement, and by 1838 he was the most popular spokesman for the emancipated people who were still denied the privileges of true freedom. He was editor of The Liberal, a radical newspaper that expressed the grievances of the disadvantaged colored people and of the black working class. He fought for franchise reform, but the country did not gain universal adult suffrage until 1950, almost a century later.

In 1958, Barbados and nine other British Caribbean territories joined together to form the West Indian Federation, a separate nation within the British Commonwealth. Grantley Adams, the first premier of Barbados, became the Prime Minister of the Federation. This new nation hoped to achieve self-government, economic viability, and independence, but the Federation collapsed in 1962. Barbados finally gained its independence on November 30, 1966, under Prime Minister Errol Barrow. Presently, Barbados is a sovereign and independent state within the British Commonwealth.


Barbadian connection with America dates back to the 1660s, when close links were established between Barbados and the Carolinas. Sir John Colleton, a prominent Barbadian planter, was among the first to suggest the establishment of a colony there, and in 1670 a permanent colony was established in what is known today as Charleston, South Carolina. Many prominent Barbadian merchants and planters subsequently migrated to Carolina, among them Sir John Yeamans, who became governor. These Barbadians contributed knowledge, lifestyle, and sugar economy, along with place names, and dialect to Carolina. For example, Gullah, the dialect of the Carolina coast and islands, resembles Barbadian dialect. After the nineteenth-century Emancipation, Barbadians became a part of the flow of West Indian immigrants into the United States.


The first major wave of West Indian immigrants, including Barbadians, to the United States took place between 1901 and 1920, with a total of 230,972 entering the country. The majority were unskilled or semi-skilled laborers who came in search of economic opportunities. A substantial number were employed in low-paying service occupations and menial jobs that nonetheless offered higher wages than they could earn at home.

Between 1931 and 1950 West Indian immigration to the United States declined, due partly to an immigration restriction law that imposed a quota system heavily weighted in favor of newcomers arriving from northern and western European countries. The Great Depression was another factor in the drop in West Indian immigration, which reached a significant low in the 1930s.

A second wave began in the 1950s and peaked in the 1960s, when 470,213 immigrants arrived in the United States. More West Indians entered the United States during this decade than the total number that entered between 1891 and 1950 Between 1965 and 1976 a substantial number of immigrants from the Caribbean entered the United States, Barbados alone accounting for 17,400 of them. A large percentage of this wave of immigrants consisted of professional and technical workers forced to leave home because of limited economic opportunities in the Caribbean.


Most Barbadian immigrants have settled in the New York metropolitan area. The 1990 Census of Population Report shows that over 82 percent live in the Northeast, with over 62 percent in New York. More than 11 percent live in the South, approximately four percent live in the West, and almost two percent live in the Midwest. The five states with the highest Barbadian populations are New York, with 22,298; Massachusetts, with 3,393; Florida, with 1,770; New Jersey, with 1,678; and California, with 1,160. Unlike Chinese Americans or Italian Americans, Barbadians—or West Indians, for that matter—do not occupy small enclaves in the cities of America where they live. They instead tend to settle wherever they can find jobs or affordable housing, and they strive for upward mobility and opportunities to improve their lives.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Although Barbadian Americans do not necessarily choose to live in close proximity to fellow Barbadians, they share a bond no matter where they locate. That bond is their pride in, and loyalty to, Barbados—no matter how long they might live in America, they look to Barbados as home. They maintain their connection with Barbados by reading its newspapers, by keeping abreast of events at home, and by remaining actively involved in the politics of the island.

Barbadians have a culture that is uniquely their own. It might be described as Euro-African, although ten years after England outlawed the slave trade, only seven percent of emancipated Barbadians were African-born, significantly less than in most of the other British Caribbean colonies. Thus the relative loss of much of the African culture perhaps accounts for the prominence of European culture on Barbados. Although vestiges of African dialects remain in the language, proverbs, tuk band, folk music, and foods such as conkie and coucou, there is a noticeable absence of African religions such as Voodoo and Shango, or Kele found on other Caribbean islands. Fewer words of African origin have become part of the Barbadian vocabulary than of those of other West Indian islands.

Barbadian Americans also maintain a number of organizations that help unite them. Chief of these are the Barbados Associations, which meet annually. In addition, Barbadians belong to cricket clubs, social clubs, student clubs, and professional organizations. Unfortunately, the social class differences upheld in Barbados have been transferred to America and affect these organizations. However, one event transcends all class barriers: the annual West Indian Carnival celebrated in some large American cities. The West Indian Carnival is a celebration of national costumes, food, drink, music, and dancing in the streets as well as an occasion when all class barriers are removed, at least for the moment.

Although Barbadian Americans fit well into mainstream American life and culture, they usually prefer to marry partners from Barbados. Second in choice is another West Indian, followed by an American of West Indian parentage or another foreign non-white. Most Barbadian-Americans raise their children with Barbadian values, such as respect for elders and concern for family members, especially siblings. Education is high on their list of priorities, and industry and responsibility follow close behind.


Barbadians have a variety of traditions that are handed down from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth. Many traditions may be traced to Africa or Europe. For example, one Barbadian custom that was influenced by English settlers is the belief that saying "rabbit rabbit" on the first day of every month will ensure good luck for that month. Many Barbadian beliefs, however, are rooted in the country's own distinct culture. For example, a baby should be allowed to cry at times because crying is believed to help develop the voice. Children should not cry during the night though, because a duppy (ghost) might steal the infant's voice, making it hoarse the next day. It is believed that first born children, or children born on Christmas day, are destined to be stupid.

There are also many customs regarding funerals. It is traditional to bury the dead without shoes so that, when the duppy is walking around, it will not be heard. It is also considered unwise to enter a graveyard if one has a sore, as this will make it very difficult for the sore to heal. After returning home from a funeral, one should enter the house backwards to stop duppies from entering the house as well. Walking backwards is effective because once the duppy walks in your footsteps, it will be facing away from the door, and will be fooled into leaving. Opening an umbrella indoors is another method for inviting duppies into the house. Therefore, an umbrella should be placed unopened in a corner to dry.


The national dish of Barbados is coucou and flying fish. Coucou is a corn flour paste prepared exactly as it was done in some parts of Africa, where it was called foo-foo. Sometimes it is prepared with okra, which is allowed to boil into a slimy sauce. The corn flour is then added and stirred in, shaped into balls, and served with flying fish steamed in a rich gravy. Flying fish may also be fried in a batter or roasted.

Another traditional Barbadian meal is conkie, which is a delicacy in Ghana, where it is known as kenkey. Conkie is a form of bread made of Indian corn flour with sweet potato, pumpkin, and other ingredients. The dough is wrapped in the broad leaf of the banana plant, which is singed in boiling water and allowed to steam until cooked. Although conkie can be eaten at any time of the year, it is now eaten mainly at Independence time. Pepper-pot is another Barbadian specialty. It is a concoction of hot pepper, spice, sugar, cassareep, and salted meat, such as beef and/or pork, and is eaten with rice or another starch. This dish, too, originated in Ghana.

Another popular Barbadian dish is pudding and souse, traditionally a special Saturday meal. The intestines of the pig are meticulously cleaned and stuffed with such ingredients as sweet potatoes, pepper, and much seasoning and allowed to boil until cooked. Sometimes the blood of the pig is included in the ingredients. When this occurs, the dish is called black pudding. Souse is made from the head and feet of the pig pickled with breadfruit or sweet potatoes and cooked into a stew. It is usually served with the pudding.


Barbados is an island rich in forms of entertainment; songs and dance are the chief forms of amusement. Some of Barbados's traditional dance forms such as the Joe and Johnny dance no longer exist on the island, but the Maypole dance can still be found there. Many modern dance groups, influenced to some extent by African culture, have sprung up across the island. Nightly entertainment at hotels and clubs consists of a floor show of limbo dancing, folk dance, and live bands. Many talented performers dressed in colorful costumes provide professional and enjoyable productions at local theaters. The Crop Over festival features costume bands, folk music, and calypso competitions. Barbadian Americans often return home for these festivities, and they carry on these traditions in America whenever they have the opportunity to do so.


Barbadians refer to all of their holidays as "Bank Holidays." These include New Year's Day, January 1; Errol Barrow Day, January 21; Good Friday, late March or early April; Easter Monday; May Day, May 2; Whit Monday, usually in May; Kadooment Day, August 1; United Nations Day, October 3; Independence Day, November 30; Christmas Day, December 25; and Boxing Day, December 26. Many of these holidays are clearly religious holidays, influenced by the presence of the Anglican Church on the island. Good Friday is an especially important holiday in Barbados.

Until recently, almost everyone attended church services on Good Friday, which normally lasted from noon until three o'clock in the afternoon. All secular activities, such as card playing, dominoes, and swimming were avoided on that day. Women attending church wore black, white, or purple dresses as a sign of mourning for Christ's crucifixion.

There are many beliefs associated with Good Friday. One tradition holds that if the bark of a certain kind of tree is cut at noon on that day, blood oozes from the tree; another holds that before sunrise animals can be seen kneeling in prayer. Still another tradition teaches that if one breaks a fresh egg into a glass of water at noon and sets the glass in the sun for awhile, the egg white will settle into a certain formation, such as a coffin, a ship, or a church steeple. Each of these shapes is a sign of major importance for the future of the one who broke the egg: A coffin signifies death; the ship means travel; and the church indicates upcoming marriage.

Perhaps one of the most festive celebrations in Barbados is Crop Over, which was most likely influenced by the Harvest Festival of the Anglican church and the Yam Festivals of West Africa. Historical evidence indicates that as early as 1798 a manager of Newton Plantation in Barbados held a dinner and dance for the slaves, in celebration of the completion of the sugar-cane harvest. It was revived in 1973 as a civic festival.

Crop Over takes place during the last three weeks of June through the first week of July. The early portion of the festival is dominated by events in the rural areas: fairs, cane-cutting competitions, open-air concerts, "stick licking," native dancing, and handicraft and art displays. On the first Saturday in July, the celebration moves to Bridgetown. Sunday is known as Cohobblepot, and is marked by various cultural events and the naming of the Crop Over Queen. The finale occurs on Monday, or Kadooment, during which there are great band competitions and a march from the National Stadium to the Garrison Savannah. There Barbadians burn an effigy of a man in a black coat and hat called Mr. Harding, which symbolizes the ending of hard times.

It is not practical for Barbadians living in America to observe many of these holidays, but Christmas and New Year's, which are also holidays in America, are celebrated much the same way as they are in Barbados with overeating, drinking, dancing, and the exchange of gifts. Many Barbadian Americans return to Barbados for Crop Over.


It is said that at one time a Barbadian hardly spoke a dozen sentences without speaking a proverb. Barbadians still, without conscious effort, decorate their speech with proverbs. A few examples of these appear below. They were preserved by G. Addison Forde in his work De Mortar-Pestle: A Collection of Barbadian Proverbs, 1987: Duh is more in de mortar dan de pestle; If crab don' walk 'bout, crab don' get fat; Cockroach en' had no right at hen party; De higher de monkey climb, de more 'e show 'e tail; Donkey en' have no right in horse race; Don' wait till de horse get out to shut de stable door; Play wid puppy an' 'e lick yuh mout.


Barbadians, known as "Bajans," have a unique dialect, and it is said that no matter how many years a Bajan spends away from Barbados, he or she never loses the dialect, which is also called "Bajan." The use of standard English depends to a great extent on the level of education of the speaker, but even many highly educated Bajans use certain colloquialisms that are not used by other speakers in the Caribbean. In ordinary social settings, Bajans prefer to speak Bajan, but when the occasion warrants it, they slip into a language that is more nearly standard English. There are also regional differences in speech on the island. Especially noticeable is the difference in speech of those who live in the parishes of St. Lucy and St. Philip.

Bajan is a language much like the creole spoken in other areas of the Caribbean or in West Africa. Some creoles have an English base, while others have a French base, but each is a language. Some educators discourage the use of Bajan, but to discontinue its use is to rob Barbadians of a vital part of their cultural heritage. Even after spending many years abroad, Barbadian Americans continue to speak Bajan. Bajan has a distinctive accent whether spoken by white or black, or by educated or uneducated Barbadians. Among certain peculiarities of the language, pointed out by linguists, is the use of compounds that in standard English are redundant. Examples are "boar-hog," meaning boar; "sparrow-bird," meaning a sparrow; and "big-big," meaning very large. Although there are fewer words of African origin in the language than in some of the other creoles, such words as coucou, conkie, wunnah, and backra are definitely African in origin.

Family and Community Dynamics

Like most West Indians, Barbadians are family oriented. Any disruption to the family affects all concerned. Typically, the father is head of the home—he is the "boss." The roles of family members are clearly defined, and Barbadians follow them rigorously. There is man's work, woman's work, and children's work. Even though both parents might work outside the home, the woman is responsible for all domestic chores such as cooking, grocery shopping, laundering, and keeping the family clean. Children's chores include washing dishes, sweeping the house and yard, getting rid of garbage, and taking care of domestic animals. The father brings home the money to feed and keep the family, and he is often revered by the rest of the family.

The extended family is also a vital part of family life. Often, grandparents live in the home with their children and grandchildren. Aunts, uncles, and cousins, along with godparents and even close friends, may make up a family unit. Any disruptions, problems, or family changes affect all the members of the family. For example, a family member's departure because of marriage, a family feud, or to travel abroad is an occasion of tremendous concern for everyone.

Barbadians who immigrate to America do so for social, political, educational, or economic reasons. All come "to better themselves." Most Barbadian Americans leave behind spouses and/or children with promises to send for them as soon as possible. The separation puts a tremendous emotional strain on the family members, especially children who are often left behind with grandparents, other family members, or friends. Often it is the male head of the home who precedes the family, and when he arrives, he is faced with a reality that falls short of his expectations. The job he thought he would get evades him, and he must settle for one far below his abilities and qualifications, which places him in a lower wage bracket. Sometimes he finds himself doing menial jobs among disgruntled and even racist coworkers. He may become disillusioned and humiliated, and his self-esteem may sink to an extremely low level. Worst of all, the anticipated reunion of the family, instead of taking place as soon as possible, may have to be postponed indefinitely because of lack of funds and other problems. Despite these hardships, the Barbadian typically does not seek public assistance. He works hard to achieve his goal, and eventually, he is able to have his family join him. The younger members quickly adapt to their new environment and American lifestyles, while the older members maintain the values of home.

Many Barbadian Americans, however, arrive professionally and technically prepared for the job market. Others enter trade-schools, colleges, universities, and professional schools to be trained, and afterwards fill many professional and technical positions in this country. Some become lawyers, physicians, university professors, accountants, nurses, and professional counselors. They make outstanding contributions to American life and culture. Barbadian Americans, like other West Indians, are friendly people. They will go out of their way to render assistance to others. They interact well with such minorities as Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Central Americans, South Americans, Asians, and Europeans. On the whole, they integrate well into mainstream American society.


Most weddings in Barbados are performed in a church. Weddings are always held on Saturday because it is considered bad luck to get married on Friday. Traditionally, the bride wears a white gown and a veil. The groom, who arrives before the bride, sits in the front of the church with his best man. He is not supposed to look back until the bride arrives inside the church, at which time he stands and waits until she arrives at his side. A minister then performs the ceremony, which varies according to the wishes of the couple or the status of the family. At the end of the ceremony, the wedding party leaves the church and drives in a procession to the reception hall or house, honking their horns as they drive along. The uninvited guests usually leave their businesses and hang around the church or on the side of the road to see the bride. Several superstitions are associated with marriage. The bride must never make her own wedding dress, and it should remain unfinished until the day of the wedding; the gown's finishing touches should be done while the bride is dressing for the wedding. It is bad luck if the bridegroom sees the wedding dress before the day of the wedding; if it rains on the day of the wedding (especially if the bride gets wet); or if a cat or a dog eats any of the wedding cake.

"I left Barbados because the jobs were scarce. I decided to take a chance and come to this new country. There were a lot of us from the West Indies. We heard this was a good, new country where you had the opportunity to better your circumstances.

Lyle Small in 1921, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).


Because there is no record of the religion of the first settlers on Barbados, the Amerindians, the first documented religion on the island was the Anglican church. It is almost certain that the early slaves brought their religions from Africa to the island, but the absence of records deprives us of this information. At the time of settlement of Barbados by the English, Anglicanism was the state religion in England. It is not surprising that this religion was brought to the island and became the dominant church in Barbados for many years. The island was divided into 11 parishes in the seventeenth century, and today these parishes still exist. There is a church in each parish, along with other meeting places. Until 1969 the church was fully endowed and established by the government, and it enjoyed the privileges of a state church, with its bishops and clergy paid from general tax receipts.

In the seventeenth century, Irish indentured servants brought Roman Catholicism to Barbados, and Jews and Quakers were among other religious groups that also arrived on the island, followed by Moravians and Methodists in the late eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century the Christian Mission and other revivalist religions appeared, and today there are over 100 Christian religions as well as Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism in Barbados. Anglicanism has lost much of its religious influence, although it still claims 70 percent of the population, most of whom are nominal members. Barbadians who emigrate do not leave their religion behind them.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Like most immigrants, Barbadian Americans come to America to "better themselves" economically. At home, economic opportunities do not keep pace with population growth, and salaries and wages are deplorably low. Over 82 percent settle in the Northeast region of the United States, 76 percent in New York state alone. Some find occupation in professional and technical fields, but the vast majority work as clerical workers, operators, craftsmen, foremen, sales workers, private household workers, service workers, managers, officials, foremen, and laborers; a very few work as farm managers and laborers. To enter the job market, many accept lowpaying jobs they would consider beneath them at home. Except for the professional and technical workers, Barbadians' income is usually much lower than that of many other immigrant groups. Nevertheless, they make much more than they would at home. Because they believe in upward mobility, many Barbadians attend technical and professional schools and colleges, and they quickly qualify themselves for better paying jobs.

Politics and Government

Unlike most of the other Caribbean islands settled by Britain, for almost 350 years Barbados experienced unbroken British colonial rule. The country's government is structured after the British Parliament. The Barbadian Parliament consists of a Senate and a House of Assembly. Twenty-one senators are appointed by the Governor-general (the Queen's representative), 12 on the advice of the prime minister, two recommended by the opposition, and seven at the governor's discretion. In the House of Assembly there are a speaker and 27 members who are elected by the people. The term of office is five years. The main political parties in Barbados are the Democratic Labor Party, Barbados Labor Party, and the National Democratic Party.

Associated with Barbados politics are the names of such leaders as Sir Grantley Herbert Adams (1898-1971), first premier of Barbados and Prime Minister of the Federation of the Indies; and Errol Walton Barrow (1920-1987), Premier and first prime minister of Barbados. These men influenced the politics of the island. In 1954, when a ministerial system of government was introduced, Adams became the first premier of Barbados, and the island gained internal self-government. On November 30, 1966, under Barrow, Barbados became an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Barbadians have a passion for politics, especially Barbados politics. At home or abroad, two very important topics of discussion in which the vast majority of Barbadians engage are politics and cricket. It seems that the average Barbadian is more politically literate and involved than other West Indians. Their passionate love for their country is no doubt a major factor in their political involvement. Because of their pride in, and attachment to, their homeland, Barbadian Americans remain actively involved in the politics of Barbados. Many zealously continue to monitor changes and developments in government, and to support financially their favorite parties at home while demonstrating a passive interest in American politics.


Barbadian Americans passionately love their homeland. Barbadians never truly leave home and they keep abreast of developments there by purchasing American editions of Barbadian newspapers or by having copies mailed to them from Barbados. They actively correspond with family and friends at home who inform them of the latest events on the island. They also maintain ties with relatives and friends, many of whom they financially assist, and whenever possible, they spend vacations in Barbados.

Individual and Group Contributions


Prince Hall (1735?-1807) was an important black leader in the eighteenth century. Accounts of his birth, parentage, early life, and career vary, but it is widely accepted that Hall was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, in about 1735 to an English man and a woman of African descent, and that he came to America in 1765. Prince Hall was both an abolitionist and a Masonic organizer. Because of his organizing skill, a charter for the establishment of a lodge of American Negroes was issued on April 29, 1787, authorizing the organization in Boston of African Lodge No. 459, a "regular Lodge of Free and accepted Masons, under the title or denomination of the African Lodge," with Prince Hall as master. Prince Hall was also an abolitionist and spokesman. He was one of eight Masons who signed a petition on January 13, 1777, requesting the Massachusetts state legislature to abolish slavery and declaring it as incompatible with the cause of American independence. He was later successful in urging Massachusetts to end its participation in the slave trade. He established the first school for colored children in his home in Boston in 1800. Hall ranks among the most significant black leaders in his day.


As early as the 1670s, Barbadians have contributed to American government. Many prominent Barbadians immigrated to Carolina during that decade, among them was Sir John Yeamans, who became governor of the colony that is known today as South Carolina.

In the twentieth century, Shirley Chisholm, born in 1924 to Barbadian parents, became a politician of great stature in America. Although Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, she spent the first ten years of her life in Barbados, where she received much of her primary education under the strict eye of her maternal grandmother. She gave credit for her later educational success to the well-rounded early training she received in Barbados. In 1964 Chisholm ran for the New York State Assembly and won the election. She fought for rights and educational opportunities for women, blacks, and the poor. She served in the State Assembly until 1968, then she ran for the United States Congress. Chisholm won the election to the U.S. House of Representatives and became the first black woman ever to be elected to the House, where she served with distinction from 1969 to 1982. In 1972 Chisholm made an unprecedented bid for the Presidential nomination of the Democratic party. She was the first black and first woman to run for the presidency. She is also the founder of the chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women.


Robert Clyve Maynard (1937-1993), newspaper editor and publisher, was the son of Barbadian parents who immigrated to the United States in 1919. Robert was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up in the Bedford-Styvesant section. Although his parents insisted on sound study habits and strong work ethic, Maynard dropped out of high school. Nevertheless, at an early age, he developed an interest in writing, which he pursued. After a series of jobs with various newspapers, he became the first black person in the United States to direct editorial operations for a major daily newspaper in 1979, when the Gannett Company appointed him editor of the Oakland Tribune. As editor, Maynard also launched a well-received morning edition of the paper. In 1983 Maynard bought the Oakland Tribune, Inc. from Gannett, becoming the first black person in the United States to own a controlling interest in a general-circulation city daily, and the first big-city editor of any race in recent times to buy out his paper. His contributions to the field of journalism in America place him in the ranks of outstanding Americans.


Paule Marshall, daughter of Barbadian parents, occupies a prominent place in black literature. Shortly after the First World War, Paule Marshall's parents migrated from Barbados to Brooklyn, New York, where Paule was born in 1929. After graduating from college, she became a writer. Marshall's writing combines her West Indian and Afro-American heritages. Her novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, is about a Barbadian girl growing up in Brooklyn. Much of her work deals with life in Barbados where, as a child, she spent time with her grandmother.



Carib News.

In-depth weekly newspaper published for English-speaking Caribbean readers living in America.

Contact: Carl Rodney, Editor.

Address: 15 West 39th Street, 13th Floor, New York, New York 10018.

Telephone: (212) 944-1991.


Barbadian Americans do not own radio stations in America, but a few stations broadcast programs targeted toward English-speaking Caribbean audiences.

WLIB-AM (1250).

Located in New York City, this station broadcasts music, sports, and news from the Caribbean on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Telephone: (212) 447-1000.

WNJR-AM (1430).

Located in Newark, New Jersey, this station broadcasts music, news, sports, and interviews with wellknown Caribbean personalities. Focuses on Caribbean audiences, Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

Contact: Randy Dopwell.

Address: One Riverfront Plaza, Suite 345, North Newark, New Jersey 07102.

Telephone: (201) 642-8000.

WNWK-FM (105.9).

Also in Newark, New Jersey, WNWK broadcasts Reggae music, news, sports, and educational shows targeted to Caribbean audiences in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, 5 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday.

Contact: Emil Antonoff.

Address: One Riverfront Plaza, Suite 345, North Newark, New Jersey 07102.

Telephone: (212) 966-1059.

Organizations and Associations

Barbadian Americans maintain a limited number of local organizations in the larger cities where they live, and a national Barbados Association. Cricket is the national game of Barbados, hence in many communities in America cricket clubs compete on a friendly basis. There are also professional, social, and educational clubs organized by various groups. The Barbados Association has annual activities where Barbadians celebrate their Bajan heritage.

Sources for Additional Study

Beckles, Hilary McD. A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Nation-State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Caribbean Basin Commercial Profile, edited by Susan Kholer-Reed and Sam Skogstad III. Washington, D.C.: Caribbean Publishing Company, Ltd., 1994.

Frazer, Henry, et al. A-Z of Barbadian Heritage. Kingston, Jamaica: Heineman Publishers (Caribbean) Limited, 1990.

Hoyos, F. A. Barbados: Our Island Home. London: Macmillan Publishers, 1984.

LaBrucherie, Roger A. A Barbados Journey. Pine Valley, California: Imagenes Press, 1985.

Puckrein, Gary A. Little England: Plantation Society and Anglo-Barbadian Politics, 1627-1700. New York: New York University Press, 1984.

User Contributions:

Brandon Hardy
Great info.!!! I love this site!! There is no useless info. or anything!! Great JOB!!!!!

an MSMS student
Very indepth, and well written. It gives varied insight into life and the elements of what makes Barbados and Barbadians who they are. Thank you!
Cyrillene Felix
Great reading. I was looking for information on Barbadians in the Carolinas, but I did not see that in this article. If you know of this information please remit to me on Thank you kindly
wonderfull, totally enjoyed reading this, I've gotten new insight on my culture and in a couple of weeks, I'm going to Gullah for a few days .
I am from Barbados and I totally enjoyed reading about my homeland on this website. A very in depth, true, and informative article.
Joseph King
I believe that every Barbadian should be in possession of this information. Such information on the history of one's Island is a value to have. I am impressed.
Angela Mason
Great information. Thanks so much for this pivotal part of Barbados' history. I'm proud to be a Barbadian (Bajan).
This is very interesting and useful information.
Though can anyone help me with information regarding the history of housing in Barbados? What were the types of housing available where did they live? Caves? Huts? Would appreciate it if anyone can help me. thanks
I just happen to stumble accross this site looking for some beliefs and practices and I must say this is a well defined and indepth view on Bajans and the culture and I really enjoyed this. I will even recommed some of my friends to read up on my heritage for their benefit through your site. Thanks and keep up the good work.
I really enjoyed reading this site. My daughters are half Bajan, and I am starting to try to teach them some of there fathers culture. Which this site gave me alot to start with, so thank you. It has been a little tough trying to teach them something I know very little about.
I've traced English planter family history on the island from 1770-1893 when my family emigrated back to England. I came across this site by accident while looking for copies of old Barbados newspapers and researching Barbados history for a family biography. In particular I was looking for access to any remaining copies of the "Barbadian" which my 3x great uncle Abel Clinckett owned from about 1823 until his death in 1854. As I live in Australia local help in the regard would be appreciated.

I found the text and historical detail in this article clear, concise and easy to read. It has given me a better understanding of white settlement, the plight of the Africans and considerable information with which to commence my heraldic biographies. I commend the author.
claire holcombe
Excellent site my child we are a mixed race family barbadian and english, we learnt alot and laughed too made me understand things better
i've recently did a family tree search and found that i have a blood line from there. and it amazed me because certain things are the way i live: family, education,and house old duties to a certain degree. yes women help keep family clean, cause we all seen daddy moments with daugthers(lop sided pony tails) we really need help lol. but i dont agree with the women doing all house hold duties. i wish it where true. my wife always messes up my darks when washing, another lol!. but truth be told there where african queens who stood there ground and fought while men tuck there tail. but anyway love the site. and if therers anybody else out there that has info! hit ya kin folks! p.s. str8 from oakland, ca.
i've recently did a family tree search and found that i have a blood line from there. and it amazed me because certain things are the way i live: family, education,and house old duties to a certain degree. yes women help keep family clean, cause we all seen daddy moments with daugthers(lop sided pony tails) we really need help lol. but i dont agree with the women doing all house hold duties. i wish it where true. my wife always messes up my darks when washing, another lol!. but truth be told there where african queens who stood there ground and fought while men tuck there tail. but anyway love the site. and if therers anybody else out there that has info! hit ya kin folks! p.s. str8 from oakland, ca.
This is a great resource of info for me, much I did not know. I am of mixed race and have been trying to trace my ancestors who were brought to America as slaves and given as wedding gifts to the slave owners daughter. They were brought from Barbados to Barnesville Georgia maybe late 1700s to early 1800s. Our family name is Adams, and I never knew how we got that name, except my great great grand fathers name was Madison Adams, born in 1831, and I have been trying to solve the mystery for years. Are there any organizations that can help me trace them back to Barbados? Thank you so much.

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