Sugar plantations in the Caribbean

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The Sugar cane plant was the main crop produced on the numerous plantations throughout the Caribbean through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as almost every island was covered with sugar plantations for refining the cane for its sweet properties. The main source of labor was African slaves. These plantations produced 80-90 percent of the sugar consumed in Western Europe. In the 1800s sugar dominated Martinique, Grenada, Saint Croix, Jamaica, Barbados, Leeward Islands, Saint Domingue, Cuba, Guyana and many other islands that were run by the French or British.

On the British islands, sugar was the only crop grown, and on the French islands, sugar was their most important crop. The sugar was best grown on land that was near the coast where the soil was naturally yellow and fertile.

In the mid 1600s sugar cane was brought into British West Indies by Dutch-Jews in exile [1], [2], [3] from Brazil. Upon landing in Barbados and other islands, they quickly urged local farmers to change their main crops from cotton and tobacco to sugar cane. With depressed prices of cotton and tobacco due mainly to stiff competition from the North American colonies, the local farmers switched, leading to a boom in the Caribbean economies. Sugar was quickly snapped up by the British which used the sugar for cakes, and sweetener in teas.

For about the next 100 years Barbados remained the richest of all the European colonies in the Caribbean region. The prosperity in the colony of Barbados remained regionally unmatched until sugar cane production grew larger in geographically larger countries such as La Hispaniola, Jamaica and elsewhere. As part of the mass sugar production, the process gave rise to other related commodities like rum, molasses, and Falernum.

The West India Interest was formed in the 1740s when the British merchants joined with the West Indian sugar planters. The British and West Indies shared profits and needs. This organization was the first sugar trading organization which had a large voice in parliament.

In the 1740s, Jamaica and Saint-Domingue(Haiti) became the world’s main sugar producers. They increased the production by using an irrigation system that French engineers built. The French engineers also built reservoirs, diversion dams, levees, aqueducts and canals. In addition, they improved their mills and used varieties of cane and grasses.

See also