Birds on Barbuda

Barbuda is part of a three-island state with Antigua and Redonda in the north-eastern Caribbean. On Barbuda you will find one small village community on a large island that has been virtually untouched by tourism. It is world renowned for its beaches which are natural, many miles long and often sprinkled with pink sand. Here is a map of where we are and a satellite image at the bottom of the page where you can see the large lagoon to the west, the salt ponds and flashes to the north, and the central location of the only village – Codrington.

Barbuda was listed by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the top ten destinations to watch in 2016 and continues to be of interest to independent travellers from all over the world.

family on Beach

Barbuda’s social and political history is fascinating and complex, from the first people who used canoes to travel to the island, through the Codrington family years and their trade in slaves, to the more recent troubled relationship with the government in Antigua. On this page we tell some of the story so far..

The first people

The archaeological investigations of David L Watters (1978-9) unearthed evidence of Archaic Age peoples being present in the River area of Barbuda. The sites suggested human habitation around 3685 bc, and it was around this time that the sand dunes began to form in the Palmetto area. More recent excavations have been undertaken at Seaview and other areas of the island. There are many Ceramic Age sites found throughout the eastern parts of the island – the most significant settlements occurred in the latter part of the first millennium. Amerindian sites have been found in Suffra in the Spanish Point area of the island, and Indian Town, near Two Foot Bay. See the article ‘Amerindian Presence’ for details of this and other research on Barbuda.
Caribs originating from Dominica and St Vincent made regular incursions to Barbuda and during this period Barbuda was given the name ‘Wa’omoni’ by the Caribs. In 1493 Columbus passed through the Eastern Caribbean south of Antigua but it’s not clear whether he had any contact with Barbuda. In the early days attempts to settle the Caribbean islands were continually being made by seafarers from Europe – including the Dutch, the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese and the English. There were regular incidents between them and lawlessness in an area they described as ‘beyond the line’. The risk of pirates and privateers, the hot climate, dangerous hurricanes, extreme poverty and unfamiliar surroundings all took their toll on the settlers, making their early attempts mostly unsuccessful. Many of the first to go to the Americas were travelling as indentured servants, often the rural poor escaping extreme poverty in England. Later, prisoners were sent abroad and others left to escape the British Civil war. Over the next one hundred and fifty years a third of all who came here are said to have died within three years of arriving.

On Barbuda Captain Smith and John Littleton attempted to colonise Barbuda from St Kitts, under a Letters Patent issued to the Earl of Carlisle in 1625. In these Letters Patent, Barbuda was named Barbado. This attempt at colonisation failed as a result of fierce Carib resistance but further early settlers called Barbuda Dulcina and by 1666 the village of Codrington had been established as the main residential centre.

This period sees the advent of successful European settlement of the Caribbean as a whole, and eventually on Barbuda. The first Christopher Codrington was an English aristocrat who went to Barbados in the 1630’s and there married Frances Drax, the daughter of another planter family with considerable estates in the West Indies. The first member of the Drax family had gone to Barbados from Coventry in Warwickshire in the UK as an 18 year old – buying land and becoming one of the first families to move from tobacco and cotton growing to sugar produced by African slaves. After Barbados the Codrington family expanded their interests to Antigua and established Betty’s Hope plantation there, eventually at over 850 acres it had almost three hundred slaves and was one of the largest in the Caribbean. Over more than four generations the Codrington family established themselves as plantation owners and slave traders, becoming a wealthy and powerful political family both in the Caribbean and in England, as a result of their profits from sugar.

Christopher and John Codrington were both born in the West Indies, and inherited land in Barbados from their father. They were granted the first 50 year lease for Barbuda by King Charles II on 9 January 1685. The rent ascribed to the lease was ‘one fat sheep yearly if demanded’. During this period Barbuda was established as a provisioning station, growing crops and providing most of the supplies for the Codrington estates in Antigua and Barbados. The Africans who were brought to Barbuda are known to have come from the Ibo, Yoruba, and Ejo tribes of Nigeria, from Ghana, Gambia, and from Sierra Leone.

John Codrington died at 46 years old and Christopher became Governor of the Leeward Islands, a reward for establishing English supremacy in an area still constantly threatened by invasion, especially from France, and he took up more land in St Kitts. Queen Anne renewed and extended the lease of Barbuda for 99 years to Christopher Codrington the third, Christopher’s son, on 5 June 1705. Although he was born in Barbados he was sent to school in England, and then studied at Oxford before going back to the Caribbean as an army officer.

Christopher was constantly ill on his return and died in 1710. In the book by Mathew Parker ‘The Sugar Barons – Family, Corruption, Empire and War’ (Windmill Books 2011) he writes, ‘The will, dated 22nd February 1703, revealed how immensely rich he was; it is no surprise he was considered the wealthiest man in the West Indies.’ Christopher Codrington bequeathed certain areas of Barbuda to the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’, a Church of England society that owned slaves. The produce and the profit from these areas were to be used for the maintenance and upkeep of Codrington College in Barbados. Thereafter the family line decended through John Codrington, who became Treasurer of Barbados and Colonel of the island’s Life Guards. John’s eldest son William was created 1st Baronet of Dodington in 1721 and inherited two further Antiguan estates, ‘The Cables’ and ‘Cotton Estate’. (William also bequeathed to his third son, Christopher Bethell, the Antiguan estate known as ‘Rooms’ and to his fourth son, Edward the ‘Folly’ estate. Edward later purchased the estates of Bolans and Jennings).

The first comprehensive written record of these early inhabitants of Barbuda comes from information contained in the Letter and Memorandum Book of Sir William Codrington 1715 – 1790. William was the main beneficiary of Christopher’s will, inheriting Dodington House in the UK, Betty’s Hope and the land in St Kitts. One entry begins with the statement ‘a list of what white servants, negroes, cattle, and horses that I have now at Barbuda – July 27th 1719’. The book provides an extensive record of the African slaves who are the ancestors of present-day Barbudans, including names, gender, and age group. The white servants originated mainly from the United Kingdom and arrived via other Caribbean islands. The stock included cattle, horses, hogs, goats, and sheep. Details of the population were as follows:

Barbudans were skilled in all manner of trades including shipwrights, hunters, house carpenters, wheelwrights, collar makers and saddlers, shoemakers, sail and pipemakers, and tanners, and the list of 1756 identifies Cubba, a woman, as ‘doctress’. A 1761 list valued 13 Barbudan slaves at prices ranging from £5 to £165. Here we have the first appearance of current surnames including Jack Punter, Joe Mapps, Jeff Frank, Will Beazer, Bess Beazer, Tom Teague, Sam Rose, and Will Bayley.

The first record of a slave resistance and rebellion in Barbuda – Beach’s Rebellion – arose as a consequence of manager Thomas Beach’s ‘cruel and tyrannical’ behaviour. Several head of cattle were slaughtered, damage was done to the Codrington’s property and equipment and ‘negroes runaway and absent themselves’ from work.

Later Governor Macknight was assassinated during a slave uprising, and as a result two slaves were hanged and one committed suicide. Bethell Codrington was reported to have been involved in agitating against Governor Macknight as Codrington was said to have had ‘liaisons’ with a ‘mulatto woman’ and Barbudans assert that these ‘liaisons’ have led to descendants of the Codrington family being present in the population to this day.

A map from this period indicates

  • substantial buildings in the Highland area
  • a castle in Codrington
  • a fort at River, now known as the Martello Tower
  • houses at Palmetto, Cocoa Point, and Castle Hill
  • eight catching pens
  • several defensive cannon gun battery units in the south, north, west, and east
  • two large plantations in the Meadow and Guava area and in the Highlands area

Many ruins still exist and all the animal catching pens and enclosures are in use today at Low Pond, Bezor, Sam Spring, Hog Hole and Owen Well. In the 1780’s Barbuda supported 8,000 sheep, 2,000 goats, 600 horses, 500 deer, 20 mules, 7 jackasses and 300 to 400 cattle. Three hundred acres were in pasture and eighty acres were planted in corn, with ten acres each of cotton and yams. A stock assessment on 14th July 1792 valued the total stock of negroes and other stock at £50,000, a large amount at that time. The origin of the Barbudan ‘slave breeding’ controversy stems from this period as Codrington, in correspondence with his manager, suggested that the island should become a nursery for negroes to make Barbuda more profitable – the intention being that Barbuda could become the supplier of slaves for re-sale to other Caribbean islands. Lowenthal and Clark (1977) calculated that 172 slaves were exported from 1779 to 1834 and most were destined for estates in Antigua, but 37 went to the Leeward and Windward islands and others to the southern colonies in the United States. Evidence of exported batches of 12, 18, 24, 15, 19, and 41 slaves would suggest that Codrington made sure his policy was implemented.

Records reveal several further Barbudan slave rebellions during the employment of managers Dennis Reynolds, John James, John Osbourne, Dickson, Jarritt, and Winter as it became more popular for Caribbean planter families to leave their estates to be managed by overseers. The most serious was the insurrection in 1834-5 when an attempt was made to forcibly ship all Barbudans to Codrington’s plantations in Antigua. There was a general revolt and troops had to be sent from Antigua to quell the uprising. An additional factor that induced the insurrection may been the failure by the British Parliament to name Barbudans in the Slavery Emancipation Act of 1834 and so Barbudans freed themselves from slavery – at abolition Barbudans on the island numbered 500.

“You are to proceed with the Brigantine ‘Duke of Leinster’, to the island of Antigua, and when you have made the island, you are to stand off the island of Barbuda, giving it a wide berth…” Those were the secret orders given to William Christian, Captain of the ‘Duke of Leinster’ on the 4th of November 1789, by the ship’s joint owner – Arthur Bryan of Dublin, Ireland. On January 1, 1790, the ‘Duke of Leinster’ was recorded as being off Barbuda. Captain Christian’s written orders clearly stated he was to dispose of his cargo – seventy-seven men and twelve women – convicts all of them – around Antigua on nearby islands with the proviso, “not a great many at any one place, for fear of a commotion”. Barbuda is where he chose to abandon forty-eight of the men and five women. Naturally the arrival of fifty-three destitute people on this tiny island was both noticeable and alarming. Within days the convicts were rounded up and transported to Antigua, on one of Codrington’s own ships. Now free in St John’s, the convicts told residents that they were indentured servants from Ireland, bound for Philadelphia and at first their story was believed. People were moved by the collective misery of the new arrivals, and made every effort to assist them. However, it was not long before word of their convict origins got out, and they were housed in the local jail. The crisis was somewhat resolved when thirty-six of the convicts sailed with a Captain Burk to an unknown destination in America, but to date no record has been found stating who these thirty-six people were or their final destination. The remaining convicts – having refused to leave – were employed in public works projects.

George III granted permission to the Codringtons to lease the island for a further 50 years.

Information exists concerning Christian missionary activity in Barbuda during the slave period although the Codringtons appear to have kept religion and religious activity to a minimum. However, around 1835 John Winter, the manager of the Codringtons’ affairs, reported that, ‘We have a chapel that will contain 180 persons which is converted into a school room during the week’. The Bishop of Antigua requested permission to extend the Anglican chapel on 26 April 1844. This chapel, now the Holy Trinity Church, is still used by the population and remains one of the most substantial structures in Codrington Village.