Barbados: Emigration and Immigration

Barbados    Emigration and Immigration

As a leg in the triangular trade, many ships traveling between the British Isles, Africa, and America stopped in Barbados during the colonial period.


English Immigrants

In lieu of official passenger lists regarding early settlers of Barbados, genealogists must rely on evidence gleaned from a variety of sources to successfully trace immigrant origins.

It is not uncommon to find monumental inscriptions and plaques in English churches memorializing family members who settled in Barbados. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury in London proved the wills of many residents of the island. For access, see Barbados Probate Records. Heraldic visitations list some members of prominent English families who crossed the Atlantic. Expert Links: English Family History and Genealogy includes a concise list of visitations available online. Online archive catalogs, such as Access to Archives, can be keyword searched for place names, such as “Barbados” and “Barbadoes,” to retrieve manuscripts stored in hundreds of English archives relating to persons and landholdings in this island in the West Indies. These types of records establish links between Barbados residents and England, which can lead researchers back to their specific ancestral English towns, villages, and hamlets.

The multi-volume Calendar of Colonial State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies (1574-1739), which is available for free online (see discussion in Barbados Public Records), highlights many connections between England and Barbados.

Three major immigration databases are:

  1. Ancestry’s Immigration & Travel Records ($)
  2. Immigrant Servants Database
  3. Virtual Jamestown

Remnants of passenger lists and other substitute sources are discussed below.


A standard work on early Barbados immigrants, which includes some passenger lists from the 1630s, is now also widely available on the Internet:

  • Hotten, John Camden. The Original Lists of Persons of Quality: Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Political Rebels; Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700, with Their Ages, the Localities Where They Formerly Lived in the Mother Country, the Names of the Ships in which They Embarked, and Other Interesting Particulars; from MSS. Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, England. London: the author, 1874. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books and Internet Archive; 1983 reprint: FHL Collection 973 W2hot 1983

Brandow published an addendum to Hotten’s work:

  • Brandow, James C. Omitted Chapters from Hotten’s Original Lists of Persons of Quality … and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001. Digital version at Ancestry ($).

Peter Wilson Coldham has published several volumes of English records that identify, among other American immigrants, those destined for Barbados. Coldham’s works are indexed in Filby’s Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s (digital version at Ancestry ($)).

Cooper published a study of Cornish emigrants to Barbados 1634-1659:

  • Cooper, Cliff. “Barbados Connection,” Journal of the Cornwall Family History Society, Vol. 79 (Mar. 1996). FHL Collection 942.37 B2cf

A collection labeled “Apprenticeship Indentures” for Lyme Regis Borough, held at the Dorset Record Office (Dorchester, England), identifies several English indentured servants shipped to Barbados and other American colonies in the 1680s (Reference DC/LR/M/9). Murphy published an abstract:

  • Murphy, Nathan W. “‘To be sent to America,’ Indentured Servants Registered at Lyme Regis, Dorset, England, 1683-1689,” Genealogists’ Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 3 (September 2007): 101-102. FHL Collection 942 B2gm v. 29, no. 3 (Sept. 2007); these immigrants are included in the free online Immigrant Servants Database.


Can you tell us about these records?

English Ships

Lloyd’s Register of Shipping identifies ships leaving England, their masters, ports of departure, and destinations. They survive as early as 1764 and are being put online at Lloyd’s Register of Ships Online – free.

Many ships that sailed from Bristol, England to Barbados are described in: Bristol, Africa and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America 1698-1807 (4 vols.) FHL British Books 942.41/B2 B4b v. 38-39, 42, 47.

African Immigrants

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database Internet site contains references to 35,000 slave voyages, including over 67,000 Africans aboard slave ships, using name, age, gender, origin, and place of embarkation. The database is about the slave trade between Africa, Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Irish Immigrants

In their genealogical article on Irish settlers of Barbados, Radford and White conclude that Barbados probate records offer the most likely prospects of connecting a Barbadian back to the Emerald Isle.[1]

Sheppard wrote a history of the Irish in Barbados. Many of the Irish were indentured servants brought to labor in sugar plantations. Because their pale skin burned red in the tropical climate, they were dubbed “redlegs” by the English.

  • Sheppard, Jill. The “Redlegs” of Barbados, Their Origins and History. Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1977. FHL Collection 972.981 H6s

Scottish Immigrants

David Dobson has dedicated many years to establishing links between Scots and their dispersed Scottish cousins who settled throughout the world. For Barbados connections, see:

  • Dobson, David. Barbados and Scotland Links, 1627-1877. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield, 2005. FHL Collection 972.981 W2d; digital version at Google Books (limited preview).
  • Dobson, David. Scots in the West Indies, 1707-1857. 2 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield, 1998-2006. FHL Collection 972.9 W2d; digital version at Ancestry ($).


North American Emigrants

The constant arrival of shiploads of African, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants during the colonial period quickly led to overcrowding on this tiny island. Many people left to seek brighter futures on the North American mainland in colonies such as South Carolina, VirginiaPennsylvania,[1] and Massachusetts. Genealogists often encounter references to Barbados in colonial American sources. Published Barbados genealogies identify many such emigrants.

Unfortunately, lists of individuals leaving Barbados for the American continent are almost non-existent for the early period, with one noted exception:

In 1664, a “group of Barbadians joined in an agreement to settle in Carolina.” In the twentieth century, this document was kept in the South Carolina Historical Society Collection (reference V/29).[2]

A list of persons seeking passports to travel from New York to Barbados and other West Indian destinations for the year 1812 survives at the National Archives and Records Administration (Washington, D.C.) and has been published:

Several histories chronicle these Atlantic World links:

  • Alleyne, Warren and Henry Fraser. The Barbados-Carolina Connection. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1988. FHL Collection 972.981 H2a
  • Kent, David L. Barbados and America. Arlington, Va.: C.M. Kent, 1980. FHL Book 972.981 X2b.

In the seventeenth century, residents of Bergen County, New Jersey named a town “New Barbados.”

Marler attempted to identify Barbados “Redbone” surnames present in Louisiana:

  • Marler, Don C. Redbones of Louisiana: For 200 Years Redbones Have Been Louisiana’s Mystery People. Hemphill, Texas: Dogwood Press, 2003. FHL Collection 976.3 F2md

Genealogists attempting to track migrations from the British Isles to Barbados to Colonial North America, will be best served by attempting to find mention to an ancestor in other types of Barbados records, such as a census or census substitute, parish register, or will.

British Emigrants

As part of the Commonwealth until 1966, Barbadians had the full privileges belonging to subjects of the British Crown. This stimulated travel back and forth between the United Kingdom and Barbados. The twentieth century witnessed a large emigration of blacks from Barbados to the UK.

Caribbean Emigrants

Many Barbados indentured servants, after failing to secure land following their labor terms, left the island for Jamaica, see:

  • Williams, Joseph J. Whence the “Black Irish” of Jamaica? New York, N.Y.: Dial Press, 1932. FHL Collection 972.92 W2w

Central American Emigrants

More Barbadians were employed by the Isthmian Canal Commission of the United States in building the Panama Canal than any other nationality. Records of two-year work indentures survive documenting thousands of these short-term migrants. Many Barbadians also participated in the French failed attempt to build the canal in the 1880s, but fewer records survive.[3]


  1. 1.01.1 Dwight A. Radford and Arden C. White, “The Irish in Barbados,” The Irish at Home and Abroad: A Newsletter of Irish Genealogy and Heritage, Vol. 2, No. 3 (1994/1995):92-97. FHL Collection 941.5 D25ih v. 2 (1994/1995)
  2. Moriarty, Appendix, Barbados Genealogies, p. 670.
  3. Herbert Hutchinson, “Commemorating the Barbadians Who Excavated the Panama Canal (1904-1914),” The Journal of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, Vol. 54 (2008): 223-248.

Author: Ric Greaves