The cultivation of sugar was first introduced in the middle of the 17th century, and owing to the cheapness of labour, the extreme fertility of the soil and the care bestowed on its cultivation, became the staple product of the island. Cotton growing has recently become of importance. The few other industries include rum distilleries and factories for chemicals, ice and tobacco. A railway 28 m. long runs from Bridgetown partly round the coast. The island is a place of call for almost all the steamships plying to and from the West Indies, and is a great centre of distribution. There is direct communication at frequent intervals with England, the United States, Canada and the other West Indian islands.
The greater part of the inhabitants belong to the Church of England, which exceeds in numbers the combined total of all other denominations. The island is the see of a bishop, who, with the clergy of all creeds, is paid by the government. The chief educational establishment is Codrington College, founded by Colonel Christopher Codrington, who in 1710 bequeathed two estates to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. It trains young men for holy orders and is affiliated to the university of Durham. Harrison College and The Lodge are secondary schools for boys, Queen's College for girls. There are several second grade and a large number of primary schools. The colony possesses representative institutions but not responsible government. The crown has a veto on legislation and the home government appoints the public officials, excepting the treasurer. The island is administered by a governor, assisted by an executive council, a legislative council of 9 nominated members, and a house of assembly of 24 members elected on a limited franchise. Barbados is the headquarters of the Imperial Agricultural Department of the West Indies, to which (under Sir Daniel Morris) the island owes the development of cotton growing, etc.
The majority of the population consists of negroes, passionately attached to the island, who have a well-marked physiognomy and dialect of their own, and are more intelligent than the other West Indian negroes. They outnumber the whites by 9 to 1. Barbados is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In 1901 the numbers amounted to 195,588, or 1178 to the sq. m., and in 1906 they were 196,287. There are no crown lands nor forests.
Bridgetown (pop. 21,000), the capital, situated on the S.W. coast, is a pretty town nestling at the foot of the hills leading to the uplands of the interior. It has a cathedral, St Michael's, which also serves as a parish church. In Trafalgar Square stands the earliest monument erected to the memory of Nelson. There are a good many buildings, shops, pleasure grounds, a handsome military parade and exquisite beaches. Pilgrim, the residence of the governor, is a fine mansion about a mile from the city. Fontabelle and Hastings are fashionable suburban watering-places with good sea-bathing. Speighstown (1500) is the only other town of any size.