Barbados, the second oldest settlement in the West Indies, has had strong links with the UK for centuries. Back in the seventeenth century, Sir James Drax transformed sugar cane into an industry, and at the time, Barbados generated more trade for England than all other colonies combined.
In the twentieth century and beyond, Barbados has been a destination of choice. Famous British names including the Cunard and Guinness families wintered there, Sir Anthony Eden hosted Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Noel Coward entertained Sir Winston Churchill. Today, it is home for Sir Cliff Richard and a second home for Lord Lloyd-Weber, Wayne and Coleen Rooney, Dave Whelan and Simon Cowell, to name a few.
Renowned for its clear blue waters and sandy beaches, and one of only three regular Concorde destinations, Barbados boasts many other outstanding charms. These include Sir Garfield Sobers, the greatest cricketer in the world; a statue of Lord Nelson in the capital Bridgetown that predates the one at Trafalgar Square; Mount Gay Rum, the oldest and possibly the finest rum in the world, and Rihanna, who among many other achievements is the most successful digital singles artist of all time.
As Barbados approaches the eve of its Golden Jubilee, a little-known fact is that the island had previously declared independence centuries before. Many are not aware that the preamble of the 1966 Barbados Constitution references a declaration of independence in 1651 and a 1652 Charter of Barbados, both of which were seminal to the development of democracy not only in Barbados but also in the United States and possibly other nations.
Following the English Civil War and the imposition (by the English Parliament) of trade restrictions on Barbados in 1651, the island declared both Charles II to be the lawful sovereign and independence from Cromwellian England. War on the island ensued and following the cessation of hostilities in 1652 due to a tropical storm, an agreement or ‘Charter’ was reached between England and Barbados.
The articles of the agreement were profound as for the first time they guaranteed to a colony “liberty of conscience in matters of religion, due process in the court of law, and that no taxes, customs, imports, loans, or excise shall be laid, nor levy made on any inhabitants without their consent of the General Assembly.” It was Barbados’s equivalent to the Magna Carta, and placed the island on the path to independence centuries before most others. It is the reason why Barbados has a Commonwealth parliamentary tradition second only to the UK.
A century later, these historic documents would influence a young George Washington who visited the island in 1751, and ultimately inform the drafting of the US Declaration of Independence. This fact emerged in the records of a 11 September 1968 State Banquet in Washington DC to celebrate the visit by the then first Prime Minister of Barbados, the RE Errol Walton Barrow. At the banquet, the then President Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “There are reasons for gratitude and friendship between our two countries. There is the Barbados that our fathers turned to when they were framing our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of our country [USA]. Barbados had its own Declaration of Rights as early as the year 1651 and we Americans were very grateful and very proud then to have drawn upon it in our own documents.”
Regrettably, notwithstanding the remarkable legacy of these historic documents, their power and influence was not sufficient to prevent slavery.
As people and as a nation, we need to interrogate our historic journey carefully and thoroughly, in terms of who we are, where we have come from, what we have struggled against, overcome and achieved, and ultimately, where we are going. To quote Sir Winston Churchill following the 50th anniversary of his death that we recently commemorated in the UK: “If you want to go forward, you have to be willing and able to look back.”
May the Creator continue to bless and guide Barbados and the UK. Happy Independence Barbados.