Topic: What effect did the development of the sugar industry have on the British West Indies in the 17th century?
Sugar cane became the most profitable crop in the BWI in 17th century. The topic was chosen because it was easy to gain information on the topic. The topic has been widely discussed over the years so information was readily available. Additionally, the topic was already taught in class so I already had knowledge on the topic so doing extra research only increased my knowledge which would help to prepare me for CSEC History examination.
The term sugar revolution denotes the changed from the cultivation of tobacco to cultivation of sugar in the British West Indies. The result of which were the large-scale importation of blacks from Africa, an increased in the wealth to be obtained from the BWI colonies and an increase in conflict between greedy European nations over possessions.
Compare to tobacco cultivation, the cultivation of sugar needed a large disciplined labour force. Greenwoal, Hamber and Dyde(2003) noted that because of this need “the white section of the population declined and the owners of plantations imported more and more slaves to form the labourforce”(p.105). White indentured servants who previously worked on tobacco estates failed to meet the labour needs of the sugar industry so planters turned to the Africans for forced labour as slaves. Resultant was an increase in the number of Africans in the BWI.
According to Isaac Dookhan (1988), ” In Barbados there were only a few hundred slaves in 1640 but by 1645 there were over 6,000 and in 1685 there were over 46,000″(pg.50). Another example of the increasing number of Africans was put forward by greenwood, hamber and dyde(2003) when they highlighted in their text that the slave population in Jamaica increased 6000 in 1658 to 47,000 in 1698(p.105). Similarly, Ashdown and Humphrey(1988) noted that the Africans slave population was grossly outnumbered the white population highlighting that in 1639 there were 30 whites to 1 slave and by 1660 there were only 1 white to 3 slave (p. 28). Thus a major impact of the sugar revolution was an increase in the importation of Africans to the British West Indies which impacted the ratio of whites to black..
The sugar revolution caused a change in the pattern of landownership. Before slavery planters owned clarified plots of land which they used to produce tobacco and other crops. The cultivation of sugar required expensive buildings, livestock and machinery. The size of land they used for tobacco was too small for the production of sugarcane, which meant that they needed larger land. According to Isaac Dookhan, “a process of absorption occurred to increase the size of existing estates”(p.49). The wealthy took land from the poorer land owners. As stated by Claypole and Robottom, “the successful sugar planters bought tobacco lands from their neighbors and amalgamated them into large sugar estates.” Sugar was produced on 150 acres of land and tobacco was grown n and 30 acres of land. The prices of land rose as the demand of land was getting higher and because sugar became profitable. For example, in Barbados the price of land increased thirty times, before the change an acre was for 3 pounds.