Bridgetown History Facts and Timeline

(Bridgetown, Saint Michael, Barbados)

Barbados residents usually refer to their island's capital and biggest city as simply 'the city' or 'the town'. Bridgetown has become one of the Caribbean's most important cruise ship, business and tourism destinations.

This south-westerly Barbados city is also home to the Grantley Adams International Airport, the island's largest and only international airport. In 2011, UNESCO designated historic Bridgetown and its garrison as important protected World Heritage sites.

Indian Bridge

A rather crude bridge across what is now the Careenage River (Constitution River) is one of the few surviving areas created by Bridgetown's pre-European residents, the Tainos. Another tribe called the Kalinagos supposedly invaded Barbados and drove the Tainos to St. Lucia. The modern history of Bridgetown began when the first group of some 60 British settlers arrived in the area in 1628 and named their new community 'Indian Bridge', after this rather simplistic crossing point.

Name Changes

Both the Indian Bridge and the settlement's name were replaced shortly after British colonisation. The town was eventually renamed St. Michael before receiving its permanent name of Bridgetown, and the British built a new bridge across the Careenage River in the early 1650s. One of the most famous visitors in the history of Bridgetown was George Washington. The former Bush Hill House where he stayed in 1751 now belongs to the Garrison Historic Area.

Natural Disasters

Apart from its location overlooking Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown was not considered an ideal site for the Barbados capital, because it was situated on a swamp filled with mosquitoes. More than 20,000 people perished in a 1654 cholera epidemic, while in the region of 200 centrally located homes were burned during a 1659 fire. A 1667 hurricane and a second fire in 1668 wreaked further havoc on the city. In fact, Bridgetown endured at least a dozen fires over the next 250 years.

Thriving Port and City Status

During its 17th-century history, the city's port rivalled London, because of the thriving Barbados slave trade and sugar production. Today, Bridgetown's port remains one of the Caribbean's biggest and busiest.

The year of 1824 saw St. Michael's parish church receive cathedral status and Barbados became an Anglican diocese seat. Bridgetown officially became a city in 1842.

New Bridges

In 1872, the manually operated Chamberlain Bridge permitted entry into the Careenage River's inner basin. A modern lift bridge opened across the river in 2006. Today, most of the vessels that sail across the Careenage River are simply pleasure craft or charter fishing boats, but the river once carried countless trading ships sailing between Caribbean islands.

The Barbados Defence Force is still headquartered at the historic Garrison Savannah, first built as a British army base during the 1600s. Most Bridgetown tourist attractions also stand near the garrison, including the Barbados Museum and the George Washington House. Memorials to former Barbados Prime Minister Errol Walton Barrow and the island's WWI and WWII dead stand in the National Heroes Square (previously named Trafalgar Square).

History of the Modern Era

Long gone are the days when pirates, colonials, and slave or sugar barons ruled Bridgetown, and today, the only 'white' faces you're likely to see are tourists. Barbados is one of the more prosperous of these plucky Caribbean nations who have enjoyed independence from Britain since 1966.

In more recent decades, air travel became affordable enough for Americans and other international tourists to jet out to the Caribbean for a break. Tourism is now a foundation of the local economy, and Bridgetown has prospered as a result. In 2010, it hosted games for the World Cup Cricket and these were staged at the Kensington Oval by the West Indies nations.