tury Caribbean?”The value of the Caribbean colonies to Europe came to be in theirsugarproduction.
” After the European explorers realised that the Caribbean wasnotnaturally rich in gold and other precious metals; they were desperate tofind otherways in which they could use these islands to benefit themselves. Afterseveral failedattempts to grow crops such as tobacco and cotton (on a large scale), theEuropeansrealised that sugar had a greater potential to be sold in Europe than anyother crop,and in itself was a ‘goldmine’ waiting to be uncovered.The Portuguese had already successfully grown and produced sugar onplantations in So Tom and Madeira, but on a relatively small scale incomparisonto how great it would eventually become.
They took these techniques withthemwhen they began to colonise the north east (Pernambuco) of Brazil. Althoughsugarproduction increased, it still remained a very expensive product becausethe journeyfrom Brazil to Europe was very long and Brazilian sugar was taxed in a waythatWest Indian sugar never was. Therefore the demand still remained lowbecause onlythe rich could afford to buy sugar. On these plantations in So Tom andBrazil, aslave workforce was employed. In So Tom, the workforce was initially madeup ofpoor Europeans sent there to work. Unfortunately, they died out becausethey hadno resistance to tropical diseases such as malaria.
Captured Africans werethenreadily used because of their built up immunity to these diseases. Whensugarproduction first began in Brazil, the native Indian population was used astheir workforce. However, due to a combination of disease, malnutrition and inabilityto dosuch hard labour, the native population began to die out and new labour wasrequired. African slaves were once again imported from the West coast toBrazil.
They proved to be resilient workers and coped better with the hard labour.The British soon realised that the Caribbean had a similar climate tothat of Braziland sugar cane was well-suited to growth in those regions. It was easy forthem toacquire lands in the larger islands because the Spanish had lost interestin them andnot realised their potential; therefore little effort was spent defendingthem. To be aprofitable commodity, sugar had to be produced on a large scale and thismeant thatproduction had to be a 24 hour procedure.
Time was an important factor insugarproduction. The cane had to be harvested at certain times and thenprocessedimmediately otherwise the quality of the juice extracted would decrease andthesugar yield would be less. This 24 hour process meant that the sugar millsrequiredconstant attendance. Poor white labourers were first employed because theycouldeasily be lured there with the promise of land, after they had fulfilledtheir workcontracts. Unfortunately, this proved to be a problem because most of theland wasalready taken up as part of the sugar plantation and there was very littleleft toreward the white indenturers with. At this time, British North America wasbeginning to develop as a result of tobacco being grown there on a largescale and ofa better quality.
The white indentured work force began to migrate thereinstead ofthe Caribbean because the promise of land was more a reality. North Americais alarge continent and there was more land available to give to them. Theclimate therealso suited them more because it was similar to that of Europe. Mostimportantly, themortality rate was significantly lower. The Dutch noted this need for a newworkforce, and as African slaves were already being used in Brazil, they beganto sellthem to the British and later the French.
African slaves were the perfectwork force.They were strong, resistant to the tropical diseases and most of all, theywere cheap.Sometimes they cost nothing at all because the Europeans themselves beganto raidAfrican villages and didn’t need to trade with the North African Muslims toacquirethem.In 1655, the British took over Jamaica from the Spanish and started todevelop it asa sugar-plantation colony. It soon overtook Brazil in sugar production.This largescale production meant that sugar was more widely available and thus becamecheaper.
“An entirely new taste for sweetness manifested itself as soon asthe meansto satisfy it became available, and sugar contributed in the seventeenthcentury to thewidespread consumption of new commodities…” For quite some time, theBritishdominated the trade in sugar production. Genoa, Venice and Antwerp were thekeypoints of trade and distribution.
A lot of money/capital was beinggenerated throughthe colonisation of new lands and trade between the nations. Thereforebusinessmenwere looking for ways to invest their money to make profits. They had seenhowsuccessful the British were with sugar production and were very willing toinvest inthat same market. They funded French and Dutch colonisers who also wantedtoreap the benefits of sugar production. The French colonised larger islandssuch as St.Domingue (modern day Haiti), Martinique and Guadeloupe.
As more sugarplantations were being introduced to more islands, the competition betweentheEuropean nations was becoming fiercer. It was now a race to see who couldproducemore sugar, in a shorter period of time, for the best price. As sugarproductionsteadily increased, this in turn steadily increased the need for Africanslave labour tocope with the demands of the market. This ‘love affair’ with sugar meantthat theEuropeans were intensely dependent on African slave labour to supply theirneeds.
Sugar cultivation and production became a year-round process in theCaribbean fortwo reasons. First, it allowed the intense work of harvest-time to bespread out over anumber of months; thus increasing the yield. Second, it kept the slavesconstantlyoccupied with mindless, hard labour which left them with little time orenergy forrebellion.
Rebellion was never far from the minds of the Europeans becauseat theheight of sugar production, African slaves far outnumbered the whiteplanters. Theyknew that should the slaves band together, they could quite easilyoverthrow themand an exorbitant amount of money would be lost. This was particularly aproblemfor the British settlers. Between 1640 and 1713, there were seven slaverevolts in theEnglish sugar plantation islands, in which many Europeans and Africans werekilled.Jamaica then became the breeding ground of revolt.
Slaves escaped to themountainsand proved virtually impossible to recapture because of their location.There werefewer problems with slave revolts in islands like Barbados, Antigua and St.Kitts/Nevis because there were fewer places to run to.
However, this wasunimportant because Jamaica was their biggest supplier of sugar and slaverevoltsdecreased sugar production. The French soon bypassed the English to becomethelargest producers of sugar in the world in the mid seventeenth century. InHaitialone, they had over 450’000 slaves working on approximately 250plantations andthey produced hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sugar each year. Howeverin1791, the French were to fall to an even worse demise than the English inJamaica.
Following a slave revolution, the French were completely driven out ofHaiti. Thisleft a large hole in the world supply of sugar and it sparked sugarproduction inCuba by the Spanish, who had recognised this opportunity to capitalise.Sugarproduction there eventually rivalled that of Haiti in its heyday.In conclusion it can be said that the world demand for sugar fuelledthe need forslaves in the Caribbean. However, this demand proved to be the demise ofsugarproduction, for eventually the huge numbers of slaves revolted and thisdecreasedsugar production. The success of sugar production was solely dependent ontheresilience of African slaves.
This irrevocably linked them so that whereverslaveswere present, so too were sugar plantations.Quotes 1 and 2 taken from:Davis, Ralph, The Rise of the Atlantic Economies (London: Wetdenfeld andNicholson, 1973) p.251BIBLIOGRAPHYDavis, Ralph, The Rise of the Atlantic Economies (London: Wetdenfeld andNicholson, 1973).
Karras, Alan & McNeal, J.R, (ED.) Atlantic American Societies: FromColumbus through abolition 1492 – 1888 (London and New York: Routledge,1992).Reynolds, Edward, Stand the Storm: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade(London: Allison and Busby, 1985).
REFERENCESBowman, Prof. Joyce, Dept of History, Umass/Amhrerst, Africa and Europe(class notes)http://www.umass.edu/afroam/aa254_t7.htmlSugar and Slavery in the 19th centuryhttp://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~caguirre/381_15.htmlThe Mariners Museum Website, Captive Passage – Arrival: Life in theAmericashttp://www.mariner.org/captivepassage/arrival/arr007.htmlTransatlantic Slave Tradehttp://www.africana.com/research/encarta/trading.asp