Barbados was first occupied by the British in 1627, two years after Captain John Powell claimed the island in the name of King James I, and remained a British colony until internal autonomy was granted in 1961. The first British settlement counted 80 civilians and 10 enslaved Africans, and in 1639, following the British style of government, a Parliamentary Democracy was created.
From the abolition of slavery in 1838, non-whites quickly began to take part in the country's government, and in 1843, the first non-white member of parliament was elected.
The island's plantation history is wonderfully showcased year-round at a number of well-preserved homes. In the late 1600s, Barbados was the world's leading producer of sugar and, with all members of the Legislative Assembly being part of the elite-plantocracy at the time, the crops made the English planters very wealthy, a fact reflected in the majestic stately homes built on the island during the colonial period. In some of the still-standing Plantation Houses, dating back from the 17th century, visitors can still find a collection of antiques, including carriages and farm implements, the testament to the grandeur of bygone times.
The island gained its full political independence in 1966, but still maintains ties to the British monarch today, represented in Barbados by the governor general, and remains a member of the Commonwealth Nations. The British influence remains intact, however, and British customs and influence such as cricket -a Barbadian culture essential-, or even afternoon tea, which is served at many hotels on the west coast, in St. James parish. English has remained the island's official language, however, the Bajan dialect is where the authentic Barbadian culture truly lies.
Despite this rolling beauty, Barbados does not offer great reaches of wilderness or natural parks. The island is amply populated (more than 250,000 people live on 300 square miles), and almost all the land has been developed or cultivated.