1629 – 1639 – Henry Hawley and the First House of Assembly of Barbados
Following a turbulent history, the ownership of Barbados had been disputed. The original investor, Sir William Courteen had sought to create a colony that was run relatively with paid workers who were well supported.
However, the Earl of Carlisle, who was a greedy man and friend of the King of England, convinced the King to grant him ownership of Barbados. He quickly arranged for wealthy merchants from London to lease 10,000 acres of land, and between them, they drove down living conditions to increase the profit from the crops that were being produced.
Throughout the initial settlement, there had been many Governors, and in 1629, the Earl of Carlisle appointed Sir William Tufton to be the next Governor and sent him to Barbados to rule.
On his arrival in Barbados, Tufton discovered that the previous Carlisle Governor had been ruthless and imposed horrendous working conditions on the working population. Tufton sought to try and improve the situation of the settlers and set about breaking down the absolute rule of the Governor through the creation of six parishes. He built churches for the parishes and created vestries to govern each parish.
While Tufton succeeded in alleviating some of the problems for the workers, he did not manage at appeasing his employers. Carlisle and the merchants were not happy with the lack of profit that was being generated and replaced him with their favored Governor, Henry Hawley, who arrived back in Barbados in June 1630.
So less than a year after Tufton had started creating a fairer society, Hawley had ousted him and was increasing profits for his employers while allowing the living conditions to deteriorate in Barbados.
To compound the problem for the workers, this year also suffered a severe drought, so supplies for the workers were restricted. This period became known as the “starving period.”
Tufton aggrieved that he had lost his governance so quickly and seeing the conditions slipping, accused Hawley of withholding supplies for the benefit of himself and his close Council, while workers died.
Tufton was able to find some signatories on the island to support him but foolishly believed that he would be able to convince the Council, who were made up of people loyal to Hawley, to remove Hawley from office.
Hawley, after hearing Tufton’s presentation, turned the tables on him and had him tried for treason. The treason charge was spuriously founded on the basis that Tufton had petitioned against him as a Governor. However, the Council found in favor of the treason charge, and Tufton was executed.
1636 – The Earl of Carlisle dies
Carlisle’s son took his place as the Earl of Carlisle, but the ownership of Barbados did not pass on to him. Instead, the will of Carlisle stipulated that Barbados should be used to settle the late Carlisle’s debts.
The Earl of Carlisle negotiated that Barbados should be placed in a Trust, which was administered by trustees, that was set-up to ensure that the first Earl of Carlisle’s creditors continued to receive their dues.
However, once the creditors had been satisfied, ownership would revert to the Earl of Carlisle. Not wanting to rock the status quo, the Earl of Carlisle and the trustees agreed to allow Hawley to continue to rule as Governor of Barbados.
1639 – The first House of Assembly is founded
Hawley continued his harsh rule of the settlers, with the trustees turning a blind eye to his ways. However, the populace of Barbados was continually growing, and by 1639 Hawley found himself fighting against a wave of discontent from a population that now numbered in the thousands.
Hawley, to preserve his position and win the popularity of the people, reacted quickly and set up the ‘House of Assembly.’ This was the first assembly of elected representatives in Barbados.
Author: Brett Callaghan