Barbados is a sovereign island country in the Lesser Antilles, in the Americas. It is 21 miles (34 kilometers) in length and up to 14 miles (23 km) wide, covering an area of 167 square miles (432 km²). It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 62 miles (100 km) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea. Barbados is outside of the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. Its capital is Bridgetown. The name Barbados is either the Portuguese word Barbados or the Spanish equivalent los Barbados, both meaning “the bearded ones”. It is unclear whether “bearded” refers to the long, hanging roots of the bearded fig-tree (Ficus citrifolia), indigenous to the island; or to the allegedly bearded Caribs once inhabiting the island; or, more fancifully, to a visual impression of a beard formed by the sea foam that sprays over the outlying reefs.
Amerindian settlement of Barbados dates to about the 4th to 7th centuries AD. Some evidence suggests that Barbados may have been settled in the second millennium BC, but this is limited to fragments of conch lip adzes found in association with shells radiocarbon-dated to c. 1630 BC. Fully documented Amerindian settlement dates to between about 350 and 650 AD. The arrivals were a group known as the Saladoid-Barrancoid from mainland South America. A second wave of settlers appeared around the year 800 (the Spanish referred to these as “Arawaks”) and a third in the mid-13th century — the Kalinago — arrived from South America (called “Caribs” by the Spanish). This last group was politically more organised and came to rule over the others.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the island in about the year 1500. The Portuguese navigator Pedro a Campos named it Los Barbados. It first appeared in a Spanish map in 1511. The Portuguese visited the island in 1536, but they left it unclaimed, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. Frequent slave-raiding missions by the Spanish Empire in the early 16th century led to a massive decline in the Amerindian population, so that by 1541 a Spanish writer could claim they were uninhabited. The Amerindians were either captured for use as slaves by the Spanish or are believed to have fled fled to other, more easily defensible mountainous islands nearby. Apart from possibly displacing the Caribs, the Spanish and Portuguese made little impact and left the island uninhabited. Some Arawaks migrated from British Guiana (modern-day Guyana) in the 19th century and continue to live in Barbados.
From about 1600 the English, French and Dutch began to found colonies in the North American mainland and the smaller islands of the West Indies. While it’s said that English Captain Simon Gordon may have made a brief landing in 1620, it wasn’t until 14 May 1625 that the trading ship Olive Blossom (pictured on today’s stamp) landed at St. James Town (present-day Holetown). This ship was captained by John Powell who had been blown off-course while en route to England from South America. A cross inscribed “for James K. of E. and this island” was erected, a few possessions were left on Barbados, and Powell continued his journey.
James Powell’s younger brother Henry arrived on 17 February 1627 as captain aboard the William and John, along with eighty English settlers and ten African slaves captured at sea. He established the settlement at Jamestown and Sir William Courten, a powerful Dutch merchant operating from London, was given proprietary ownership. A year later the capitol was moved to Bridgetown. There were earlier English settlements in The Americas (1607: Jamestown, 1609: Bermuda, and 1620: Plymouth Colony), and several islands in the Leeward Islands were claimed by the English at about the same time as Barbados (1623: St Kitts, 1628: Nevis, 1632: Montserrat, 1632: Antigua). Nevertheless, Barbados quickly grew to become the third major English settlement in the Americas due to its prime eastern location.
The House of Assembly was established in 1639 and Barbados remained a self-governing colony until a constitutional monarchy was declared in 1966. In the period from 1640 to 1660, the West Indies attracted over two-thirds of the total number of English emigrants to the Americas. By 1650 there were 44,000 settlers in the West Indies, as compared to 12,000 on the Chesapeake and 23,000 in New England. Most English arrivals were indentured. After five years of labor, they were given “freedom dues” of about ₤10, usually in goods. Before the mid-1630s, they also received 5 to 10 acres of land, but after that time the island filled and there was no more free land.
Around the time of Cromwell a number of rebels and criminals were transported to Barbados. Timothy Meads of Warwickshire was one of the rebels sent to Barbados at that time, before he received compensation for servitude of 1000 acres of land in North Carolina in 1666. Parish registers from the 1650s show, for the white population, four times as many deaths as marriages. The death rate was very high.
Before this, the mainstay of the infant colony’s economy was the growth export of tobacco, but tobacco prices eventually fell in the 1630s, as Chesapeake production expanded, The introduction of sugar cane from Dutch Brazil in 1640 completely transformed society and the economy. Barbados eventually had one of the world’s biggest sugar industries. As the effects of the new crop increased, so did the shift in the ethnic composition of Barbados and surrounding islands. The workable sugar plantation required a large investment and a great deal of heavy labor. At first, Dutch traders supplied the equipment, financing, and African slaves, in addition to transporting most of the sugar to Europe.
In 1644 the population of Barbados was estimated at 30,000, of which about 800 were of African descent, with the remainder mainly of English descent. These English smallholders were eventually bought out and the island filled up with large African slave-worked sugar plantations. By 1660 there was near parity with 27,000 blacks and 26,000 whites. By 1666 at least 12,000 white smallholders had been bought out, died, or left the island. Many of the remaining whites were increasingly poor. By 1680 there were 17 slaves for every indentured servant. By 1700, there were 15,000 free whites and 50,000 enslaved blacks.
By 1660, Barbados generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined. This remained so until it was eventually surpassed by geographically larger islands like Jamaica in 1713. As the sugar industry developed into its main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates that replaced the smallholdings of the early English settlers. In 1680 over half the arable land was held by 175 large planters, each of whom held at least 60 slaves. The great planters had connections with the English aristocracy and great influence on Parliament. So much land was devoted to sugar that most food had to be imported from New England. The poorer whites who were moved off the island went to the English Leeward Islands, or especially to Jamaica. In 1670, the Province of South Carolina was founded, when some of the surplus population again left Barbados. Other nations benefiting from large numbers of Barbadians included British Guiana and Panama.
The British Post Office established a Packet Agency on Barbados, in Bridgetown, during the reign of Charles II in 1663. The Agency at first relied on casual ships to carry the mail. In 1702 Edmund Dummer started a monthly service from Falmouth, changing to Plymouth in 1705. The return trip took three to four months. The service ended in 1711 when Dummer became bankrupt. In the previous nine years Dummer had lost two packets at sea and had seven captured by the Spanish. In 1711 his remaining seven packets were seized by creditors and the service lapsed. The Packet Agency again had to use casual ships to carry the mail until 1745 when a service, based on Dummer’s original plans, was reintroduced by the Post Office.
Postal markings first appeared on mail from Barbados in the 1760s. At the time the name of the colony was spelt ‘Barbadoes’, this lasted till about 1850.
The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, but not the institution itself. In 1816, slaves rose up in the largest major slave rebellion in the island’s history, of 20,000 slaves from over 70 plantations. They drove whites off the plantations, but widespread killings did not take place. This was later termed “Bussa’s Rebellion” after the slave ranger, Bussa, who with his assistants hated slavery, found the treatment of slaves on Barbados to be “intolerable”, and believed the political climate in Britain made the time ripe to peacefully negotiate with planters for freedom. Bussa’s Rebellion failed. One hundred and twenty slaves died in combat or were immediately executed, and another 144 were brought to trial and executed. The remaining rebels were shipped off the island.
In 1826 the Barbados legislature passed the Consolidated Slave Law, which simultaneously granted concessions to the slaves whilst providing reassurances to the slave owners. Slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire 18 years later, in 1834. In Barbados and the rest of the British West Indian colonies, full emancipation from slavery was preceded by an apprenticeship period that lasted four years.
The British Post Office was responsible for the internal postal system until 1 August 1851 when it was handed over to the Barbados Legislature. The British continued to operate the Packet Agency, for overseas mail, till 1858. So during this period, 1851 to 1858, there were two separate post offices on the island. Postage rates during this period were set at one penny per half ounce. Newspapers published in Barbados were post-free; other printed matter was charged a halfpenny. Barbados was the first British Colony to have a halfpenny rate; even preceding the Great Britain 1870 issue. The packet rate for letters to Great Britain was six pence per half-ounce. The rate for letters to other islands in the West Indies was four pence plus one penny if not posted at the Post Office plus another one penny if the letter was delivered and not collected at the Post Office of destination.
Unlike several other British Colonies, Barbados did not use British stamps at any time. In order to save on die costs, the stamp order for Barbados was combined with that of Mauritius and Trinidad. Each colony had the same ‘Britannia’ design with different wording. The design is based on a watercolour by Henry Corbould and it is believed to have been engraved by Frederick Heath. Henry Corbould provided the sketch from which the Penny Black was engraved. The first despatch of ½ pence green and 1 penny blue stamps was sent on 30 December 1851 on board the RMS Amazon; the vessel was lost at sea and failed to reach the island. Further supplies were sent in January and February 1852 including a 2 pence greyish slate. The local Post Office was opened on 15 April 1852 and these stamps went on sale the same day. The stamps did not show the denomination. The 2d greyish slate stamp is known bisected and used as a one-penny stamp, these were authorised for use during a shortage of 1d stamps between 4 August 1854 and 21 September 1854.
Sometime after January 1855 a supply of 4 pence red-brown ‘Britannia’ stamps were made available in the Barbados Post Office. Although at the time the island authorities were not responsible for external mail it would appear that they had decided to facilitate payment for letter going to the other West Indies islands.
The British Packet Agency office was amalgamated with the Barbados Post Office in 1858. Six pence red and one-shilling brown-black stamps were ordered and sent to the island in October 1858. These stamps did show the value. Up till 1860 all the stamps were imperforate; from 1860 the stamps were supplied perforated. In 1873 two new values were supplied a three pence and a five shilling stamp. It is believed that the purpose of the three-penny stamp was to pay for postage to Great Britain by vessels other than the regular mail packets. The five-shilling stamp was not intended for any special rate and was used on heavy postal packets.
There was an unexpected shortage of the one-penny stamps in March 1878. To remedy the situation five-shilling stamps were overprinted 1d twice and perforated vertically. They were printed and perforated locally by the West Indian Press. Post Office staff then cut off the value tablets from the bottom of horizontal strips of 12 surcharged five-shilling stamps. A total of 9,600 provisional 1 penny stamps were produced.
In 1874 the Barbados stamp-printing contract was terminated with Perkins Bacon & Company and given to Thomas de la Rue & Company. De la Rue made use of the plates handed to them to print further supplies of stamps. Halfpenny green, one-penny red, two and halfpence blue and four-penny grey stamps were ordered in February 1882 and were issued on 28 August 1882. In September 1884 the order for stamps by the island Post Office included three-penny purple and four-penny brown. An order for stamps in June 1886 included the six-penny black, one-shilling brown and a five-shilling bistre. In July 1892 a surplus of four-penny brown stamps were overprinted HALF-PENNY. The printing was done by the West Indian Press.
In 1884, the Barbados Agricultural Society sent a letter to Sir Francis Hincks requesting his private and public views on whether the Dominion of Canada would favorably entertain having the then colony of Barbados admitted as a member of the Canadian Confederation. Asked from Canada were the terms of the Canadian side to initiate discussions, and whether or not the island of Barbados could depend on the full influence of Canada in getting the change agreed to by the British Parliament at Westminster.
In 1952 the Barbados Advocate newspaper polled several prominent Barbadian politicians, lawyers, businessmen, the Speaker of the Barbados House of Assembly and later as first President of the Senate, Sir Theodore Branker, Q.C. and found them to be in favor of immediate federation of Barbados along with the rest of the British Caribbean with complete Dominion Status within five years from the date of inauguration of the West Indies Federation with Canada.
However, plantation owners and merchants of British descent still dominated local politics, owing to the high income qualification required for voting. More than 70 percent of the population, many of them disenfranchised women, were excluded from the democratic process. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Progressive League in 1938, which later became known as the Barbados Labour Party.
Adams and his party demanded more rights for the poor and for the people, and staunchly supported the monarchy. Progress toward a more democratic government in Barbados was made in 1942, when the exclusive income qualification was lowered and women were given the right to vote. By 1949 governmental control was wrested from the planters, and in 1958 Adams became Premier of Barbados.
Barbados attained self-government on 16 October 1961 and independence within the Commonwealth on 30 November 1966, with Errol Barrow its first Prime Minister, although Queen Elizabeth II remained the monarch. Upon independence Barbados maintained historical linkages with Britain by becoming a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. A year later, Barbados’ international linkages were expanded by obtaining membership of both the United Nations and the Organization of American States. An independence issue was issued in 1966 which included stamps of the Hilton Hotel and cricketer Gary Sobers.
Due to their colonial history and connection to the United Kingdom, even after independence, Barbados is sometimes referred to as Little England. Currently, it has a population of 280,121 people, predominantly of African descent. Despite being classified as an Atlantic island, Barbados is considered to be a part of the Caribbean, where it is ranked as a leading tourist destination. Forty percent of the tourists come from the United Kingdom, with the United States and Canada making up the next large groups of visitors to the island. In 2014, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Barbados joint second in the Americas (after Canada, equal with the United States) and joint 17th globally (after Belgium and Japan, equal with the U.S., Hong Kong and Ireland).
Scott #109, honoring the Olive Blossom landing, was released on 15 August 1906. It was unusual for it’s time in that it was designed by a woman, Lady Gertrude Carter. She was the wife of Sir Gilbert Thomas Carter who had been appointed governor and commander in chief of Barbados in 1904 following a similar position in Bermuda. Lady Carter actually designed and built Ilario House which served as the governor’s mansion and is still used as the prime minister‘s residence today. Interestingly enough, their grandson — Nicholas Carter — became the president of the American Philatelic Society in 2007 but sadly passed away a year later. An award has been named in his honor “recognizing the hard-working individuals who have contributed their time, talents, and energies to benefit both the hobby of stamp collecting and the APS.”
Printed in the three colors of black, green and blue — again, unusual for the time. Engraved by de la Rue & Company, the stamp was printed on paper watermarked with sideways multiple crowns and letters CA and is perforated 14. You’ll notice that the years “1605-1905” are erroneous. Many books on Barbadian history gave the wrong year for the landing of the Olive Blossom. Even the monument erected at Holetown in November 1905 gives the wrong year! One of the most noted American stamp dealers of the twentieth century, Herman Herst Jr. — author of numerous books promoting the hobby and who issued his own local post stamps — had become intrigued with Scott #109 as a boy. He liked it so much that he made the stamp his trademark and a huge painting of it sat beside the driveway at his home in Shrub Oak, NY. He did make a slight adaptation, however, painting out “Barbados” and adding “Herst” in it’s place.
Barbados has a very conservative stamp-issuing policy today, usually releasing no more than four issues a year with a new set of definitives every five to seven years. This is one country that I avidly collect and have amassed a nice collection. The engraved issues of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are especially nice with many watermark and other varieties to keep the specialist busy.