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Question: Examine how the sugar revolution altered the development of the Caribbean.

The sugar revolution altered the development of the Caribbean in a variety of ways, The sugar revolution has affected the Caribbean drastically as a result of the sugar revolution, there was a labour problem which was caused by the change from Tobacco to Sugar. The manufacturing and Sugar cultivation needed some workers to do manual labour .There were people who tried to get workers like the Spaniards who tried to get the Arawaks to work as slaves or through the Encomienda system hence resulting in a drastic change in the countrys system. The sugar revolution may be defined according to the oxford dictionary as the change from tobacco cultivation to sugar cane cultivation which began in the 1640s, the sugar cane revolution is the process in which the English and to a lesser extent the French islands experienced a change in their basic cash crop from tobacco to sugar in a rapid, and far reaching extent. The Sugar revolution led to the plantation society, it causes a dramatically change, the changes were wide because it impacted on other areas of the society and not only the crops that changed, According to Barry Higman there are 6 elements which are regarded as products of the sugar revolution. It was not just that sugar replaced tobacco as the chief crop the population changed from white to black; the size of landholdings changed; and eventually the West Indies became the cockpit of Europe. The list of changes the sugar revolution brought is almost inexhaustible.

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The sugar revolution socially, politically and economically altered the development of the Caribbean. The sugar revolution to have 5effects, which is that it generated a massive boast to the Atlantic slave trade, provides the engine for a variety of triangular trades, altered European nutrition and consumption, increase European interest in tropical colonies and contributed to the industrial revolution in Europe. The social effects of the sugar revolution led to society rigidly structured, increased crown control and mercantilism, there were a lot of whites and the society was democracy As a result of the Sugar Revolution, the Dutch’s power became greatly reduced because their power was based on trading. The amount of whites reduced because the indentured labourers from Europe stopped coming in. Some whites left to live elsewhere and many white farmers sold their tobacco estates and moved to North America. According to Shepherd and Beckles (1995) pg 207 The majority of slaves in society was discriminated against since Slavery was the main system of labour and they were unfree. The colonies became very wealthy and prosperous and the price of land incease with the sugar revolution. The islands became monocultural colonies. Plantation economy was most drastically changed through the sugar revolution. Higman describes the various ways in which Caribbean society was transformed during the seventeenth century. Sugar monoculture, that is the production of sugar as a singular crop commodity, was a major factor in changing the Caribbean landscapes. Agricultural and land areas were typically characterized as small farms producing diverse agriculture (such as tobacco, cotton, etc.) operated by free slaves, which switched upon the introduction of sugar monoculture, into densely populated, large plantations, producing only sugar, and operated by slave labour.(Higman. B.W, The Sugar Revolution; p. 213-236). The plantation slave labour system presents an interesting social change, where a master and slave relationship emerges with societal interaction which is different than before, in that it is a forced relationship that was fully created through the plantation social structure.

The mixing of white and black in colonies where intermarriage and concubinary existed, resulted in Mulatto children, whom were considered to be the in-between, although inferior to each race of the class distinction. Stereotypical notions of intelligence and sexuality were developed within this structure, based on the various levels of skin colour. For example, black women were thought of as sexually aggressive, mothering, and passionate; whites were thought of as graceful and intelligent (note nothing of sexuality is remarked about,) mulattoes were thought of as strong, intelligent, beautiful and very sexual. If it were not for the use of black concubines, this social structure would not have existed. However the dichotomy of black and white, although appearing blurry, was really an even more established within this hierarchy where any amount of colour set ones place in an array of colour spectrum from high to low status within this social structure. The advent of the sugar revolution in the seventeenth century brought about major changes on a world scale, through the interconnections between Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Beckles discusses that the European links between motherlands and the Caribbean produced need for external labour on the sugar plantations during the mid seventeenth century. (Beckles, H. Plantation Production and Proto White Slavery: p. 21-45). The inventions and innovations of the industrial revolution aided in the large changes which took place; bigger ships allowed for more people to be moved across longer distances, metallurgy and tool making aided in new approaches to agriculture. As sugar reached high demands in Europe, changing nutrition and consumption patterns economic push factors for production caused an increased motive to search out low cost labour from alternate sources; thus the introduction of African slave labour provided the colonialists with this opportunity.
This was the first major switch in societal structures, as a new race, with a different psychological setting (being captured/forced into migration and labour) was introduced to the Caribbean plantation system. This changed Caribbean society from a working class who was (essentially) not owned, to the system of slave labour, from a steady stream of African labour being brought into the Caribbean.

The causes of the sugar revolution affect the Caribbean economically because there was a fall in West Indian tobacco prices, the forces which brought about the change from tobacco to sugar all came together about 1640. Tobacco, the crop on which the economy of the Lesser Antilles was founded, started to decline as a result of competition from Virginia tobacco. In 1613 John Rolfe had introduced tobacco to Virginia, the earliest of the North American colonies.

Another effect of the sugar revolution was the changing land use as stated by (Beckles, H. Plantation Production and Proto White Slavery: p. 21-45), the Land tenure tobacco had been grown by small planters on smallholdings of between 5 and 30 acres (212 ha).One man could manage all the processes of manufacturing tobacco by himself. Sometimes the plantation was worked by a white indentured servant, sometimes by the owner assisted by a white indentured servant or a black slave. There were some 5000 slaves in Barbados by 1645. In that same year there were probably about 5000 smallholdings on the island, owned among a total white population of about 18 500. Only about half the islands 166 square miles (430 sq km) had been cleared by this time, and the average size of a small holding was probably less than 10 acres (4 ha). This amount of land under tobacco was just about enough to maintain the owner and his family, but in 1645 the change was beginning to be felt. The price of tobacco was falling and 10 acres was no longer enough to ensure a reasonable livelihood.
According to “Caribbean History: Sugar and Slavery |, Economic salvation came from what has been called in historical literature the Caribbean “sugar revolutions,” a series of interrelated changes that altered the entire agriculture, demography, society, and culture of the Caribbean, thereby transforming the political and economic importance of the region. According to Pamella Richardson. Review of Menard, Russell, In terms of agriculture, the islands changed from small farms producing cash crops of tobacco and cotton with the labor of a few servants and slaves often indistinguishable to large plantations requiring vast expanses of land and enormous capital outlays to create sugarcane fields and factories. Sugar, which had become increasingly popular on the European market throughout the seventeenth century, provided an efficacious balance between bulk and value a relationship of great importance in the days of relatively small sailing ships and distant sea voyages. Hence, the conversion to sugar transformed the landholding pattern of the islands.
The price of land altered the development of sugar in the Caribbean under the impact of the sugar revolution the price of land leapt up, as stated by Hatt, C. 1997, Slavery from Africa to the Americas in some parts of Barbados by a much as thirty times. For example, a parcel of land of about 10 acres had been sold for 25 in 1630, which gives an average price of under 3 an acre. In 1648, when the sugar revolution was almost complete in Barbados, land was over 30 an acre. Taking 150 acres (60 ha) to be the minimum land required for a sugar estate, the total capital for just the land would be well over 4000, obviously beyond the reach of a smallholder. In 1648 a planter named Thomas Modyford bought a 500-acre estate as a going concern for 14 000 (he had a half-share in it at 7000) and we can guess at the value of the land being 10 000 or 20 an acre (50 per ha).

The sugar revolution brought about a change in the size and composition of the population of
each island. In nearly every case the white section of the population declined, as smallholders and indentured servants working side by side on small plots were replaced by a relatively small number of wealthy landowners employing white servants in certain jobs on large plantations. At the same time, as the owners of these plantations imported more and more slaves to form the labour force, so the black population increased. The planter governments of the English islands tried not to let the black-to-white ratio exceed ten to one, but this became increasingly difficult to maintain as the years went by. The displaced white smallholders who lost their land in the sugar revolution refused to become wage labourers, working alongside slaves on the sugar estates. Some migrated to other islands, but the same revolution took place in these islands too. Some, like Henry Morgan, who began life as an indentured servant in Barbados, became buccaneers, while many gave up and returned to England. Gradually the white population dwindled proportionally everywhere, and a new picture of West Indian society emerged. In its earliest form this, the sugar society, consisted of a small white elite and a mass of black slaves. The change which took place in the make-up of the population of each English island, between the
beginning of the sugar revolution and the middle of the eighteenth century.

In conclusion then, it has been shown that since 1492, many social and political changes were made in the Caribbean due to the introduction and innovations of sugar and sugar monoculture. This single crop shifted social dynamics in several ways, and several phases over a period of about four hundred years. With each change, slave societies in the Caribbean both used and utilized social limitations and potential in order to break away from the boundaries that had been set up by the contact of Europe in the region. The sugar revolution led to the plantation society.

Pamella Richardson. Review of Menard, Russell, Sweet Negotiations: Sugar, Slavery, and Plantation Agriculture in Early Barbados. H-Caribbean, H-Net Reviews. April, 2007.

Beckles, H. McD,(1989) whites servitude and black slavery in Barbados, (Knoxville, Ten) pp, 1627-1715.

Beckles, H. McD, and Dowes, (1987) A, The economics of transition to the black labor system, pp 225-47.

B.W. Higman. (2000), Sugar revolution, Economic History review 53, pp 213-236.

Hatt, C. 1997, Slavery from Africa to the Americas. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, pp 46-60.
“Caribbean History: Sugar and Slavery | .” Caribbean Guide – Culture, History, Vacations, Travel, and More | N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.

Sugar & Slavery in the Caribbean (Part 1) – Guide to Caribbean Vacations.” Guide To Caribbean Vacations – Caribbean Travel Tips – Caribbean Islands Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.
Beckles, H. MCD, (1989), Plantation Production and Proto White Slavery: p. 21-45),


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