He was born William Alexander Clarke to an Irish Roman Catholic planter and a mother of Taíno origins. He claimed that he took the name Bustamante to honour an Iberian sea captain who befriended him in his youth.
After travelling the world, including working as a policeman in Cuba and as a dietician in a New York City hospital, he returned to Jamaica in 1932 and became a leader of the struggle against colonial rule.
He was married to Gladys Longbridge affectionately know as "Lady B" a lady that can truly be called the matriarch of the JLP.
Jamaica was granted independence in 1962 and Bustamante served as the independent country's first Prime Minister until 1967. However, in 1965 he withdrew from active participation in public life, and real power was held by his deputy, Donald Sangster.
In 1969, Bustamante was proclaimed a 'National Hero of Jamaica', along with Norman Manley, the black liberationist Marcus Garvey and two leaders of the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon.
His death occurred on the fifteenth anniversary of Jamaica's independence.