Portuguese explorers probably landed on Barbados in the 16th century, but the first settlement was not established until 1627 and then by English colonists. It was made a Crown possession in 1663. The prosperity of the colony was gravely affected during the 18th century by war between the French and the British and by the American Revolution. Slavery on the island was abolished in 1833, leading to a substantial increase in agricultural production.
Severe riots, resulting in bloodshed and loss of property, occurred in 1876, when the British government proposed a confederation of Barbados and the Windward Islands, about 160 km (about 100 mi) to the west. In the following decades the African and mixed majority slowly rose to political power, eventually outnumbering the white landholders in the legislature.
In 1937 poor economic conditions caused serious unrest, and a British Royal Commission was sent to Barbados. As a result, social and political reforms were gradually introduced, and in 1951 universal adult suffrage was achieved. Barbados joined the Federation of the West Indies (1958-1962), which also included Trinidad and Tobago.
Barbados gained full internal self-government in 1961, and it became an independent state in the Commonwealth of the Nations on November 30, 1966. The country is a member of the United Nations and of the Organization of American States. In 1973 Barbados helped form the Caribbean Community, an organization that promotes social and political cooperation and economic integration. Barbados has enjoyed a stable democratic government, and a transfer of power between the two major political parties—the first since 1961—was peacefully achieved in 1976. The election of 1986 reversed the position of the parties in the assembly, and Errol Barrow of the Democratic Labour Party became prime minister. When Barrow died in June 1987, Erskine Sandiford succeeded him. A Barbadian proposal on regional security received favorable consideration by neighboring states in 1991. In 1994, following a no-confidence vote in the assembly, Sandiford lost the position of prime minister to Owen Arthur, a member of the Barbados Labour Party. Arthur was reelected in 1999. In 1995 Barbados joined the ACS, an association, comprising members of CARICOM and representatives from 12 other Caribbean nations, that seeks to reduce tariffs between member nations.