Readers of LawPundit : Bridgetown Barbados : George Washington : British and US Jet Setters : Origins of US Declaration of Independence

Fodor’s Online calls the vacation paradise Barbados the “most British” of the Caribbean islands. Nevertheless, Barbados has significant historical ties to fundamental American history as well.

(For the scholarly minded in this regard, see the Note, Liam Seamus O’Melinn, The American Revolution and Constitutionalism in the Seventeenth-Century West Indies, Columbia Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 104-159 [JSTOR], cited in a discussion of Calvin’s Case by Polly J. Price, Natural Law and Birthright Citizenship in Calvin’s Case (1608), Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities).

We were recently pleased to see that a LawPundit reader hails from Bridgetown, Barbados (Photo Gallery), the only city outside of the United States ever visited by America’s first president, George Washington. How’s that for an American connection? But wait – there are more.

Here is the flag of Barbados (linked from the US Department of State)


The history of Barbados is sometimes traced back only as far as the Arawaks, but previous inhabitants are referred to in the Wikipedia entry on Barbados:

The earliest inhabitants of Barbados were Amerindian nomads…. The first wave [of migrants] was of the Saladoid-Barrancoid group, who were farmers, fishermen, and ceramists that arrived by canoe from South America (Venezuela’s Orinoco Valley) around 350 CE. The Arawak people were the second wave of migrants, arriving from South America around 800 CE…. [T]he original name for Barbados was Ichirouganaim. In the 13th century, the Caribs arrived from South America….

However, there are mysterious rock drawings on the island which may predate that era. Indeed, new archaeological discoveries at Port St. Charles point to an earlier date. As written at the site of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade of Barbados:

The history of the early settlement of Barbados is being revised as a result of recent archaeological discoveries unearthed at the site of Port St. Charles [Port Saint Charles] in the northern parish of St. Peter. Artefacts and evidence point to settlement some time around 1623 B.C. … [emphasis added]

As concerns more modern history, Barbados was first “discovered” and named by the Portuguese Pedro a Campos in 1536 A.D.

As written at the site of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade of Barbados:

“The first English ship arrived on 14 May 1625 under the command of Captain John Powell. He claimed the island on behalf of King James I. On 17 February 1627, [brother] Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and ten slaves to occupy and settle the island. That expedition arrived at what is now called Holetown, formerly Jamestown, on the west coast of the island. The colonists established a House of Assembly in 1639, at that time only the third Parliamentary Democracy in the world.

Barbados today is still a member of the British Commonwealth.


The detailed CNN article, Barbados saves home where George Washington slept, gives us some amazing facts about Barbados [also called Little England or Bimshire, as home to the British (and now also US) jet set], including the fact that several million Americans can trace some of their roots to Barbadians, or as they are informally called, Bajans.


As written by Steven Knipp in From George Washington to Tiger Woods: An Enduring Bajan-American Love Affair, it is not surprising that Barbados holds a special place in American history down to the present day.


Barbados played a significant historical role in the formation of the United States (see My Barbados Blog, Barbados Free Press, The Barbados – Carolina Connection).

Knipp writes:

Two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee and Arthur Middleton, had major business interests in Barbados, and the man who printed the world-changing document was also originally from Barbados….

It was Richard Henry Lee who:

[P]ut forth the motion to the Continental Congress to declare Independence from England. which read (in part): Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

As Knipp tells us:

[M]any people think that the Americans were the first group ever to battle against British colonialism. But that is actually not the case. More than a century before the American Revolution, the planters of Barbados refused to support the ruthless Oliver Cromwell, and so Cromwell dispatched a fleet to crush them in 1652. Amazingly the Barbadians fought off the powerful British Navy. The Treaty of Oistins which finally settled the differences contains a clause that reads “no taxes, customs, imports or excise shall be laid, nor levy made on any of the inhabitants of this island without their consent in a General Assembly.” More than 120 years later, the exact same concept of “No Taxation Without Representation” was included in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. In fact, about half of the Treaty of Oistins had been directly incorporated into the Declaration of Independence.

We find the matter explained as follows at Run Barbados:

Oistins Town was formerly known as Austen’s town. It was here that the Charter of Barbados was signed on 11th January, 1652 at “ye Mermaid Tavern”. This treaty brought to an end, twenty-five years of squabbling between the Barbadian Royalists who were loyal to the English Crown and the Protectorates, who supported the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell. The charter, known as the Treaty of Austen’s, became the model after which the Declaration of Independence was later framed. Imbedded in the USA’s 1776 document are several articles of the Oistins Document.”

This is really a remarkable historical connection between the revolution and declaration of independence in Barbados in 1651 and the revolution and declaration of independence in the United States in 1776, more than 120 years later. Although not available online, see the very bottom of this posting for a book available from the Barbados National Trust which contains a copy of the Charter of Barbados.

A BBC radio presentation does give some essential historical background to the events in Barbados and England at the time of Cromwell, while a detailed presentation online at BBC History is made by Dr Karl Watson in The Civil War in Barbados

[Dr Karl Watson is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, University of the West Indies. He is the Editor of the Journal of the Barbados Museum, Secretary (Hon) of the Barbados National Trust, Chairman of the George Washington House Restoration Committee, and the Barbados/Carolinas Committee. His publications include, Barbados, The Civilised Island, A Social History 1750 to 1816, The White Minority of the Caribbean (with H.Johnson) and Old Doll, Matriarch of Newton Plantation.]

in which Watson writes:

Then on the 18th of February, 1651, a joint declaration of the Governor, the Council and the Assembly was issued. Its purpose was two fold, to indicate to the inhabitants of the island how much they ‘would be brought into contempt and slavery, if the same (that is, an English invasion) be not timely prevented,’ and to tell the English Parliament and public that Barbadians would not:

prostitute our freedom and privileges to which we are borne, to the will and opinion of any one; neither do we thinke our number so contemptible, nor our resolution so weake, to be forced or persuaded to so ignoble a submission, and we cannot think that there are any amongst us, who are soe simple, and soe unworthily minded,that they would not rather chuse a noble death, than forsake their ould liberties and privileges.

However, the revolution was not fully successful, and Barbados ultimately had to submit once again to British power, while nevertheless being granted some important unprecedented rights:

On 17th January, 1652, the Charter of Barbados setting out the conditions of surrender was ratified at Ye Mermaid’s Inn, Oistin’s Town.”

The historical connections and the importance of that “Charter of Barbados” are summarized at Lonely Planet:

In 1639, island freeholders formed a Legislative Assembly, only the second such parliament established in a British colony (Bermuda was the first). Barbados was loyal to the Crown during Britain’s civil wars and, following the beheading of King Charles I in 1649, Oliver Cromwell dispatched a force to establish his authority over Barbados. The invading fleet arrived in 1651 and by the following year Barbados had surrendered and signed the Articles of Capitulation, which formed the basis for the Charter of Barbados. The charter guaranteed government by a governor and a freely elected assembly, as well as freedom from taxation without local consent. When the British Crown was restored in 1660, this charter ironically provided Barbados with a greater measure of independence from the English monarchy than that of other British colonies.


Not only is Barbados of importance for the political history of the United States, but the Barbadians played an important role in the building of the Panama Canal, which still today is of eminent importance in world trade and transportation.

BARBADOS and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia

The highly prestigious Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia (online at has recently conducted archaeological digs in Bridgetown for the period of the Founding Fathers.

Barbados Forum has the following posting of extreme value for its references, including a book containing the Charter of Barbados :


The books I’ve published since retirement (I have to keep my mind active!) are edited and annotated versions of ancient texts referring to West Indian history and the history of Barbados in particular.

The True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados is an annotation of Richard Ligon’s 1657 publication of the same name and was the first published history of Barbados. My version thereof was published by The Barbados National Trust in 2000. It is available for purchase from the Trust.

The English Civil War in Barbados, 1650-1652 comprises annotations of several publications relating to the effects of the English Civil War in Barbados and contains The Charter of Barbados signed at the Mermaid Tavern, Oistins, in 1652. (Published 2001, The Barbados National Trust and available from the Trust). [emphasis added by LawPundit]

The Voyage of Sir Henry Colt to the Islands of Barbados and St Christopher, May-August 1631 is an annotation of the Journal kept by Colt during his voyage. It was published in 2002 by The Barbados National Trust and is available from the Trust.

On the Treatment and Management of the more common West-India Diseases, 1750-1802 is an annotated compilation of several works relating to the medical treatment and care of slaves in the West Indies. It was published in January 2006 by the University of the West Indies Press and is available from the University Bookshops in the West Indies and also from


Note that the Barbados National Trust may have these books available (see here for contact address), but they are currently not listed at their website.

Other Useful Links are:
Fun Barbados
Visit Barbados
Trip Advisor, Barbados
GOBINET (Government of Barbados Information Network)
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados
Oliver Cromwell
Doyle Clan – Cromwell Devastates Ireland

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