The Barbados Connection: beyond just South Carolina!

Rihanna is probably the most famous person from Barbados. Des’ree is another world-class singer of Bajan descent. However actually both singers have Guyanese mothers! The funny thing is that due to the intricate migration history of Barbadians there is still a good chance that their Guyanese mothers might have distant Barbadian ancestry as well. To be confirmed by genealogy but also to be corroborated by DNA testing!


Due to multiple migrations (both forced and voluntary) the scope of ancestral connections within the Afro-Diaspora is very broad and at times unexpected! One country which stands out especially in this regard is Barbados. Of course whenever you have recent family ties to this easternmost Caribbean island you will already know about your Bajan descent. However for many people I imagine that discovering about distant Barbados ancestry will often come as a surprise. 

Learning about the various movements of people departing from Barbados and settling in several parts of the Americas will certainly be helpful then for better understanding. This blogpost is just meant as an introduction to this very intriguing topic. Highlighting some insightful resources and implications. The main take-away is that the Barbados Connection is extensive across many parts of the Afro-Diaspora. Not confined to South Carolina or even just North America. But in fact also to be found throughout the Caribbean, Central America and even South America. As they say: Bajans are everywhere!

Genetic Community on Ancestry: strong clue of (recent) Barbados Connection

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Bajan GCSource: This map shows one of the Genetic Communities on Ancestry. Labeled as “Lesser Antilles African Caribbeans”. But actually often pinpointing shared Barbadian ancestry. This tool is based on matching strength and the family trees of your DNA matches. The yellow dots highlight the extent and frequency of interrelated DNA matches. With a clear focus on Barbados, but otherwise extending from Panama to Suriname. And from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad.


Genetic Group on 23andme: good clue of (recent) Barbados Connection

Figure 2 (click to enlarge)


SU23andme results for a person from Suriname (see also this page). This Genetic Group feature (formerly known as recent ancestor location) is again based on matching strength. Often quite accurate although the implied ancestral scenarios are not always as straightforward as on Ancestry. So you have to be careful and not jump to conclusions. However this person from Suriname actually knows for a fact she has two great-grandparents from Barbados who migrated to Suriname as contract labourers in the late 1800’s.


Confirmation of your Barbados connection by way of solid genealogical research is of course to be preferred. However DNA testing can also be very beneficial as shown above. Correct interpretation as always being a precondition. Whenever your Bajan link is relatively recent (~up till 1800’s) then this should normally result in a substantial genetic impact. Which will reflect in relatively close DNA matches with persons from Barbados; associated genetic communities/groups and at times also a distinctive African lineage or a distinctive African regional admixture level.

This last aspect brings me back to the main theme of my blog, Tracing African Roots. Albeit indirectly, by way of analyzing the African origins of Bajans. Especially to what extent the mix of their predominant African origins may deviate (relatively speaking) from other parts of the Afro-Diaspora. And how this may then translate into distinctive regional admixture levels and African DNA matching patterns for anyone with a substantial Barbados Connection. See also my upcoming survey results:

Contents of this blog post:

  1. Extent of the Barbados Diaspora
    • Inter-Colonial Slave Trade (1600’s/1700’s)
    • Bajan migrations after Emancipation in 1834 
  2.  Unique aspects of Barbadian demography
    • Early Creolization
    • White Barbadians
  3. The Barbados connection: how does it impact your African lineage?
    • Major & distinctive provenance 
    • Main implications for different parts of the Afro-Diaspora 
  4. Suggested Links



1) Extent of the Barbados Diaspora

Inter-Colonial Slave Trade (1600’s/1700’s)

Table 1.1 (click to enlarge)


1.TAST - IAST (subselection)

Source: Intra-American Slave Trade Database (2022). Based on documented records of ships transporting captives from Barbados to other parts of the Americas (subselection) during the entire slavery period. Keep in mind that research is ongoing and so this data is not intended to give a final and complete overview! In fact the numbers shown here are clearly underestimating the true extent of slave voyages departing from Barbados. For example compare with the estimates for just one year for Martinique in the overview below.


Table 1.2 (click to enlarge)

***1.Reexports from Barbados 1725 (Extending the frontiers)Source: Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database  (eds. D. Eltis & D. Richardson, 2008) Keep in mind that this overview provides a snapshot of estimated slave trade in the year 1725. Hispanic America being left out of the equation.


Barbados has played a decisive and pioneering role in the development of the British colonial empire. A very insightful quote says that South Carolina was “a colony of a colony”. But actually this early Barbadian influence was also present throughout the Caribbean and also in South America (Guyana & Suriname). Sadly this also resulted in Barbados becoming the biggest hub for Inter-Colonial slave trade. Only later on surpassed by Jamaica.

As can be seen in the overviews above (which are only meant as rough indications!) Barbados was providing enslaved labourers to British colonies all over. In the earliest phase to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands (mostly Leeward). Indeed with a special focus on South Carolina in North America. But in fact also Virginia and other US states relied on Barbados for African slave labour initially. 

Furthermore both the French and Hispanic Caribbean were major destinations too. Due to geography Barbados was more so serving Martinique/Guadeloupe while Jamaica was providing St. Domingue (presentday Haiti) with enslaved Africans. Barbadian traders were going mostly to Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. While the more numerous trade to Mexico, Colombia and Panama was handled by way of Jamaica. Cuba perhaps being intermediate in this (see this map).

Both the Dutch and British Guiana’s were also heavily tied to Barbados. The data in Table 1.1 is mostly referring to Demerara and Berbice. But it is known that Barbadian planters were also very much present in Essequibo. In fact Suriname started out as a British colony in 1651 before it got swapped for New Amsterdam/New York in 1667. Founded by the governor of Barbados! And even in this short periode Barbadian settlers made a very lasting founding impact. Especially culturally, as evidenced by Suriname still having English-based Creoles.

Given my own Cape Verdean background I am naturally very fascinated as well by the trail-blazing Barbados-Cape Verde connection, which was already written about by Richard Ligon in the mid-1600’s! Actually this connection was the other way around and did not involve the forced transfer of a great deal of people. Although Barbados is one of the few non-Latin American destinations of documented slave voyages departing from Cape Verde (see this overview). Instead what made this very early connection so important was the introduction of tropically adjusted livestock, horses and foodstuffs (such as bonavist beans, apparently named for the Cape Verdean island of Boa Vista!) critical for the first phase of settlement.2

Similar to what happened in Cape Verde the inter-colonial slave trade from Barbados was usually involving African-born captives being trans-shipped in a relatively short timespan. But at times also including locally “seasoned” captives who would have resided in Barbados for a longer period. However this was not as common as is still imagined by many people. Occasionally even locally-born captives from Barbados were moved around. Especially personal servants. Although these must have been even more rare when compared with the bulk of African-born captives. To put things in greater perspective do also realize that especially for wealthier colonies Trans-Atlantic slave trade would still be far more numerous than inter-colonial slave trade. For extensive research on this topic see:  

Other resources will be listed at the end of this page. It would be futile on my part to even attempt to provide an exhaustive overview of the ever expanding literature on this topic. Especially the South Carolina-Barbados connection has been much illuminated already. This historical link certainly is very special and impactful. But in order to shift the spotlight somewhat I will mainly showcase a few insightful quotes relating to other parts of the Afro-Diaspora:  


Waves of planters, their slaves and servants, and other free settlers drifted outward from Barbados, and the first generation of elite sugar planters, the emerging Barbadian gentry, reinvested their profits in other colonies throughout the Americas.” (J. Roberts, 2016)

” The Barbadian diaspora after midcentury is essential to understanding the development of the early English Empire, and Surinam in the Guianas was the most significant Barbadian outlet, the first colony of a Barbadian metropole.”  (J. Roberts, 2016)

Before about 1660, even Jamaica imported African captives from Barbados, only transitioning thereafter to become an entrepôt in its own right. Thus one can think of Barbados as a seventeenth-century Ellis Island for African immigrants to English America (G. O’Malley, 2014, p.118)

“However, unlike South Carolina where large numbers of Barbadians emigrated beginning in the 1670s and which ultimately led to that colony’s adoption of the Barbados Code in its entirety in 1696, this earlier connection between the Caribbean island and Maryland on the North American mainland is subtler and more difficult to trace. […] . However, a Maryland–Barbados connection did exist. The connection arrived in the persons of a small number of Barbadians who moved to Maryland and became prominent as landholders and in the colonial government” (Debe & Menard, 2011)

“Starting in 1766, Barbados found a new outlet for the export slave trade. The Spanish crown granted a new slave trade monopoly to a Spanish company that centered its importations in Puerto Rico. From there, the company distributed African people to the other Spanish territories. […] Thousands of Africans annually faced transshipment from Barbados to Puerto Rico between 1766 and 1772, mainly in Spanish vessels. (G. O’Malley, 2014, p.369)

“As Britain’s empire in the Caribbean expanded in various wars, merchants in the intercolonial trade rushed enslaved people to newly acquired territories. One such opportunity emerged after the Seven Years’ War, when the Treaty of Paris (1763) handed Britain the so-called Ceded Islands —Grenada, Dominica, Saint Vincent, and Tobago. In the first few years that these islands were in British hands, intercolonial slave traders sent numerous shipments from the older colonies, especially Barbados, carrying several thousand slaves. These deliveries focused primarily on Saint Vincent and Tobago, the last islands to be targeted by transatlantic traders directly from Africa.” (G. O’Malley, 2014, p.320)

“The trade from Barbados to Demerara in the 1790s offers another example of the advantage that intercolonial traders enjoyed over their transatlantic counterparts. In 1796, during the warfare associated with the French Revolution, the British wrested control of Demerara, Berbice, and Essequibo— colonies on the northern coast of South America, now Guyana—from the Dutch. British settlers quickly expanded sugar, coffee, and cotton cultivation in these territories, and as the plantation economies grew, demand for enslaved labor surged, as well.” (G. O’Malley, 2014, p.320)



Bajan migrations after Emancipation in 1834 


Table 1.3 (click to enlarge)


1.Estimated Migration, 1861-1921 (Roberts, 1955)Source: Emigration from the island of Barbados (G.W. Robertson, 1955). In these estimated numbers it is already taken into consideration that a considerable part of the migrants actually returned to Barbados. However many of them remained abroad where they would eventually raise families. Their descendants inheriting a relatively recent Barbados Connection.


”Backed by Britain, Barbados consequently promoted emigration as a definite island policy, and even gave financial assistance to a few who had offers of jobs but no means of getting to them. As a result of these conditions and policies, some 30,000 left the island in the thirty years following 1861, principally for Trinidad, British Guiana, and Surinam.”  (Lowenthal, 1957, p.454)

“In the wider context of the demography of the whole British Caribbean this emigration from Barbados is also noteworthy. Its effects on population growth in British Guiana and Trinidad are unmistakable. […] Thus the contribution of Barbados to population growth in the other colonies was more than one eighth of the total net immigration into the region. In fact, excluding the East Indians, who formed nearly eighty per cent of the recorded net immigration, emigrants from Barbados contributed more to population growth in Trinidad and British Guiana than emigrants from Africa, Madeira or China.” (G.W. Roberts, 1955, p.281)

“Large scale Barbadian migration to British Guiana began in the post emancipation period and continued until the 1920’s. Some Barbadian migration to British Guyana continued into the 1960’s” […] “Though the exact numbers of Barbadian immigrants to British Guiana are difficult to locate it is generally accepted that many thousands of Barbadians migrated to British Guiana between 1835 and the early decades of the 20th century. Estimates suggest that some 40,656 Barbadians […] migrated to British Guiana either as independent migrants or through organised recruitment by agents of the planters and colonial authorities” (Alleyne, 2012)

“In British Guiana, reports of disorder and heavy emigration from Barbados were initially greeted by the Royal Gazette with the editorial comment that “here is a good opportunity for our neighbours of Suriname to procure immigrants.” […] the end of slavery in Suriname in July 1863 had generated considerable concern in British Guiana that the indentured immigrant workforce so expensively imported into the British colony would be poached by neighboring Dutch planters. Fears in British Guiana of desertion to Suriname resulted in the intensification of restrictions on movement between the two territories” (Brown, 2005, p.43)

“There is no question but that indentured labor from India and Java played a major role in buoying up the Suriname sugar industry. However, we must also note that significant numbers of migrants were also imported from the British West Indies, mainly from British Guiana and Barbados. Indeed, over 3,000 laborers from Barbados migrated to Suriname over the period 1863-1890. Additionally, we might note that in several cases, Barbadians laborers resorted to subterfuge to escape the confines of the Barbadian society and, thus, might not show up in the official statistics. Moreover, some of the migration of these laborers might have a two-stage profile. That is, there might be a first movement to British Guiana and, later, a final movement to Suriname”. (Welch, 2009)

“However, sizeable numbers of Barbadians […] have also migrated to Brazil and to the then British Guiana, Surinam and French Guiana in the late 19th century and early 20th century, to Brazil during the “Rubber Boom” years for the construction of the Madeira‐Mamore Railway (1907‐1912) and to British Guiana from as early as 1838, to work, especially in the sugar industry and later in the civil service and public sector.” (Alleyne, 2012)

“For almost seventy years Porto Velho, and what was to become the state of Rondônia, has been the home of a group of Barbadians […] who came to build a railroad. In contrast with most of the other workers brought into the area between 1907 and 1912 who left after the project was completed, the West Indians, for the most part, remained, becoming an integral part of the city and its local society and culture. […] They no longer see themselves as a group apart and are not seen as such by their neighbors. Many have mated with, and/or married Brazilians.” (Greenfield, 2010, p.210)



Table 1.4 (click to enlarge)

1.Population census 1911 Patois speaking islands (Acts of Identity, 1985)Source: Acts of Identity: Creole-Based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity (R.B. Le Page & A. Tabourett-Keller, 1985). As shown in this overview 7% of Trinidadians in 1911 were born in Barbados. In fact Barbadian migrants were also numerous in other so-called Ceded islands (originally speaking French Patois). Especially Grenada. Perhaps partially explaining why French Patois has declined in particular in these two islands.



In recent years the number of natives of Barbados resident in Trinidad have been as follows: 18,800 in 1901, 19,900 in 1911 and 16,700 in 1921, representing respectively 6.9 per cent, 6.0 per cent and 4.6 per cent of the total population. British Guiana censuses give only the numbers born in all West Indian islands. These were at a maximum in 1891, when the number stood at 21,000 or 7.8 per cent of the total population”  (G.W. Roberts, 1955, p.276)

“With Creole as the most widely spoken language in Trinidad the English speaking Barbadians had a language problem on their arrival in the colony. […] It should be noted that the concentration of Barbadians in the main towns did result in many Creoles in those areas learning to speak English. In 1888 C.W. Mitchell, then Protector of Immigrants, expressed the opinion that the increased use of English in Port of Spain could be attributed more to the entry of Barbadians and other English speakers into the colony than to the educational system.” (Johnson, 1973, p.17/18)

“An extraordinary reversal of Barbados’ population began in 1904, when the United States commenced large-scale hiring of contract labour for the Panama Canal. Because Barbadians were reputed to be good workers and the island was particularly anxious to spur emigration, the Canal Commission shortly confined its official West Indian recruiting exclusively to Barbados. Within a decade at least 20,000 Barbadians signed advance contracts for work in the Canal Zone [Panama], and thousands of others went without contracts.” (Lowenthal, 1957, p.455)

Barbadians were among the thousands of British West Indians who migrated to Cuba in the early twentieth century in search of work. They were drawn there by employment opportunities fuelled largely by US investment in Cuban sugar plantations.” (S. Milagro Marshall, 2016)

“Other Barbadians left for neighbouring islands and North and South America. After 1914, when the Canal was completed, Barbadian emigrants went mainly to the United States. Emigration during this decade was less than in the previous, but between 1904 and 1921 at least 70,000 people left Barbados” (Lowenthal, 1957, p.455)


The tables and quotations shown above speak for themselves. Just meant as an illustration of the main tendencies of Barbadian migration in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Which may have involved more than 100,000 Barbadians permanently leaving their home island to settle elsewhere. Actually there were several more destinations across the wider Caribbean area (incl. directly adjacent mainland). But Barbadian migration to Guyana, Trinidad and Panama is clearly standing out. Although considerable numbers also went to Suriname and even Brazil (Amazonia). Due to high mobility and being a neighbouring country many Barbadians may have moved on there, undocumented, by way of Guyana.

Another fascinating saga involves hundreds of Barbadians moving to Liberia in the late 1800’s. After WW2 emigration from Barbados would pick up again but this time mostly to the UK, Canada and the USA. Also very interesting but something which will be out of scope for the sake of this blogpost. For a great overview of the entire Barbadian Diaspora see:

Interestingly in some cases these voluntary migrations were reinforcing earlier ties with Barbados, which had been derived from inter-colonial slave trade. This goes especially for Guyana. And to a lesser degree also its neighbouring country Suriname. Due to geography and also the frequent British background of plantation owners this goes in particular for the most western part of Suriname: Nickerie and Coronie districts. Which is where most Barbadian migrants into Suriname seem to have ended up.

However also places like Trinidad and St. Lucia for example had already become home to Barbadian born persons prior to Emancipation in 1834. Although ancestral ties with the French Caribbean were probably still stronger at that time.3 This is apparent from the very informative Slave Register data which was collected in the early 1800’s. A minor but still considerable number of enslaved persons being listed are mentioned with birthplace in Barbados. Probably an underestimate even, because some of the so-called Creole (=locally born) slaves might very well also have come from elsewhere I imagine. See:

Making a distinction between the various movements of people from Barbados according to time period is quite important. Because generally speaking the genetic impact of relatively recent Barbados related ancestry (1800’s/1900’s) will be most substantial and also detectable by DNA testing. As compared with a Barbados connection to be traced back to the 1700’s or even the late 1600’s. This is due to increasing dilution and recombination across the generations.

An additional issue when dealing with a Barbados connection which goes back to inter-colonial slave trading is that the persons involved would usually not be Barbados-born or leaving behind close relatives on Barbados. As demonstrated convincingly by O’Malley (2014) it was mostly African-born captives who were transshipped by way of Barbados to other parts of the Americas. This stands in sharp contrast with Barbadian migrants from the 1800’s and early 1900’s who can be assumed to have been multigenerationally Bajan. Due to (relative) endogamy this implies they would have been genetically related to a great part of the current island population. Unlike the transshipped captives from the 1600’s/1700’s.


2) Unique aspects of Barbadian demography

Again this section is just meant to give a brief overview. For deeper understanding it is recommended to have a close reading of the references given and also the sources listed at the end of this blogpost. I would argue that a combination of early Creolization (= genesis of a locally born Bajan majority in the 1700’s); structural overpopulation and a relatively high share of white Barbadians was instrumental in spreading the Barbados connection to so many different parts of the Afro-Diaspora. 

Early Creolization

Table 2.1 (click to enlarge)

TAST timeperiods BajanTrans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2022). This overview shows the percentage of disembarked slaves according to century of arrival. The African roots of Bajans trace back mostly to the 1650’s-1750’s. This is considerably earlier than most other parts of the Afro-Diaspora. Especially the share for 1600-1700 is exceptional (31.9%). Follow this link for the underlying numbers. 


Table 2.2 (click to enlarge)

2. African-born slaves proportion (Beckeles, 1998)Unlike other British Caribbean islands the enslaved population of Barbados experienced a positive population growth already during the 1700’s. This meant that there was no more need for constant African slave imports in the late 1700’s & early 1800’s (except for transshipping to other destinations). As a result the proportion of African-born people in Barbados was clearly the lowest at the end of slavery. Implying that instead overwhelmingly Barbadians at that time already would have been “native” Bajans, often multigenerationally.


Table 2.3 (click to enlarge)

2.Population of British Caribban according to census taken between 1841 and 1921 (Gen.Hist. of the Caribbean, vol.4)No surprise that Jamaica has been most populous ever since the early 1700’s. Afterall it is by far the largest island in the British West Indies. However Barbados had the second-biggest population of the Anglo-Caribbean up till the late 1800’s. Despite its much smaller size Barbados has always had to deal with an exceptionally high population density. Much higher than elsewhere in the Caribbean (see this table). Which ensured that only in 1871 Guyana surpassed Barbados in population size. While in 1881 Barbados was still on equal level with Trinidad. However at that time Barbadians were already massively migrating to both these places, spreading the Barbados Connection. Source: General History of the Caribbean, vol.4 (2011, p.265)


Although lesser in scale I suspect that the wider impact of early Barbadian demographics is quite similar to what happened in Virginia. Mortality among slaves was less in Barbados than in almost  all other British colonies. Because of relatively favourable climate/location. This resulted in a cumulative increase of a locally born population. In later generations spreading out to other places either by voluntary or forced migrations. Carrying with them the genetic imprint of their founding lineage from the 1650’s-1750’s. See also:

I am also seeing parallels with the springboard function of other early European island colonies. Such as Hispaniola for the Spanish mainland empire and Martinique for the other French Caribbean colonies. Curaçao in the Dutch Caribbean also shares this feature of early creolization. And so do a few other well-established early British colonies such as Antigua and St. Kitts. Furthermore I find it interesting to see how just across the Atlantic a similar degree of overpopulation in Madeira, Azores, the Canaries and Cape Verde also gave rise to constant migration in the late colonial period. Intriguingly also as contract-labourers in the West Indies! See also:


Me true Barbadian born. […]. Simply put, the evolution of a Barbadian identity as part of a creolization process was to lead to a self-awareness among slaves that was to challenge the prevailing ideology of white supremacy” (Howe & Marshal, 2001, p.38)

“Another important consideration is the fact that, by contrast with the earlier period, much of the growth of the slave population during the 18th century was due to natural increase rather than continued re-supply from Africa. Rickford & Handler inform us that slave imports to Barbados had decreased considerably by the late 18th century, so that “by the mid to late 1700’s, the great majority of Barbadian slaves were creoles; this majority was probably close to 90% by the late 1780’s”. (Winford, 2001, p.10)

“Barbados’ first detailed slave census in 1817 reported that about 93% were creoles, a very small number of whom had been born in neighboring (albeit unspecified) West Indian areas; only 7% were African-born. Around this time Barbados had the smallest percentage of African-born slaves in the British West Indies. In Trinidad and Berbice [Guyana], for example, Africans constituted over 50% of the slaves, while in Grenada, St.Vincent, Jamaica, and Tobago, they comprised between 32-40%; even in St.Kitts and Nevis, 15-16% of the slaves during this period had been born in Africa (percentages calculated from tables in Higman 1984:462-8, [see also this overview]).” (Handler 1994- p.238)



White Barbadians

Table 2.4 (click to enlarge)

Estimated Population Barbados, 1655-1768 (Molen, 1971)Source: Population and Social Patterns in Barbados in the Early Eighteenth Century (Molen , 1971). Starting out as a majority of the population their numbers drastically decreased in the late 1600’s. However white Barbadians remained a significant double-digit minority even after the late 1700’s. A share of nearly 15% was reported in the 1830 census (see this table). 


Table 2.5 (click to enlarge)

British Caribbean, share white population (Lowenthal , 1957)

Source: The Population of Barbados (D. Lowenthal, 1957). In the 20th century the share of white Barbadians was still steadily declining. Currently it is less than 5% even. However as this overview shows Barbados still stands out when compared with other former British Caribbean colonies


The reason I am also including white Barbadians in this discussion is because I believe they have been a major driving force behind establishing Barbados connections elsewhere. Especially as migrating plantation owners and inter-colonial traders but also as former indentured servants. Although of course after Emancipation black and mixed-race Barbadians created their own dynamic as well by migrating as free agents to so many places in the greater Caribbean and beyond.

As shown in the overviews above the population share of white Barbadians has been steadily declining. But still historically speaking it has always been relatively high when compared with other parts of the British Caribbean. Something which might account for their larger cultural influence on Bajan society as a whole. Although this is pending on further research I would say that also genetically their legacy might be quite widespread. As I always say when contemplating the mutual ancestors for your Afro-Diasporan DNA matches you should not be surprised that actually this may also include a shared European ancestor, having mixed-race descendants in more than one place.

Of course one must be careful to respect the localized context and different historical trajectories across the Afro-Diaspora. Because things are often more complex than you can imagine at first. Barbados and its history of indentured servants and so-called redlegs are a great example of this! Remember there can be several valid reasons to also explore the European origins of Afro-Diasporans in a pragmatic and open-minded manner.

Ironically in the process you might often also acquire valuable details about African ancestors linked to your European ancestors as well as their biracial offspring. Personal family histories are bound to sometimes deviate from the assumed narrative. It would be self-defeating to allow generalizations about European admixture to determine how you should feel about your own unique DNA makeup. Especially without at least having done any basic genealogical & historical research of your own in advance.


Rihanna said: “Apparently I have Scottish and Irish roots. I think it’s really interesting to explore your roots and I would love to know more.” (Daily Record, 2021)

Meaning of the name Rihanna: derived from the Celtic language, Rihanna means nymph, goddess or maiden” (source)

Probably the world’s most famous Barbadian, the singer Rihanna, was born Robin Rihanna Fenty, her surname inherited from a Bajan-Irish father” (Irish Times, 2021)

“The vast majority of British settlers to Barbados in the 17th century were speakers of regional dialects of English, with primary inputs from the southwest, and secondary inputs from other southern (southeastern) and perhaps midland English dialects, as well as other parts of Britain. Bristol was the major port for shipment of servants and other settlers to Barbados, and most of them came from the surrounding counties – Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset in particular”. (Winford, 2001, p.11)

“According to Bridenbaugh & Bridenbaugh (1972), the number of Irish in the West Indies was, by some estimates, probably half of the entire population of the English colonies. According to Beckles (1989:38), “By 1660, some 20% of the servant population was Irish.” The proportion may have been higher, since the Irish did not only come directly from Ireland, but also made up a significant portion of the transportees from SW England who were shipped from Bristol.” (Winford, 2001, p.20)



3) The Barbados connection: how does it impact your African lineage? 

Major & distinctive provenance  

Table 3.1 (click to enlarge)

TAST - Bajan estimatesTrans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2022). This overview shows the estimated number of disembarked Africans arriving in Barbados. Hailing from a great number of places in between Senegal and Madagascar. But nearly 75% were shipped from the so-called Lower Guinea area (Ghana-Togo-Benin-Nigeria). Combining the estimates for Gold Coast, Bight of Benin and Bight of Biafra (360.604/493.163=73%). The numbers for the Gold Coast and Bight of Biafra (=southeast Nigeria) being almost equal. But also Bight of Benin is quite prominent when compared with the remaining regions of provenance. 


Table 3.2 (click to enlarge)

TAST - Bajan comparison (VA, SC, JAM, GT, SR) (%)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2022). This overview compares the relative share of African provenance regions for Barbados with other selected parts of the Afro-Diaspora. Of course plenty of overlap but generally speaking Barbados shows most similarity with Jamaica in having a predominant combined share of Bight of Benin + Bight of Biafra + Gold Coast. The greatest contrast is arguably with South Carolina. Do notice also that the Southeast African share of 2.3% is minimal but still a distinctive feature for Barbados. Follow this link for the underlying numbers. You will notice that Barbados also imported far more enslaved Africans than other places (except for Jamaica). But a large part of them were to be transshipped to other parts of the Americas.


This topic, although highly fascinating, is of course also quite complex. Any implications will be depending on your specific Afro-Diasporan background. And how this relates with any possible Barbados Connection. I can only make very generalizing statements therefore. It will be up to your own follow-up research to determine how relevant it might be for your own personal situation. Again a Barbados Connection dating from the 1800’s/1900’s is more likely to have a substantial genetic impact. Especially for your DNA matches. Still due to cumulative founding effects also an earlier Barbados Connection might still be substantial and detectable. And in such cases probably more so through your regional African admixture scores.

From Tables 3.1 and Table 3.2 it can be seen that African origins for Bajans are predominantly from the area in between Ghana and Nigeria (incl. also Benin!). In other words the wider Lower Guinea area. The combined share for estimated slave trade with Gold Coast, Bight of Benin and Bight of Biafra is nearly 75%. While based on documented slave voyages this share would be nearly 70% (see table 3.2). Of course many other countries in the Americas also received African captives from these very same places (see this page for maps). So Barbados is not unique in this regard.

However, along with Jamaica, Barbados stands out when it comes to the relative share from this Lower Guinea area being much greater than the share from Upper Guinea (Senegambia, Sierra Leone) and Central Africa. While for other former colonies the overall picture is usually more balanced (when excl. inter-colonial slave trade!) This goes in particular for South Carolina. If we calculate the combined share of Trans-Atlantic slave trade with Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra and Gold Coast in Table 3.2 then this only reaches a level of 25% for South Carolina (2% +10.3% +12.7%).  

This historical data is increasingly being confirmed by genetic studies and DNA testing as well. In my surveys based on both AncestryDNA and 23andme results Barbadians, along with Jamaicans, are clearly reaching the highest levels of overall West African regional admixture. When compared with other Trans-Atlantic Afro-descendants. In particular for those regions to be associated with the Lower Guinea area. On Ancestry this includes: “Ivory Coast/Ghana”, “Benin/Togo” and “Nigeria”. And on 23andme: “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” and “Nigerian”. To be sure these categories are genetically overlapping and therefore the labeling is not to be taken too literally. Still it is pretty accurate from a macro-regional perspective. All combined, and also when comparing with other parts of the Afro-Diaspora the predominant patterns become undeniable. See also4:

  • AncestryDNA survey findings (2013-2018), incl. 15 Barbadians who show the highest level of “Benin/Togo” and also the second highest average for “Ivory Coast/Ghana”.
  • 23andme survey findings (2018-2019), incl. 6 Barbadians who show the highest level of West African DNA (along with Cape Verdeans, with the obvious difference being that for the latter it’s rather Upper Guinean predominance as reflected by their “Senegambian & Guinean” scores). 


Table 3.3 (click to enlarge)


TAST - Bajan solo (GH, BT, NG, timeperiods, nrs)Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2022). This overview zooms into the three most important African regions of provenance for Barbados, according to timeperiod. It demonstrates that there were various waves when people from certain regions would be most prevalent. Clearly for the Bight of Benin the peak was reached during the early period of 1650-1700. For the Gold Coast arrivals were most frequent during 1700-1750. While numbers from Bight of Biafra were at their highest in the late period 1750-1800. 



“[…] both eastern Ghanaian and southern Nigerian origins for any “Benin/Togo” reporting among Anglo Caribbeans and African Americans are certainly not to be ruled out. But it seems undeniable already that many of such scores will also include a significant and genuine ancestral tie with people from current day Benin & Togo. Most apparently for Barbados […] This rather pronounced impact is possibly to be explained by the relatively early arrival of the contingent of Bight of Benin captives in the Anglo Caribbean. Combined with dispersal into North America through inter-colonial slave trade this may have set off a demographic founder effect in both the West Indies as well as the USA.” (Fonte Felipe, 2018)

“proportionally speaking this inter-colonial slave trade from the West Indies might have made the biggest impact right from the start in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. These decades marked the crucial beginning of the formation of African Americans as well as Jamaicans and Barbadians as new populations through the blending of ethnic lineages from various parts of Africa. An exact reconstruction of this process might never be possible. But increasingly both historical and now also genetic evidence seems to be forthcoming that people from the Bight of Benin may have been more prominent in all of this than imagined so far.” (Fonte Felipe, 2018)


This is actually a topic I have already researched quite extensively around the time I started this blog. In 2015 I published a post about how to interpret the “Benin/Togo” region appearing in AncestryDNA results. In particular I was then already speculating about how to account for the seemingly unexpected high levels of “Benin/Togo” being reported for both African Americans and Anglo-Caribbeans. Naturally part of the explanation has to do with the imperfections of regional admixture analysis. However as I argued then already it is quite likely that due to founding effects Inter-Colonial slave trade from Barbados caused a shift of African provenance. When compared with any expectations you might have based on Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade or even also African retention (which is based on cultural transfer rather than genetic inheritance!). See also:

Not only for African Americans and Anglo-Caribbeans in fact. But also for Dutch Caribbeans, Franco-Caribbeans, Latin Americans and South Americans (Guyana/Suriname). All of these populations being affected to varying degree by Inter-Colonial slave trade from Barbados. And in addition of course also intermarriage with Barbadian migrants from the 1800’s/1900’s caused a similar genetic effect. As they would also embody all the main African founding lineage from especially the Lower Guinea area.


 Main implications for different parts of the Afro-Diaspora


“An astonishing array of people crossed the Atlantic from Africa. Even though many traversed the ocean on ships with people of a similar background, the intercolonial trade increased the mixing of peoples from various African regions.” (O’Malley, 2014, p.344)

“Assuming that the intercolonial trade from the British Caribbean to South Carolina reflected the ethnic composition of the transatlantic migration to the British Caribbean, this intercolonial trade must have diversified the enslaved population in South Carolina considerably.” (O’Malley, 2014, p.185)” 

As such, the clandestine trade between British and French islands in the eighteenth century likely increased the proportion of Akan and Igbo men and women reaching French territories far beyond what the direct African trade might suggest.” (O’Malley, 2014, p.254)


The specifics of this shift in African lineage due to a Barbados Connection will depend on your individual genealogy. But also more generally on your Afro-Diasporan background. Again I am not aiming for any conclusive statements in this section! However I am convinced that the data contained in Tables 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 has far-reaching implications. When wanting to dissect the possibilities of increased odds for certain types of African lineage these following aspects should be helpful.  

  1. Determine which African provenance regions show the greatest gap, when comparing the Barbados data with your own Afro-Diasporan background.
  2. Learn more about which time period your Barbados connection relates to.
  3. Take into account all other types of relevant movement of your ancestors (incl. Domestic Slave Trade, voluntary migrations after Slavery etc.).

This will not be a straightforward or easy excercise by any means! But it might still be pretty insighful in many cases. Especially when combined with any other ancestral clues you might have. Just to give some examples. From Table 3.2 we can see that especially for African Americans from South Carolina there is a big gap (>10%) when comparing with all 3 key provenance regions for Barbadians. Most strikingly for Bight of Benin this is 17% (19.2% – 2%) however it seems quite likely that South Carolinians could also have obtained extra Bight of Biafra lineage (26.1% – 10.3% = 16%) and also their Gold Coast roots (24.6% – 12.7% = 12%) may have been increased by way of founding effects from Barbados. This should be particularly relevant for people with deep ties to the Gullah corridor along the coast which was most exposed to Inter-Colonial slave trade from Barbados (see also this blogpost).

For Virginia it appears that only lineage from Bight of Benin and the Gold Coast might have been amplified from Barbados. Because Virginia’s share of Trans-Atlantic slave trade with Bight of Biafra (43.8%) is actually considerably greater than for Barbados (26.1%). Which is why I do not agree with the suggestion made by 23andme’s researchteam that African Americans would have obtained most of their Nigerian DNA by way of Inter-Colonial trade. I think it is rather Domestic Slave Trade from Virginia and directly surrounding areas which played a decisive role in this outcome (see this blogpost). Also in fact for inland areas of South Carolina. Although again for the coastal areas of South Carolina I imagine a Barbados connection did indeed provide a substantial additional source of Nigerian lineage (see also this blogpost). 

As highlighted in the quote above for Franco-Caribbeans it will be mostly an increase of Bight of Biafra and Gold Coast lineage. Ethnically speaking this should imply especially Akan, but also Ewe, Ga-Adangbe and northern Ghanaian & Burkina ancestors. While for the Bight of Biafra it will be indeed mainly Igbo ancestry which is being implied. However in addition also ancestry from the Ijaw, Efik and neighbouring peoples from western Cameroon should be a realistic option. Because direct Trans-Atlantic slave trade by the French was already heavily leaning on the Bight of Benin (especially Martinique, see this chart), any additional inflow by way of Barbados will most likely not have been impactful, but just reinforcing. Unlike for Virginia & South Carolina.

For Hispanic Americans it will generally be an increase of all Lower Guinean related lineage. Intriguingly also reflected in substructure according to overall African admixture levels. People with more distant and diluted African lineage usually having a greater share instead of Upper Guinean and Central African ancestry (see this page). The outcomes are very much contextdependent though! Probably more so than in other parts of the Americas. Because Inter-Colonial slave trade in the Spanish colonies was performed by several European nations. Each with their own slave trading patterns and varying intensity across time and place. Therefore any Barbados connection dating from the 1700’s/late 1600’s should normally be very difficult to disentangle. But I have a hunch this might be most feasible for Venezuela and Puerto Rico. While of course for Panama a more recent Barbados Connection from the early 1900’s should be relatively easy to trace. 

Moving on to the Dutch & British Guianas (presentday Suriname and Guyana). When combining things there is hardly any difference when it comes to the Bight of Benin proportion (17-19%). Only Demerara showing a subdued level. However this is probably just because of a lack of earlier data (pre-1750). Also the Gold Coast shares are quite similar for Barbados and Guyana/Suriname (around 25%, again the data for British Guiana/Demerara probably being a bit distorted). Jamaica shows a similar level as well.5 Hence in these cases any additional Barbadian ancestry would only be reinforcing this type of African provenance.

However it is clearly the Bight of Biafra which shows the biggest deviation between the Trans-Atlantic slave trade data for Barbados on the one hand and the combined data for Suriname/Guyana on the other hand. For the Dutch Guianas this difference is around 20% even (26.1% – 6.3%)! But also for the British Guianas (mostly reflecting slave trade in the later period) this difference is still 16% (26.1% – 10.1%). This very telling pattern was created because the Bight of Biafra was a region seldomly visited by the Dutch (see this query). Except for a brief period in the 1600’s. When actually also a very intriguing Dutch Creole language developed with heavy Ijaw influences: Berbice Creole Dutch.

This is still pending further research but from what I have seen sofar the odds of increased Igbo lineage among Guyanese and Surinamese might often be correlated with having a Barbados connection.6 Or else a connection with other parts of the Anglo-Caribbean. To be sure direct slave voyages from the Bight of Biafra carried out by British slave traders did reach also Suriname when it was briefly under British rule during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1816). However this just adds to the context with such lineage being chiefly the result of British mediation in later timeperiods (1750-1808). Improving the odds of associating any particular family line with any assumed Bight of Biafra ancestry (indicated by regional admixture and/or Nigerian DNA matches).

In fact also for Barbadians themselves the chances of tracing Igbo lineage to this relatively later period (1750-1808) are probably greatest. Although as can be seen in Table 3.3 considerable numbers of people from the Bight of Biafra must have been present in Barbados from the start. However the combination of early Creolization and Bight of Biafra imports generally having a relatively later focus is probably also the main reason for the (slight) differences in the African origins of Jamaicans and Barbadians. Again as I already said actually they are both characterized by an above average proportion of Lower Guinean ancestry! But based on my research sofar a further specification of this component shows some interesting shifts. On average Bajans are likely to have a greater share of especially Bight of Benin but possibly also Gold Coast related lineage than Jamaicans. While overall speaking Jamaicans are probably more likely to have prevailing ancestry from the Bight of Biafra.  

I have already devoted many blog posts to investigating the African roots of Jamaicans. I have always wanted to expand on this by also comparing with Barbados. As I believe this is quite insightful for grasping the importance of two key factors when Tracing African Roots: 1) Creolization, a.k.a. the formation of locally self-sustaining Afro-descended populations and the timing thereof 2) Clustering of arrivals from certain key African provenance regions, according to time period as well as shared ethno-linguistic background.

In fact both aspects show a great deal of similarity and overlap for Barbados and Jamaica (some parishes more so than others). But generally speaking it might be said that Barbados experienced an earlier completion of its Creolization. And therefore also the waves of founding African lineage are more so gravitating to the period of 1650-1750. While for Jamaicans the later period of 1750-1808 was relatively speaking more important. I aim to expand on these themes in my next blogpost which will deal with African DNA matches being reported for Barbadians on Ancestry. For previous discussion see also:

4) Suggested Links:


Guyana & Suriname







All Hail the New Queen 😉

Hail The Queen

***(source image)

“A NEW DAWN: The island nation of Barbados has become a republic, ditching Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state and severing its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived there” (ABC, 2021)



– Alleyne, F. (2012). Barbadian Migration to British Guiana, 1840‐1960: The Search for ‘El Dorado’.

– Brown, L. (2005). Experiments in indenture: Barbados and the segmentation of migrant labor in the Caribbean 1863-1865. New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, 79, (1 & 2), 31-54.

– Debe, D. & Menard, R. (2011). The Transition to African Slavery in Maryland: A Note on the Barbados Connection. Slavery & Abolition, 32, (1), 129–141.

– Greenfield, S.M. (1985). Barbadians in the Amazon and Cape Verdeans in New England: Contrasts in adaptations and relations with homelands. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 8, (2), 209-232.

– Handler. J.S. & Rickford, J.R. (1994). Textual Evidence on the Nature of Early Barbadian Speech, 1676-1835. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 9, (2), 221-255. (available online)

– Higman, B. W. (1984). Slave populations of the British Caribbean1807-1834.

– Howe, G.D. & Marshall, D.D. (2001). The Empowering Impulse: The Nationalist Tradition of Barbados.

– Johnson, H. (1973). Barbadian Immigrants in Trinidad 1870-1897. Caribbean Studies, 13, (3), 5-30.

– Lowenthal, D. (1957). The Population of Barbados. Social and Economic Studies, 6, (4), 445-501.

– Milagro Marshall, S. (2016). Tell My Mother I Gone to Cuba: Stories of Early Twentieth-Century Migration from Barbados.

– O’Malley, G.E. (2014). Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807

– Roberts, G.W. (1955). Emigration from the island of Barbados. Social and Economic Studies, 4, (3), 245-288.

– Roberts, J. (2016). Surrendering Surinam: The Barbadian Diaspora and the Expansion of the English Sugar Frontier, 1650–75. The William and Mary Quarterly, 73, (2), 225-256.

– Welch, P. (2009). An Overlooked Dimension: The Emigration of Barbadian laborers to Suriname in the Nineteenth Century. The Journal of Caribbean History, 43, (2).

– Winford, D. (2001). Intermediate” creoles and degrees of change in creole formation: the case of Bajan, in Neumann-Holzschuh and Schneider (eds), Degrees of Restructuring in Creole Languages, 215-246.



1) Making a distinction between the various movements of people from Barbados according to time period is quite important. Taking into account increasing dilution and recombination across the generations. This makes for all the difference when wanting to know what to expect from DNA testing. I find it noteworthy for example that a Caribbean related genetic community is practically never reported for African Americans by Ancestry. Unless they happen to have a known relatively recent West Indian ancestor, usually within the last 2-4 generations. So this would actually be in accordance with historical expectations.

On 23andme African Americans have a higher chance of obtaining a West Indian genetic group (a.k.a. recent ancestor location). This is because 23andme applies less strict threshold criteria and a somewhat different methodology than Ancestry. Whereas I find that the genetic communities on Ancestry are practically always on point I always caution people to be careful with jumping to conclusions with this feature on 23andme. Because sometimes the implied ancestral scenario might be different than expected. To be sure 23andme does do a good job most of the time. And so I suppose in many cases a legitimate indication of West Indian ancestry dating back from around 200 years could be valid.

The problem then of course is that generally speaking the Barbados connection for African Americans dates back over 300 years. Hence again not that surprising that from my observations Barbados is rarely reported as a recent ancestor location for African Americans (n=200, see also this page). Although Jamaica in fact is quite frequent! As shown in the overview below.

To be sure there could be several reasons for that outcome! Perhaps also simply because Jamaicans are more likely to test on 23andme. However I suspect that part of the explanation might be that Jamaicans unlike Barbadians tend to also have a considerable degree of African ancestry dating from the late 1700’s or even the early 1800’s. And that’s an extra matching factor they might have in common with African Americans. It should be very insightful to see similar research being done on Guyanese and Surinamese!



2) The work of Richard Ligon (1657) is a very precious testimony on early Barbados. But actually it also provides a valuable perspective on Cape Verde in the 17th centrury, incl. free people of colour! Ligon stayed in Cape Verde (Santiago island) for a short while before sailing to Barbados on the other end of the Atlantic. This route was very common in this early period of European colonization of the Americas. In his work we can find several references on the significance of Cape Verde for early settlers in the Americas. This was because Cape Verde was the very first European colony in the tropics (1460’s) and therefore it was able to provide tropically adjusted livestock, horses and foodstuffs. Such as bonavist beans! Although native to India, these beans were apparently named after the Cape Verdean island of Boa Vista. Which is actually also referred to in Ligon’s work as “Bonavist”. See link below for the full text:

Although Cape Verde had previously also been a hub of transshipping African captives (much like Barbados!). This was no longer a chief activity in the mid 1600’s. Because slave traders preferred to buy their captives directly from mainland African ports instead. Interestingly we can also find a reference for this in Ligon’s work. As it seems that originally his ship was supposed to collect not only livestock and provisions in Cape Verde but also African captives. However these were most likely not available. And therefore Ligon’s ship had to return to mainland Africa and instead go to the Guinean slave port of Cacheu. Then again most likely in this period there would have been several (largely undocumented) British slave voyages which did carry captives from Cape Verde to Barbados. Below some quotations from Ligon’s work:


“About this time, our Consort the None-such parted with us, she directly for the Carribby Ilands, we for St. Jago, one of the Ilands of Cape Verd; where wee were to trade for Negros, Horses, and Cattell; which we were to sell at the Barbados.”

“we carried away with us 50 head of Cattle, and 8 Horses […] “Besides, the ship we came in, was consigned to another part in Africa, called Cuchew, to trade for Negroes.”

“Some of them, who have been bred up amongst the Portugalls, have some extraordinary qualities, which the others have not; as singing and fencing. I have seen some of these Portugall Negres, at Collonell James Draxes, play at Rapier and Dagger very skilfully”

planting provisions of Corn, Yeams, Bonavista, Cassavie, Potatoes; and likewise of Fruites, as, Oranges, Limons, Lymes, Plantines, Bonanoes; as also, for breeding Hoggs, Sheep, Goats, Cattle, and Poultry, to furnish the rest of the Iland, that want those Commodities”


See also this article for early slave trade to Barbados:

  • Gragg, L. D. (1995). “To Procure Negroes”: The English Slave Trade to Barbados, 1627-60. Slavery & Abolition, 16 (1), 65-84.

3) Derek Walcott, the first Caribbean winner of the Nobel prize, was of partial Barbadian decent. Even when of course he was born in St. Lucia and is well known for celebrating his St. Lucian roots. Apparently this Bajan link was through his white grandfather. But regardless of actual racial background it seems that Barbadians have often been influential in spreading British culture throughout the Caribbean. In particular as school teachers but also otherwise as civil servants, policemen etc.. This might have been especially impactful in islands which were initially more so influenced by French Patois, like St. Lucia. See also:

4) The number of Barbadian participants in my surveys has admittedly been rather small up till now. However I am pretty sure their group averages are already quite indicative of their predominant Lower Guinean ancestry. Given the consistency with my much more numerous sample size for comparable Anglo-Caribbeans, especially Jamaicans. My findings are also corroborated by the landmark study performed by 23andme in 2020. Which includes 293 samples from the Windward Caribbean, incl. Barbados. See also:

5) The Gold Coast shares of incoming Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are quite similar for Barbados, Guyana/Suriname and Jamaica. Around 25% (see Table 3.2). But based on my research findings Guyana, Suriname and Barbados might have a slight edge on Jamaica when it comes to Ghanaian lineage. Possibly due to slave trade in the period 1650-1750 being relatively less significant in Jamaica than it was for Barbados and the Dutch Guianas (see Table 2.1). While this was the periode that arguably saw the greatest wave of arrivals from the Gold Coast (see Table 3.3). Something which is also being reflected in my surveys (see this chart and also this one). Then again it might also be that Windward Coast lineage is being conflated in these preliminary estimates!

6) Also pending on further research but based on what I have seen sofar minor but still distinctive Malagasy lineage will often be inherited by way of a Barbados connection. As indicated by especially DNA matches, but at times also by minimal but still detectable scores of Southeast Asian admixture. I have seen this a couple of times already. In particular for Guyana and Suriname this should be a valid scenario because apparently there are no records of direct Trans-Atlantic slave trade between Southeast Africa and the Dutch/British Guianas. But there are quite a few well documented slave voyages undertaken from Madagascar to Barbados. In fact in the very same timeperiod (late 1600’s-early 1700’s) when Malagasy captives were also brought to Virginia! See also Table 3.2.

7) I have always been interested in exploring the specific African roots of Barbadians. Not only genetically but also culturally. But unlike for Jamaicans there is regrettably less to go by. In particular when focusing on African retention as the result of cultural transfer. A major explanation for this lies in the circumstance that Barbadians will trace their African roots to a generally earlier period than Jamaicans. Due to positive population growth occurring earlier in Barbados. In this way Barbadians are perhaps more so comparable to African Americans. Even ending up with a reputation of being a “Little England”. This quote below pretty much sums it up: 


“Direct African influence declined in Barbados earlier than in other major Caribbean societies. In 1817 only 7 percent of Barbadian slaves had been born in Africa, whereas in Jamaica the proportion was 36 percent and 44 percent in Trinidad. An important result was that the process of acculturation, whereby Afro-Barbadians were persuaded or coerced into accepting European cultural norms was more intensive in Barbados. To give two examples, the proportion of words of African origin in the Barbadian vocabulary is much lower than it is in Jamaica, and there are in Barbados none of the religions of African or partly African origin found elsewhere in the Caribbean, such as Voodoo in Haiti, Shango in Trinidad, or Kélé in St. Lucia. (It may be claimed that the Spiritual Baptists are an exception, but this church came to Barbados from Trinidad in comparatively recent times.)” See “African Heritage”. A~Z of Barbados Heritage”. pp. 2–3.


However it should not be forgotten that initially African retention did persist also among locally-born Bajans. A very evocative example of this is the usage of African names:


The use of African names did not depend on reinforcement from newly arrived Africans; it seems to have reflected a cultural practice or tendency that placed some value on African names and, as noted above, continued for many years after the slave period had terminated. In particular, as we discuss below, some African names may have been perpetuated through namesakes, a practice that could have served the dual purpose of linking children to their ancestors as well as to the African homeland.” (Handler, 1996, p.701)

“Thus slaves’ perpetuation of African names (and refusal to abandon them) in North American and Caribbean areas may have been: a means of maintaining ties to their “ancestral culture and homeland….[in] an act of resistance against total domination by slaveowners and their alien culture” (Handler, 1996, p.705)


Also the local Bajan dialect/language of Barbados still contains African influences even when it might be mostly English indeed. The overview below is referring to the greater African language families (taken from Parkvall, 2000). Kwa including influences from both Ghana, Benin and Togo. While Delto-Benuic would be including Igbo influences. See also this page for detailed maps.

***(click to enlarge)

3. Parkvall

See also:

  • M. Parkvall, 2000. Out of Africa: African Influences in Atlantic Creoles
  • J. R. Rickford and J. S. Handler, 1994. “Textual Evidence on the Nature of Early Barbadian Speech, 1676-1835.” Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 9, (2), 221-55. (available online)

16 thoughts on “The Barbados Connection: beyond just South Carolina!

  1. I never knew how many people had ancestry from Barbados until I started making trees for DNA relatives. I haven’t found any Barbadians in my own tree but I have so many cousins with family from there. It got to the point where I would search for specific names and have to skip many people who were born in Barbados.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apparently migration from Barbados into St. Croix was actively promoted in the late 1800’s. I came across this blog focused on the Virgin Islands, which you might already know about. It contains some very telling statistics on Barbadian migration to St. Croix:

      Immigrant Workers–19th Century St Croix Population-Part 2 (200 Years in Paradise, 2013)

      While preparing for this blog post I also read this article which also deals specifically with St. Croix.
      Experiments in indenture: Barbados and the segmentation of migrant labor in the Caribbean 1863-1865 (Brown, 2008)

      Quote below taken from that study:

      In the summer of 1863, over two thousand Barbadians traveled to the sugar plantations of St. Croix and Antigua under three-year contracts of indenture. Larger movements of migrant labor from Barbados flowed across the Caribbean during the nineteenth century. However, the migrants of 1863 were unique because their contracts mirrored those used to import Asian and African immigrants.

      Some might have returned to Barbados eventually but I suppose many also remained and had families afterwards.


  2. I just looked at my 23andme for matches and I see people with Babardian ancestry. Some have that along with AA or other Caribbean countries

    This is how one Barbadians DNA looks in comparison to mines at least in terms of the African part


    • While researching for this blogpost I was also looking into recent migration by Barbadians into the US. And I was amazed that quite a few famous people are of Bajan descent, such as Grandmaster Flash. I take it most of them went to NYC first, but perhaps later on people also spread out to other places.

      When it comes to comparing Barbadians with African Americans on 23andme you have to first keep in mind that so-called “Nigerian” will also be covering a lot of actual Bight of Benin lineage for Barbadians. After the latest update on Ancestry it appears that their “Benin/Togo” region is starting to become more credible again. Potentially very useful to make this distinction with Bight of Biafra lineage! But unfortunately 23andme does not yet have an equivalent for this region in their African breakdown.

      Otherwise it is clear that Barbadians have a higher combined Lower Guinean component than African Americans. With their “Ghanaian, Liberian and Sierra Leonean” scores being among the highest in the AfroDiaspora only surpassed by Guyana/Suriname. Also striking to see that Central African lineage among Barbadians is probably at the lowest level when comparing with other populations. Quite similar to Jamaicans, also with the subdued “Senegambian & Guinean’. But still also some slight differences. As I discuss also in the blogpost.

      Overview below is based on data taken from 23andme’s study from 2020. Based on the 2018 version, so there will be some changes after the latest upgrade. But when comparing populations the ranking patterns should be about the same.


      • Nigeria43%
        Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples 26%
        Mali 6%
        Senegal 5%
        Ivory Coast & Ghana 4%
        Benin & Togo 3%
        Sweden & Denmark 3%
        Scotland 3%
        Southern Bantu Peoples1%
        Southern Philippines 1%
        Indigenous Americas—North 1%
        Wales 1%

        Those are my most recent Ancestry results my Nigerian has gone from 46% to 40% and now 43% my Benin & Togo may have been 4% or the same. I do have one Igbo match with an unusually hight percentage of Benin & Togo whose Cameroon, Congo & Western Bantu Peoples was switched to Ivory Coast & Ghana, but only 1%. The Barbadian matches I found on 23andme are 4th-5th cousins.

        Liked by 1 person

        • How are you liking the new Ethnicity Inheritance tool on Ancestry? For a lot of people it’s been pretty accurate and in line with how they already knew how their parents would be different from each other. Also if you don’t happen to have detailed info on your parent’s background this new tool should be pretty useful to get some solid indications where a particular type of lineage is coming from. For example did Ancestry say which parent you inherited your 1% scores for Southern Bantu Peoples and Southern Philippines?


          • I know that you didn’t ask me but I like it especially since they used the matches that we have within their database to come to this.

            Mine(I’m only using African regions):

            Parent 1(Most likely my maternal line:
            Nigeria: 20%
            Cameroon Congo and Western Bantu People: 12%
            Ivory Coast and Ghana: 3%
            Benin and Togo: 4%
            Mali: 4%
            Senegal: <1%

            Parent 2(Most likely my paternal line):
            Nigeria: 13%
            Cameroon, Congo and Western Bantu People: 5%
            Ivory Coast and Ghana: 7%
            Benin and Togo: 4%
            Mali: 2%
            Senegal: 3%
            Eastern Bantu People: 1%

            My maternal grandmother, as I told you was from Mason County, Kentucky with over a hundred years roots in that county. So it makes sense that I inherited a lot of Nigeria from her. What’s also interesting is that my grandfather’s branch has a fair share of Nigerian genomes as South Carolinians/Georgians with colonial American roots. Like most from that community, they have a lot of Cameroon Congo and Western Bantu People which is mostly Angola and Congolese ancestry so I inherit that(17% C, C and WBP altogether) and twice my Mali proportion from that branch. Surprisingly, I have little Senegalese from that line. I only said a little bit because it’s mostly from my paternal line.

            The interesting thing is that I inherit more Ivory Coast and Ghana from my paternal line which should be the opposite since my maternal grandfather is the one with long roots in South Carolina and Georgia.

            But I have one of my paternal aunts who not only has more Nigerian than me but has 11% Ivory Coast and Ghana and barely any Benin and Togo(3%). This line is interesting because my paternal grandfather’s branch has both Early Virginia and North Carolina roots while my paternal grandmother’s earliest roots are from Colonial Virginia. But they had about 150 years of roots in Fulton County, Coweta, Ga and my grandmother’s mom is actually from South Carolina and her family was there for almost a hundred years before coming to Georgia. But the matches from that line also share Early Virginia African Americans.

            So there are a lot of stories in my parental inheritance that I’ve been able to find and this feature confirm a lot for me.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hi Curtis, yes I really like this feature too! For people whose parents are of clearly different background ethnicity inheritance should be most accurate. When your parents show overlapping ethnic estimates than it becomes a bit more tricky to disentangle. Mainly due to random inheritance. But also from what I ‘ve seen Ancestry is not always consistent in its ethnic estimates across generations. This is probably because their algorithm at times can go either way when having to choose between two closely related categories, such as “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Benin/Togo”. This can lead to puzzling results whereby for example a child gets a score of 20% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” while both of his parents combined actually have less than 20% of this region.

              Then again such outcomes are not that common and while inheritance might be random to some extent; it’s not totally random either! People tend to overexaggerate this. However recombination tends to work with smaller chunks of your parent’s DNA. And you will always end up with around 50% of your DNA inherited from each parent.

              All in all I think this tool has great potential also with new updates. It can be very useful already for tracking down regional admixture which is unique to one of your parents. This will usually be the smaller scores you might have., incl. also minor non-African scores.

              Even better when you have tested both of your parents or even also your grandparents because that way you can really start mapping certain distinctive regional scores to certain family lines. Going up your familytree and therefore getting closer to the first ancestor who would be the original source of that regional score. I can also see how this would work really great when you combine with any of your African DNA matches and and also apply triangulation.

              For example in your case I would be curious to know if your Senegambian related matches are likely to have been inherited by way of your paternal line. And going back one more generation either your paternal grandfather or paternal grandmother and so on. Of course eventhough subdued in your case this type of Upper Guinean DNA is pretty common and also overlapping in between “Senegal” and “Mali”. So it might also be the both of them and there could be multiple ancestral scenario’s at play.

              Also that 1% “Eastern Bantu” would be really cool to know if you inherited that intact from one specific grandparent or even great-grandparent! Then again we’re still dealing with “estimates” 😉 So it would not be conclusive but still you could corroborate such an outcome with additional findings, like DNA matches, haplogroups etc..


              • Great insight. From what I see, my Senegalese matches, mostly Fulani matches are from my paternal grandparents, both sides. I found some confirmation through related matches though I wish AncestryDNA had triangulation because it would be such a beneficial tool.

                With this, I have a question: Matches that are 8-10 cM, how many potential generations would our recent common ancestors be?

                Liked by 1 person

                • If you have good contact with your matches you could ask them to upload to gedmatch. That way you will be able to confirm the exact location of shared DNA. And you could also see if it is triangulating.

                  About the 8-10 cM matches: this would put the predicted relationship in the range of 5th – 8th Cousin according to Ancestry. And so there might be in between 6 to 9 generations up till your shared ancestor. This overview from 23andme depicts it well in case it would be a fifth cousin.

                  It’s important to grasp it will be a range though because due to recombination several possibilities are implied.


  3. Hey long time, no see! Great article once again. It’s funny because I was a conversation about how influential The British Intra Americas Slave Trade was especially with Jamaica, Barbados, South Carolina and Virginia but looking at your numbers I had no idea that the Barbados Connection had this much influenced on Virginia descendants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it certainly has been influential beyond South Carolina. And it was especially important whenever self-sustaining localized populations were created. Forming the basis of later American-born generations. However to keep things in perspective Intra-American Slave Trade by way of the West Indies covers about 15% of total slave trade (internationally and by sea) for the USA. For Virginia and South Carolina it was even less: around 10% (see this overview). Therefore Trans Atlantic Slave trade is far more important for the USA, generally speaking.

      This is also why I mention in the text that:

      For Virginia it appears that only lineage from Bight of Benin and the Gold Coast might have been amplified from Barbados. Because Virginia’s share of Trans-Atlantic slave trade with Bight of Biafra (43.8%) is actually considerably greater than for Barbados (26.1%). Which is why I do not agree with the suggestion made by 23andme’s researchteam that African Americans would have obtained most of their Nigerian DNA by way of Inter-Colonial trade. I think it is rather Domestic Slave Trade from Virginia and directly surrounding areas which played a decisive role in this outcome (see this blogpost). Also in fact for inland areas of South Carolina. Although again for the coastal areas of South Carolina I imagine a Barbados connection did indeed provide a substantial additional source of Nigerian lineage

      But again this is just to put things in perspective and obviously not everything can be reconstructed 😉 To hark back on the theme of Barbadian slave trade to Virginia I also find it very interesting to see that based on documented slave voyages the share of Barbados is actually higher for Virginia than it was for South Carolina! Ofcourse many such voyages may not have been recorded, but still already quite indicative. I can only guess why but perhaps because these voyages were generally earlier for Virginia? While for South Carolina a considerable reliance on Intra-Colonial slave trade seems to have lasted longer. And at that time slave trade by way of other islands would have become more common. Also interesting to see a higher share of Jamaica in other states (see this link for underlying numbers)

      The database of these Intra-American slave voyages has been put together by that historian O’Malley, whose work I am also referring to in this post. Another insightful quote from his book “Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807”:

      Whatever their personal experiences, one thing the vast majority of captives in the British intercolonial trade shared was that they were Africans who had recently arrived in the Americas. Of the 26,830 people whose background is noted in the intercolonial database, 24,713 of them (more than 92 percent) were described as “New Negroes,” “Africans,” or a more specific African ethnicity. Fewer than 8 percent of people were described as “Seasoned” or as otherwise having spent substantial time in the Americas” (page 21)

      So again this will impact any chances of matching actual Barbadians. Which from what I have seen does not occur that frequently for African Americans. Unless it’s because of relatively recent family ties due to voluntary migrations in the 1900’s.


  4. Hey,I’ve learned a lot from this blog but I’ve been wondering, How do you feel about MyLiving DNA as a source of researching African ancestry?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m from St Vincent (born and raised and same for my parents, grandparents, etc) and I’m trying to decide between AncestryDNA and 23&Me. Which would give more accurate results for Afro-Caribbean people?


    • Hi Kobi,

      I myself have tested with both Ancestry and 23andme. Both DNA tests have provided me with great informational value over the years. Both tests do have their own shortcomings plus they are compatible in several ways. Really if you can afford it I would test with both companies. That way you always have a second opinion of your admixture results, and you can fish in a bigger pond of DNA matches.

      Choosing between either one of them would depend on what exactly you’re looking for. It used to be the case that Ancestry offered a far better analysis of especially West & Central African DNA. However given the updates of the last few years I actually think 23andme’s African breakdown is a bit more accurate now. Not that much difference actually when you take a closer look in how regional categories on both tests might overlap.

      Ancestry may have the upperhand still when considering their greater customer database. This should increase the odds of receiving African DNA matches. Generally speaking they are also more specialized in family tree research and offering services/tools to assist you in such endeavours.

      23and me on the other hand has the advantage of providing chromosome paintings, phasing with parents, haplogroups, and listing the known ancestor birthplaces of your dna matches. Aside from their health reports of course. So really it’s up to your own preferences in this regard.

      There has been a recent update on 23andme which for me personally gives them an edge right now. It’s a new tool which makes it easier to get matched to specific African ethnic groups. It’s not 100% perfect but still really insightful! To be sure Ancestry might eventually also implement a similar tool, but currently they don’t have anything like it. For more of my thoughts scroll down to footnote 1 on this blog post:

      New Update on 23andme: Ethnic Group Matches within Africa! (part 2)


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