Barbados was uninhabited when the British arrived in 1625. They soon realised, however, that this wasn’t always the case. How could they know such a thing? Well, there was a bridge there for starters. And it was from this early, mysterious structure that Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, acquired its name.
The bridge of Bridgetown
The bridge is thought to have been built by the Tainos people, who were chased off the island by the Kalinagos (also of the Caribbean) several centuries prior to the arrival of the British. Occupation of Barbados is believed to stretch as far back as the 4th Century CE.
Moving forward, the Spanish and the Portuguese both dropped in for a visit during the 16th – 17th Centuries, though neither stuck around for long.
Then the British came (this was in 1625) and they immediately fell in love with the place.
The first British settlers arrived three years later, and from then on they came in their droves. Within 15 years there were 30,000 British people living on the island. Most were indentured labourers working on tobacco, ginger, and cotton farms.
In 1640 sugar cane was introduced to the island and rapidly became the primary crop of Barbados.
Slaves were brought in from Africa to work the cane fields. The proportion of British indentured labourers to African slaves soon hit parity. By 1700 the British farmers were outnumbered 3 to 1.
George Washington House, Bridgetown
Here’s a fun trivia question for you: What’s the only country George Washington ever visited outside of the United States?
George’s ancestor’s (or some of them at least) were Barbadans. The man who was to become the first president of the United States visited Bridgetown in 1751, when he was just 19. He spent two months in the house in the photo above (now part of Bridgetown’s UNESCO World Heritage listing).
George Washington is thus Bridgetown’s most famous resident, except, perhaps, for Rihanna – the singer was born in Barbados and lived in Bridgetown till she was 16.
Lord Nelson Statue, Bridgetown
Lord Nelson visited Barbados in 1805. The locals were apparently so impressed by this figure – in particular: his victory against the French in the Battle of Trafalgar – that they erected a statue in his honour in National Heroes Square.
Parliament Building, Bridgetown
The Parliament Building, located adjacent to National Heroes Square, and also part of Bridgetown’s UNESCO World Heritage listing, was erected between 1870 and 1874.
The clocktower you see in the photo above is a replacement structure built in 1884. It had to be rebuilt after the first clocktower sunk into a swamp.
Chamberlain Bridge, Bridgetown
Opposite the Parliament Building is a modest pedestrian bridge that makes its way over Constitution River with just the barest of ceremony. This bridge, known as Chamberlain Bridge, is situated in more or less the location of that early, mysterious bridge found by the British in 1625.
Chamberlain Bridge has gone on to become a symbol of Bridgetown. And rightly so in my opinion 🙂
Practical information and how to reach Bridgetown:
Bridgetown is serviced by Sir Grantley Adams International Airport with regular flights to the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and various Caribbean destinations. More transport info here.
Read more on Bridgetown in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.
And while you’re in town don’t forget a visit to nearby Brownes Beach.