Barbados originally supported a considerable population of Arawak Indians, but invading Caribs decimated that population. By the time the British landed, near the site of present-day Holetown in 1625, the island was uninhabited. Almost 2,000 English settlers landed in 1627–28. Soon afterward, the island developed the sugar-based economy, supported by a slave population. Slavery was abolished in 1834, and the last slaves were freed in 1838.
During the following 100 years, the economic fortunes of Barbados fluctuated with alternating booms and slumps in the sugar trade. In 1876, the abortive efforts of the British to bring Barbados into confederation with the Windward Islands resulted in the "confederation riots."
In the 1930s, the dominance of plantation owners and merchants was challenged by a labor movement. Riots in 1937 resulted in the dispatch of a British Royal Commission to the West Indies and the gradual introduction of social and political reforms, culminating in the granting of universal adult suffrage in 1950. In 1958, Barbados became a member of the West Indies Federation, which was dissolved in 1962. The island was proclaimed an independent republic on 30 November 1966. Political stability has been maintained since that time. Barbados helped form CARICOM in 1973, the same year the nation began issuing its own currency. The country was a staging area in October 1983 for the US-led invasion of Grenada, in which Barbadian troops took part. In 1995 it was designated as a center for the Regional Security System, funded by the United States, which conducted military exercises in the region.
Laws enacted in the early 1980s led to the development of Barbados as an offshore business center in the 1980s and 1990s, although tourism remained the nation's primary source of revenue. The international recession of the early 1990s negatively affected the economy of Barbados, touching off a decline in tourism and other sectors, and leading to a crisis of confidence in the government. After a no-confidence vote on 7 June 1994, Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford dissolved the House of Assembly, the first time since independence that such an action had been taken, and a new government was installed following general elections in September. Economic recovery in the subsequent years helped Prime Minister Owen S. Arthur lead to BLP to a landslide victory in the 1999 elections. Prime Minister Arthur expected to win the 2004 elections and lead his country for the launch of a single CARICOM economic market in 2005.