Arawak Indians originally inhabited Barbados but had disappeared by the time the first English settlers arrived in the 1620's. The forces of Oliver Cromwell captured Barbados in 1652, and in 1660 ownership passed to the English crown.

After 1650, thousands of slaves were imported from Africa to work the sugar plantations, and the island prospered. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but freedom brought few immediate changes for the blacks. The white minority retained political and economic control well into the 20th century. Barbados was made a British crown colony in 1885. It was granted independence in 1966 and became one of the most politically and economically stable countries in the Caribbean. A deep recession hit in the early 1990's, but the economy recovered following the introduction of an austerity program in 1994.