Why Did Sugar and Slaves Become Linked in 17th Century Caribbean?

Sugarcane, Atlantic slave trade, Plantation

"The value of the Caribbean colonies to Europe came to be in their sugar

production."¹ After the European explorers realised that the Caribbean was not

naturally rich in gold and other precious metals; they were desperate to find other

ways in which they could use these islands to benefit themselves. After several failed

attempts to grow crops such as tobacco and cotton (on a large scale), the Europeans

realised that sugar had a greater potential to be sold in Europe than any other crop,

and in itself was a ‘goldmine' waiting to be uncovered.

The Portuguese had already successfully grown and produced sugar on

plantations in São Tomé and Madeira, but on a relatively small scale in comparison

to how great it would eventually become. They took these techniques with them

when they began to colonise the north east (Pernambuco) of Brazil. Although sugar

production increased, it still remained a very expensive product because the journey

from Brazil to Europe was very long and Brazilian sugar was taxed in a way that

West Indian sugar never was. Therefore the demand still remained low because only

the rich could afford to buy sugar. On these plantations in São Tomé and Brazil, a

slave workforce was employed. In São Tomé, the workforce was initially made up of

poor Europeans sent there to work. Unfortunately, they died out because they had

no resistance to tropical diseases such as malaria. Captured Africans were then

readily used because of their built up immunity to these diseases. When sugar

production first began in Brazil, the native Indian population was used as their work

force. However, due to a combination of disease, malnutrition and inability to do

such hard labour, the native population began to die out and new labour was

required. African slaves were once again imported from the West coast to Brazil.

They proved to be resilient workers and coped better with...
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