Caribbean Sugar Islands


s Figure 1.--This undated engraving shows a group of slave about to be sold. The backgroubnd suggests the caribbean. The clothing of those about to make purchases suggests the early-19th century. Images like this are useful, but difficult to assess. We do not know the artist here, but looks like he was an abolitionist. This means that the image was made to persude rather than inform. Thus we are unsure about the accuracy of the depiction. We do not know who the artist was. Source: Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-15395 ).

It was sugar that first made slavery important. The Sugar Boom developed first in Brazil. The Dutch as part of the War for Independence/Dutch Portuguese War seized northeastern Brazil ad held it for several decades. When the Portuguese finally ousted them, they brought sugar technology to the Caribbean. The climate was perfect. Small islands that had once been of only minor importance, suddely became enormously valuable. The Europeans had, however, virtually exterminated the Native American populations (largely unintetionally through exposure to European diseases). The Spanish arrived first and decimated the Native Ameican population on first Hispaniola and then Puerto Rico and Cuba. They thus began inporting captive Africans. But the numbers of Africans were limited because the Caribbean islands did not produce very valuable crops. Sugar changed this. Suddenly small islands which no one cared much about became some of the most valuable realestate in the world. Sugar is, however, a labor intensive crop and workers in large numbers were needed to work the new sugar plantations. The Portuguese who had focused on the coast of Africa at first dominated the slave trade. This changed as the Dutch, French, and English also began setting up West African African trading posts and entered the slave trade. They also began seizing the Spanish colonies (Jamaica and western Hispsniola--Haiti) as well as islands the Spanish had bypassed (such as Barbados, Dominica, Guadelupe, Martinique, St. Kitts, and others). The colonial powers vied for control of the smaller islands. As the sugar economies developed, a massive demand for slaves was created. Haiti became enormously valuable to France. And even small islands were extrodinarily valuable. On islands like Barbados virually all the available land was conveted into sugar cane plantations. And their populations of these island became primarily enslaved Africans. Slavery by any definition involves brutality. But the slave system on the sugar islsands was especially brutal. It was unique in history. Many of the Caribbean sugar islands had populations that were more than 90 percent slaves. The history of slavery varied with each island having its own destinct histories. The system in some colonies such as Haiti and Jamaica was one of unbelievable bruality. The slaves were virtually worked to death. The sugar profits were so great that the planters simply purchased replacemnets from Africa. This was in contrast to North America where the slave population was self sustaining. On others islands, such as Dominica, it was a milder form which allowed many slaves to purchase their freedom. We do not know much about some of the smaller islands, but we are gradually building pages on slavery for the various Caribbean islands: Barbados, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martiniue, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Trinidad, and other colonies. The last important sugar industry was the Cuban sugar industry, in part because it was Spanish, but became the most important (19th century).

Sugar

It was sugar that first made slavery important. The Europens were introduced to sugar by the Arabs during the crusades. The Arabs demanded huge prices for this as they controlled the supply. It was part of the reason that the Portuguese began sailing south to find a sea route to the East. A part of that process, both the Spainish and Portuguese attempted to grow sugar on the Mediterranean and Atlantic islands they acquired. The Portuguese began sugar production began on Madeira, an uninhabited island off the northwest coast of Africa (1452) The Guanches, the indigenous Canary Islanders, were enslave tp provide labor. But they did not prove adequate to meet the need and proved to 'fragile' so Africans obtained through trading posrs set up as the Portuguese moved south became the principal labor force. Madeira became an important sugar producer with 80 mills and over 200 cane plantations (1500). It was the largest source of sugar to Europe. Sugar culture soread to other Atlantic islands. First the Spanish Canaries and then Santiago in the Cape Verde islands. These islands, however, were not ideal for cane culture. Sugar cane requires abundant rain fall and thee islands were semi-arid. So as Columbus and other navigators opened up new lands to the west, much more suitable locations were opebed up for cane cilture. Again the Portuguese led the way. The Spanish, Dutch, and English would also be involved, but the first sugar plantations appeared in Portuguese Brazil. Here began the first American sugar boom. It would be the Dutch, gowever, that would bring sugar to the Caribbean. Portugal got involved in the Spanish effort to supress the Dutch Republic and Protestantidm. The Dutch as part of the War for Independence/Dutch Portuguese War used their naval power to seize northeastern Brazil and its valuable sugar industry. They held northeastern Brazil (Pernambuco) for several decades (1629-54) . The Portuguese finally frove them out, buth the Dutch brought their sugar knowledge to the Guinasa and the Caribbean. And unlike the Atlantic islands, the climate on many islands was perfect. Small islands that had once been of only minor hich the Spanish passed over importance, suddely became enormously valuable. Dutch mercantilists set out to introduce the crop into the Eastern Caribbean, notably on English Barbados. The Dutch islands to the west were less suitable. In only a few years, sugar was being produced in quantity on nearly all of the British-and French Caribbean island (1680). From that point on and sugar cane was the dominant Caribbean crop of the region. The Dutch not only participated in the plabtations, but were ceating a demand for another valuable assett--enslave Africans obtained in trading posts established along the African coast.

Labor

While the Caribbean climate was perfect, labor was not available. Sugar is a labor intensive crop and workers wrre needed in large numbers. The Europeans had, however, virtually exterminated the Native American populations (largely unintetionally through exposure to European diseases). The Spanish arrived first and decimated the Native Ameican population on first Hispaniola and then Puerto Rico and Cuba. They thus began inporting captive Africans. But the numbers of Africans were limited because the Caribbean islands did not produce very valuable crops. Sugar changed this. Suddenly small islands which no one cared much about became some of the most valuable realestate in the world. Sugar is, however, a labor intensive crop and workers in large numbers were needed to work the new sugar plantations. The Portuguese who had focused on the coast of Africa at first dominated the slave trade. This changed as the Dutch, French, and English also began setting up West African African trading posts and entered the slave trade.

Individual Caribbean Islands

The Europeans also began vying over control of the Spain Main--the Caribbean. Spanish populations in the Greater Antilles made these islands a difficult target. The small islabds of the Lesser Antilles were a different mater. Not only was there little or no Spanish population, but small islands were asier to seize, especially for a country with aowrful navy and Spanish naval power was declining. Thus the British and French began seizing the Spanish colonies (Jamaica and western Hispsniola--Haiti) as well as islands the Spanish had bypassed (such as Barbados, Dominica, Guadelupe, Martinique, St. Kitts, and others). The colonial powers vied for control of the smaller islands. As the sugar economies developed, a massive demand for slaves was created. Haiti became enormously valuable to France. And even small islands were extrodinarily valuable. On islands like Barbados virually all the available land was conveted into sugar cane plantations. And their populations of these island became primarily enslaved Africans. Slavery by any definition involves brutality. But the slave system on the sugar islsands was especially brutal. It was unique in history. Many of the Caribbean sugar islands had populations that were more than 90 percent slaves. The history of slavery varied with each island having its own destinct histories. The system in some colonies such as Haiti and Jamaica was one of unbelievable bruality. The slaves were virtually worked to death. The sugar profits were so great that the planters simply purchased replacemnets from Africa. This was in contrast to North America where the slave population was self sustaining. On others islands, such as Dominica, it was a milder form which allowed many slaves to purchase their freedom. We do not know much about some of the smaller islands, but we are gradually building pages on slavery for the various Caribbean islands: Barbados, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martiniue, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Trinidad, and other colonies. The last important sugar industry developed in the Caribbean was the Cuban sugar industry, in part because it was Spanish, but eventually became the most important (19th century). Not all Cariibean islands of course were sugar islands. The Netherlands Antilles included islands that were arid and not suitable for sugar plantations. As a result the horrors of plantation slavery (Haiti, Jamaica, and other islands) was not visited on the slaves of thd Dutch islands who were more himanely treated.






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Created: 3:59 AM 10/26/2013
Last updated: 11:26 AM 12/1/2014