Barbados Heritage


During the past week of May 7th – 12th 2024, Barbados hosted and welcomed home a contingent of Liberians for a time of celebration and exchange, in honour of the shared ancestral past. It was a poignant, soul-searching, reflective time as people conversed with each other, explored the island, engaged with the stories, embraced the spaces where their ancestors would have traversed, and enjoyed every moment of every event. There were a number of events, which were the staging grounds for these exchanges.

Here is some of the background to the Liberia settlement story. American authorities concerned for the numerical growth of Free Negroes in America, in an effort to control this development gave birth in 1816 to the founding of the American Colonization Society, which was originally known as the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States. This entity was founded specifically for the transporting of Free Negroes in America, to return to the African continent. In
the face of many setbacks the settlers pressed on and overcame the obstacles and in 1824, the settlement was successful enough to be named. Liberia was the name given and its capital, Monrovia.

The African west coast had lost many of its inhabitants to the vile system of slavery, as they were stolen away from their homelands as slave labour to the imperialist European nations, in this context Britian was that power. However, forty-one years later on April 6,1865, after the settlement of Liberia, the Brig Cora left the shores of Barbados for Liberia, carrying free men, women, and children who decided to make lives in Africa in an effort to rebuild the continent. The British end or emancipation of slavery had occurred in 1838 and these men and women were moving back to the continent, they had made that conscious decision. Many of these families are represented here on this journey today, they have returned to visit their ancestral homeland, to this place where their kidnapped ancestors were brought to Barbados as enslaved labour. However, today in honour of the ancestors, these descendants make this Sankofa Pilgrimage as free and accomplished people, some of whom continue to reside in the borders of Liberia and others across the world! WELCOME HOME … Barbados loves you!

Claudette Levi-Farnum
May 12, 2024

Barbados Heritage


Within this month of April, we celebrate the illustrious men and women whose contributions to this country Barbados reflect their love of and service to the development of the nation, some at the peril of death.

Since the year 1998, April 28, has been designated National Heroes Day.  The following Barbadians were named to this pantheon of heroes, marking, and celebrating some of the people who over the centuries have gone above and beyond in their service to country –

  • Bussa: ………………………… Unknown – 1816
  • Sarah Ann Gill: ………………… Feb. 16, 1795 – Feb. 25, 1866
  • Samuel Jackman Prescod: ……… 1806 – Sep. 26,1871
  • Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal: …… Nov. 30, 1879 – Nov. 19, 1936
  • Clement Osbourne Payne: ……… 1904 – Apr. 7, 1941
  • Sir Grantley Herbert Adams: …… Apr. 28, 1898 – Nov. 28, 1971
  • Rt. Hon. Errol Walton Barrow: … Jan. 21, 1920 – Jun. 1, 1987
  • Sir Hugh Worrell Springer: ……… Jun. 22, 1913 – Apr. 14, 1994
  • Sir Frank Leslie Walcott: ………… Sep. 16, 1916 – Feb. 24, 1999
  • Sir Garfield St. Aubyn Sobers: …… Jul. 28,1936 – Present
  • Robyn Rihana Fenty: …………… Feb. 20, 1988 – Present

Today, we salute their faithful contributions to the building of our country, Barbados.

A Symbol Of Hope, Freedom And Self-governance

Barbados Heritage


INTRODUCTION: This story is told of an enslaved woman who is said to have been born in Barbados in 1674, although there is an account which identifies her as being of Native American origins.  Allegedly, as a young woman she was taken from Barbados to the English settlement at Massachusetts Bay (the northeastern area that is the state of Massachusetts today) by her owner, Rev. Samuel Parris. She, along with two other women at the time, were accused of the dreaded crime of witchcraft, after which the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 – 1693 followed.

BACKGROUND: In the early English colonial world, the idea of witchcraft and the so-called practice of this sorcery, became an obsession across many settlements.  In the face of unexplained or misunderstood happenings or rather, perceived happenings, the seemingly pious and upright leaders of these societies accused and sought to punish ordinary settlers of practicing witchcraft or obeah.  From about the 13th century this alleged crime became punishable by death and at 80%, the accused were mostly women.  Additionally, in Europe from about 1500 – 1660, between 50,000 to 80,00 people suspected of being witches were executed by hanging or burning at the stake.  

Women Burned At The Stake – Some of the claims were unfounded but the accused were still executed.

A National Geographic article published in 2019, reports that in the 1590s due to his fear of witchcraft, King James I of Scotland stirred up national panic, which resulted in the torture and death of thousands.  In 1595, King James I claimed that due to the frailty of women, it was easier for the devil to ensnare them.  Therefore, women essentially became the victims.  These beliefs and fears would serve to indoctrinate and negatively impact British settlements across the world, having long lasting effects.  Therefore, the base of the story of Tituba would play out in 1692 but stem from the long-founded fears established  centuries earlier.

The Story: At the British colony of Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1692, accusations of witchcraft were said to have set off  hysteria, when Betty, the nine year old daughter of Rev. Samuel Parris and his niece Abigail Williams age eleven, allegedly started having unexplained fits.  As the narrative goes, after much prayer and home remedies, it was concluded that the girls were under demonic attack.  Following this conclusion, the girls were pressured to name the person who was responsible for their condition.  Under pressure they came up with the names of different women, which ultimately included that of Tituba, who, along with two other women would be examined by two local magistrates, John Hawthorne, and Jonathan Corwin.  The three women denied the allegations but under continued pressure, Tituba alone would later confess.  It is alleged that her confession was garnered after continuous beatings by her master Rev. Parris, inducing her to confess.  Her status as a black enslaved woman within that society rendered her at high risk for torture in the form of beatings by her master and execution by the authorities.  Therefore, in order to alleviate the former, and escape the latter, she admitted to the accusations that were laid against her.  The three accused women were taken into custody and imprisoned in Boston, awaiting trial.  Subsequently, the other two women were hung, leaving Tituba imprisoned.

During this time, other girls in the Salem community also displayed some of the same symptoms and it was suggested that some evil connection had to be the source.  As a result, other women of good standing, even members of the church were accused of witchcraft.  Nonetheless, with no evidence of wrong-doing, many of the residents at Salem were accused, convicted, and executed, many proclaiming their innocence up to the time of death.  This dilemma would wreak havoc across the community of five hundred. 

The outcome: Tituba would ultimately survive these awful circumstances.  There was a theory that those who confessed to the accusations against them were imprisoned rather than executed.  This provided a stay on death, and it was seen as a way to gather further information, using them as witnesses against other accused people.  This was reportedly a ploy to prolong their lives because it was noted that those who denied the allegations against them were swiftly judged as guilty and executed.  This was the result of the case against the other two women who had been accused at the same time as Tituba, despite their denial they were swiftly executed.  However, Tituba’s fate confined her to prison until a new buyer could be found to purchase her and she was apparently sold back into slavery to work off her jail bills.  As it relates to Rev. Parris, he was eventually forced out of the village.  There were some others who were involved in the harm meted out to the victims, and though they offered apologies for the roles they played and the injustices they perpetrated on the victims, they were still forced to leave.  Some of the accusers also admitted to their betrayal.

Conclusion: On January 14, 1697, Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered a day of fasting and remembrance for the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials and the lives lost as a result.  Nothing more has been heard of Tituba.  It is not clear that she ever made her way back to Barbados.  Although slavery was abolished in 1834 across the British colonies and full freedom achieved by 1838, she more than likely remained trapped in the system of slavery which continued to prevail in Massachusetts Bay and the other areas of that former British colony, which we know today as the United States of America, because by 1776 after a fierce period of war, they would win their independence from England.  As an independent, sovereign nation, the end of British slavery did not apply to them.

Barbados Heritage

Trapped In Slavery? – The Jonathan Strong Story

This account highlights the cruelty towards and suffering of Jonathan Strong and gives a glimpse into the workings of the British system of enslavement. This story, documenting his horrific experience is only but one such incidence that would be foundational to exposing the cruelty and dehumanization of the system of trafficking in humans for financial enrichment. The fight waged in the courts against the status quo would ultimately result in this becoming a pivotal case in British slave history, which would prove to be the beginning of the challenge to the very existence of the enslavement in Britain and across the British slave world.

Jonathan Strong was a strong, young, enslaved man, who was born in Barbados and owned by David Lisle, a British enslaver and lawyer. In 1765 Strong was taken to London by Lisle. While there he was severely pistoled-whipped by Lisle and left for dead on the streets of London. By the intervention of fate, Jonathan Strong was able to make his way to the offices of Dr. William Sharp on Mincing Lane. In his practice Dr. Sharp liberally granted his services free of charge to the poor of London.

Mincing Lane, London.
1765 – Dr. William Sharp’s medical practice was located on this street.
Credit: Wikipedia

On that fateful day in 1765, Granville Sharp, the brother of Dr. Sharp, was visiting his brother at his Mincing Lane offices, when Jonathan Strong came in for medical attention.

Granville Sharp and his first encounter with Jonathan Strong
Credit: Look and Learn

The brothers, being so horrified by his condition, were committed to his care and recovery. Dr. Sharpe had him admitted to hospital, where he remained for a number of months, after which they attended to his maintenance and care for four months until he was fit to find work. He would then be employed as an errand boy with a Quaker apothecary on Fenchurch Street, who was a friend of the Sharp brothers.

His worst fears were realized two years later in 1767, when David Lisle saw Jonathan on the streets of London and organized to have him kidnapped and thrown in prison. Having accomplished this, Lisle promptly sold Strong off to a
James Kerr, a Jamaican planter. Consequently, Jonathan languished in jail waiting to be transported back to the West Indies, to a life of enslavement. However, Jonathan got word to Granville Sharp regarding his situation and Sharp swiftly
went to his aid.

Granville Sharp visits Jonathan Strong in jail
Credit: Universal History Archive

Despite being threatened by both Lisle and Kerr, Sharpe would present his case before the Lord Mayor of London, seeking Jonathan’s release, arguing that there had been no wrong-doing on the part of the young man. Lisle would however argue that as his property, he was well within his right to do with Jonathan as he pleased. However, the Lord Mayor agreed that Strong had committed no crime and should be set free.

Granville Sharp and Jonathan Strong in a court room scene
Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

Jonathan strong would win his release but his health being permanently impaired from the beating he was subjected to from Lisle, he would succumb five years later, dying at the age of twenty-five years.

Barbados Heritage

Martin Luther King Jr. – Patriarch and Leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. in the 1960s

Today we at Discover Heritage Tours salute and celebrate the life and legacy of the great civil rights leader – Martin Luther King, Jr.  Today, January 15, 2024, would have been the 95th birthday of this great stalwart; this day in his honour falls this year on the actual date of his birth. He was and continues to be celebrated as a civil rights leader in the United States and across the world.  Following in the footsteps of his father and mother, he was active in that arena from about 1955 – 19608, when he was assassinated.  He gave his life to the cause in which he believed.  His commitment to the cause of civil rights for all people across the United States was born out of a providential mandate, a purpose, a call to service.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, political philosopher, and activist.  He was named after his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. who was also a Baptist minister and an early figure in the civil rights movement.  His mother Alberta Christine Williams-King, as an organizer, was also active in the civil rights movement.  Therefore, it is easy to see from where King, Jr. established his roots.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. (1899 – 1984)
Alberta Christine Williams-King
(1904 – her assassination in 1974)

It is interesting to note that these men were named after Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer.  If we believe that naming is critical to patterns of destiny, then this is not a coincidence but destiny.

The original Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany.  He was a German priest, theologian, author, hymn writer, professor, and Augustine friar.  Do you recognize any similarities to the life that Martin Luther King, Jr. would live hundreds of years later?    

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

According to Wikipedia, Martin Luther was the seminal figure during the Protestant Reformation.  A BBC article revealed that, “In 1510 he visited Rome on behalf of a number of Augustine monasteries and was appalled by the corruption he found within the church.  His disgust with the abuses and indulgences of the priests propelled his thinking and action related to the Catholic Church of the time.  He believed that “Christians are saved through faith and not through their own efforts.”  This belief structure would become the foundational structure of his life’s work.

Centuries later, Martin Luther King, Jr. would live a life that mirrored Martin Luther.  King, Jr. would pay the ultimate price for the service he gave to his country of birth and to the world – what a legacy and a life fulfilled!

Barbados Heritage

Heritage Month in Barbados – Slave Hospital

As Barbados celebrates Heritage Month for the year 2023, there are a number of activities on island, with a focus on the ‘Season of Emancipation.’

To this end, a project to restore an old building on the current site of the Grantley Adams Memorial School, formerly West St. Joseph Secondary was launched on Thursday June 8, 2023.

Some background to this historic space, according to Professor Sir Woodville Marshall et al, reveals that this plantation was established circa 1645 and the name was derived from the owner John Lucie Blackman, who inherited the plantation in 1708 from his great uncle Jacob Lucie. Prior to being renamed Blackman’s, at different points in time the estate was known as Apter’s Farm and Mount Lucie.

Remains of the slave hospital located in Barbados.

While the exact date of construction for the hospital has not been established, it is suspected that the hospital building was constructed sometime in the 1800s, preceding the 1838 emancipation of the enslaved. During this pre-emancipation period, the British parliament mandated the colonies to put measures in place to ameliorate the social conditions of the enslaved people. Therefore, this structure can be assessed to be approximately over one hundred and eighty-five years old.

Additionally, in a short address to the audience gathered at the launch site, Professor Sir Henry Fraser agreed that this structure at Blackman’s plantation and others like it were very likely constructed during the period of amelioration. Although the local legislature resisted the dictates of the British parliament, measures were eventually implemented.

Although this immensely valuable relic of history still stands stately on the grounds of the now transformed Blackman’s property, it has been abandoned over time, left to disrepair, without its roof, uncovered to the wiles of the elements, however, its strong walls remain in place. I look forward to the commencement of the work of restoration, when with the tender care of architects and builders, this hidden historical gem will be restored for the benefit, use and viewing of Barbadians and visitors to our fair shores.

Barbados Heritage

The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow – A Barbadian Hero

It’s the month of January, in which as a nation we celebrate the birthday of Errol Walton Barrow.  This day, January 21st is a national holiday in Barbados.  This holiday serves to celebrate and honour Barrow’s stellar contribution to the building of our island nation, Barbados.  Today, Saturday January 21, 2023, we celebrate what would have been 103 years since his birth. 

Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow
Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow (1889-1980)

Errol Walton Barrow was born in the parish of St. Lucy, the son of Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow, an Anglican Clergyman, and his wife Ruth Albertha O’Neale. At  this time, young Errol was the fourth child and second son born to the Barrows, a fifth child, a daughter, would complete this family.

Ruth O'Neal Barrow with her five children
Ruth O’Neal Barrow with her five children

Rev. Barrow served at the St. Lucy Parish Church from about 1915/1916 and due to his outspoken nature in tackling and speaking out against social issues, he was considered to be somewhat of a radical.  This resulted in him being ostracized and ultimately reassigned in 1919 to a pulpit in the island of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Errol was the product of a proud Barbadian middle-class family, who were very community oriented in perspective, a family who stood up for rights for all in the social order and very invested in the matters of life in colonial Barbados.  As a matter of fact, both the paternal and maternal sides of his family were very aware of and against the social inequalities existing within the society.  His maternal uncle, Charles Duncan O’Neal, attended the University of Edinburg.  There he pursued a medical career, at a time when that was not the norm for Blacks.  Like his family, O’Neale was extremely concerned about the state of affairs of Black Barbadians and after his studies he would return to Barbados, with the intention of making a difference.  His vision was to find and institute ways to move Barbados forward by lifting Barbadians toward a better life, by improved living conditions, and earning capacity.  His vision would be enacted by challenges to the status quo on the social and political scene.

Given his background, it is very easy to imagine him at the dining table or around the house as the adults discussed, argued, and commented on the topical issues of the day.  No doubt, his world view and ideologies were formed and shaped through his interactions with the environment into which he was born.

With this background, Errol Barrow followed in the footsteps of his family members to make a difference, and when the King of England called for all able-bodied British subjects to represent their sovereignty in World War II, he answered the call.

Sgt. Errol Walton Barrow - RAF Officer
Sgt. Errol Walton Barrow – RAF Officer

Errol Barrow served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) for seven years, from December 21, 1940, to October 9, 1947 – age twenty to twenty-seven.  He went into the RAF as an Aircraftman second class, the lowest position at the time, and rose through the ranks to become a Flying Officer and Navigator.

On leaving the RAF he read Economics and Industrial Law at the London School of Economics (LSE) and law at the Inns of Court.  Looks like a man with a plan, preparing to execute that plan.  He was now armed with the background and credentials that would equip him for the leadership role that laid ahead.  Between the RAF and his educational pursuits, he spent ten years away from home, and returned to Barbados in November 1950, ready to serve.

On his return, he immediately stepped into the political arena, joining the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) under Grantley Adams, and running as the candidate for the St. George seat in the 1951 election.  He was duly elected to the Barbados House of Assembly.

By 1955 though, Barrow had grown weary of what historians refer to as the ‘gradualist approach’ adopted by Grantley Adams, who was the President and leader of the Barbados Labour Party.  As a result, Barrow, and other like-mined politicians like him, who thought that Adams was too slow in his approach, challenged Adams.  They resolved that Adams could lead a greater push to implementing measures that would alleviate the poverty of the masses through social and political reform, and ultimately independence from British rule.  This divergence in beliefs and leadership style caused a rift in the party, a battle of opposing ideological forces.

He would ultimately part ways with Grantley Adams and the BLP in 1954.  This shift culminated in the withdrawal of members like Barrow himself, Frederick ‘Sleepy’ Smith, James ‘Cammie’ Tudor, TT Lewis, and others from the BLP.  On the night of April 27, 1955, twenty-six people met at “Glenhurst” Lands End, giving birth to the ideas that would culminate in the formation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

Errol Barrow - Politician and Man of the People
Errol Barrow – Politician and Man of the People

Errol Barrow would go on to fight against the prevailing status quo and under the banner of the newly formed Democratic Labour Party, he contested the 1956 General Election and lost his reelection bid for the St. George seat, while the party won four seats.  Barrow was not undone though, and it was in a bi-election in the parish of St. John in 1958, that Errol Barrow was resoundingly returned to the House of Assembly.  He held that seat until his death on June 1, 1987, representing the parish of St. John for twenty-nine years.

The winds of change would continue to blow across the political landscape of Barbados and during the 1961 General Elections, Errol Barrow and the DLP defeated the BLP, to solidify their position in the politics of Barbados, making a significant contribution toward changing the political and social terrain.

Errol Barrow would forge forward to lead Barbados into total self-governance as an independent nation, introducing many social programmes that would modernize the country.  These measures would initiate significant changes that would usher in real change, as Barbados developed from a colony to a nation.

The Right Honorable Errol Barrow - Elder Statesman
The Right Honorable Errol Barrow – Elder Statesman
Barbados Heritage

It is Christmas in this Caribbean Land

An Introduction

The Caribbean Christmas season has been built on traditions that were founded centuries ago. Although throughout the time of British slavery on the island the fanfare of Christmas was not led by the enslaved but by their imperial masters, the time was still one of some, though limited celebration. The gaiety and pure sweetness of the atmosphere during this time is phenomenal, as even the weather cooperates to bring an unexplainable feel to the season. The ingredients of winds that are strong and balmy, light rains that sometimes interrupt the brilliant sunshine and bring cooler days and
nights, all blend to create this wonderful feeling of Christmas!

Bajan family and friends look forward to the festivities! Gatherings are typified by traditional food, fun, lots of laughter and a general good time! This is the time people wait all year for … a simply joyous occasion!

Preparing The Old Time Christmas Way

Old time Christmases in Barbados were not too far removed from Christmas today, the customs have been pretty well kept over time and the scents and vibes retained. Traditionally, great attention is paid to preparing homes for the holidays, as Bajans spend time sprucing up their homes from months before. They paint, varnish, purchase new curtains, cushion covers are changed, new furniture
might be bought, fresh, new table-cloths will adorn the tables, and cutlery and glassware that never see the light of day any other time of the year will make an appearance. In bygone days, and before the advent of widespread electricity, oil lamps were cleaned, and their chimneys shined spotless with newspaper sheets.

Don’t forget the additions that are made to the wardrobe, as
preparations are set in place to attend church on Christmas morning and families are bedecked in their finest apparel, to meet the dawn of Christmas day. New dresses, suits, neck ties, shoes, stockings, socks, belts, and hats are on the lists of things to get.

The foods prepared still harken back to ancestral customs. Ham is a big number one part of the Christmas menu, also served is turkey, stuffed baked chicken with gravy and beef stew, green peas and rice, doved peas, jug-jug, sorrel, egg nog, accompanied by the traditional pies, cole slaw, vegetables, and salads. Absolutely sumptuous! Soft, fizzy drinks, port wine, sherry, rum, and other liquor are also the order of the day for anyone who passes by. These days the menu items can vary in individual homes, as family members living in other parts of the world may add a twist of different cultural flavours and items to the Christmas meal, introducing an international vibe!

Other Folk Ways

In days of yore, folktales relating to Christmas tell of the children bringing marl from the quarries or sand from the beach, to be laid down around the houses, a tropical representation of a white Christmas. Today, that is not typically done anymore. Additionally, back then the Christmas trees used were both of the natural and artificial varieties, with the artificial trees mostly being used. They
were kept and reused from year to year and those who could not buy a tree, would be creative and fashion one from some local trees like the cherry, bringing the same effect of Christmas into their homes. The ornaments on the trees were mostly homemade but over time many were store-bought. Christmas cheer was also spread from house to house as the men playing instruments and singing, known
as the ‘scrubbers,’ would be rewarded with some of the Christmas goodies. This in the currency of ham, cake, sweetbread, some kind of grog and the like. There was also more of an overall community spirit that existed back then, much of which is unfortunately lost today.

All Bajan Traditions Make Christmas Special

Traditions – lingering ones, forgotten ones, or newly minted ones, all create the allure of a beautiful Christmas in this tropical Caribbean paradise.

Have A Merry Christmas!

Barbados Heritage

The Road to Independence: We Made It!

During the month of November Barbados becomes alive with the excitement of celebrating independence, and this year, the nation celebrates fifty-six years as an independent nation. On November 30, 1966, the people of Barbados threw off the shackles of years of colonial governance, therein embracing the right to fully control its own destiny. That meant that the island was embarking on the journey to self-governance as a democracy within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

However, the road to independence and self-governance was a long, hard-fought one, strewn with the remnants of the battle, and fraught with the challenges presented by colonialism, and the struggle to become disentangled from that web of bondage. Barbadians held the desire to, as the national anthem so adequately states, become “firm craftsmen of our fate.”

This journey would take Barbados from emancipation, the work that freed Barbadians from slavery with the hope of equal rights for all, to independence, where the fields and hills of this nation and all within them would become the
property and domain of the people of Barbados.

After emancipation the social and economic circumstances on the island were dire. Political governance still held a strangle-hold on the ‘lower classes’ and this group carried the burden of struggle in an intolerant, change adverse society. However, despite the longstanding opposition to changing the status quo, change was destined to visit and dwell within these shores.

Early political leaders and fighters like Samuel Jackman Prescod, Charles Duncan O’Neal, Chrissy Brathwaite, and Clennell Wickham, were later followed on the vanguard by Grantley Adams, Errol Barrow, Wynter Crawford, M. E. Cox, Erskine Ward, Frank Walcott, John Martineau, Dr. H. Gordon Cummins, Hugh Springer, Frederick Smith, Edwy Talma, Cameron Tudor, and Ronald Mapp, to note some of the early players who shaped the society along the journey to independence.

These men would chart the course to modernize, first the political system to a ministerial and cabinet structure, and to also fight for the right of all Barbadians to vote without qualifications. So, by 1950 universal adult suffrage was achieved and the election of 1951 was the first under which all could vote. Voters did not have to own property of a certain value nor earn a specific annual income. All that was
necessary to qualify to vote was being a Barbadian.

By June 1966 the Barbados Constitutional Conference was called in England, holding discussions towards independence. On Thursday November 3, 1966, general elections were held, and the Democratic Labour Party was returned to power in a resounding victory. The movement toward independence was progressing and the date was set for Wednesday November 30, 1966. When the clock struck midnight, signaling the start of that day, Barbados would put off three hundred and thirty-nine years of colonial possession and rule, and be adorned in independence, that is to say, total self-governance.

So, on this fifty-sixth year of independence, we celebrate the struggles, lessons learned, and progress made, which have brought us to this point in time as a nation. In addition, on this occasion, November 30, 2022, we also celebrate one year as a Republic, as we continue to grow and move from strength to strength as a nation.

As the song goes, God bless Bim on independence day!

Barbados Heritage

Nidhe Israel Jewish Synagogue: The Scattered of Israel

As we look through the windows of history – We view the religious settlement of the Sephardic Jews, who constituted the first Jewish community to populate Barbados.  Although Historians report that there were Jewish people on the first boat bringing settlers to Barbados in 1628, the population was minor.  However, as the settlement at Barbados thrived, immigration grew, and so did the Jewish population on island.  With permission granted from England allowing for public worship, which resulted in the construction of the Synagogue in 1654, the community represented a more significant presence in the society.  Prior to 1654, Jewish public worship, like that of the Catholics and other religious entities was forbidden on the island.  The Anglican Church was the only religious entity with the right to conduct open, public worship, while the others were forced to meet in hiding, making many of the caves of Barbados their places of worship.  Three years later, this ‘right to worship’ would also be extended in London.   Unfortunately, during the Great Hurricane of 1831, the synagogue was damaged and rebuilt by March 1833, the year before the abolition of slavery was enacted.

Through persecution which caused them to be scattered, some of the early Jewish sect relocated to Amsterdam, which was a Dutch possession at the time.  From there they sought and received permission from the British to settle in Barbados.  Their journey then brought them from Amsterdam to Barbados.  They are known to have set up synagogues at Bridgetown and Speightstown.  However, the location of latter site remains an unsolved mystery, the solution to which is still being sought by historians and archeologists alike.  While resident here, they were very instrumental in the introduction, cultivation and grinding of sugar cane, producing sugar as a commercial crop.  This mercantile venture was significantly successful in making the English rich, resulting in Barbados being regarded as ‘the jewel in the British crown.’

Lower main floor of Nidhe Israel Jewish Synagogue
Lower main floor – Teacher’s desk

Many of the Jewish settlers in Barbados were successful merchants and actively contributed to the growth of the local economy.  Yet, they  suffered many setbacks and restrains, as they worked to build their lives.  This resulted in the diminution and final abandonment of Barbados, they all left.  Authors of the book, A – Z of Barbados Heritage, point out that vacating Barbados might have also been predicated on the fact that, “… from earliest times, Barbados was an intermediate stepping-stone for the Jewish Diaspora in the West, just as many English settlers or their sons moved to Jamaica, the Carolinas or New England, … while others [Jews] became Christians, anglicized their names and married into the planter and merchant classes …” (p.108).  Nonetheless, the restraints on them as ‘foreigners’ cannot be overlooked.  Religious freedom and the right to own property, could be regarded as consequential in the decision to leave Barbados, especially as what seemed like better opportunities presented themselves across the world.

However, all was not lost, even though in 1929, Edmund Baez, who was said to be the last surviving member of the Jewish community on the island, sold the synagogue for commercial use, by 1932 the arrival of Moses Altman, a Polish merchant of the Ashkenazim Jewish sect, would settle here and revive Judaism.  Today, those Jews who are still resident and practicing their religion here, are the descendants of this European sect who arrived in the early nineteen-thirties.  While, by 1679, there were some three hundred Jews resident in Barbados and about eight hundred in the 1700s, today there are significantly far less people constituting this community.