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Why did sugar become the dominant crop in the Caribbean in the late seventeenth century?

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Why did sugar become the dominant crop in the Caribbean in the late seventeenth century? In order to ascertain why sugar became the dominant crop in the Caribbean in the late seventeenth century, it will be necessary to consider the situation in the early 1600s. What were the crops which were cultivated by early settlers and why did they make the change? Economic factors must be examined, alongside the effects of conflict and political instability, and the growing conditions on the islands, which would favour some crops over others. The differing requirements of manpower, according to what commodity was produced, would also affect the choice of crop. Many of the things which might grow well in the Caribbean would have a very limited export potential. Whilst much can be gleaned from contemporary records and statements written at the height of the sugar 'boom', it should be borne in mind that there was much propaganda involved, and many of the statistics cannot be relied on. To give an example, some traders who were exporting to Britain, described white sugar as muscovado, because the duty on white sugar was so much higher.1 Many scholars have held the view that sugar was the crop of choice in the Caribbean, because other products had proved unprofitable. However, as Robert Carlyle Batie shows in his article 'Why Sugar'2 there is evidence that planters had done very well from tobacco in the years preceding the sugar boom. ...read more.


This gave protection from those who would take power arbitrarily, and meant that the risks for investors were reduced just as planters were considering the possibilities of growing sugar. First efforts were not very successful as Richard Ligon reported in his Island of Barbadoes 'But, the secrets of the work being not well understood, the Sugars they made were very inconsiderable, and little worth, for two or three years'9 He goes on to say that they soon leaned from their mistakes and were advised and assisted by sugar growers from Brazil. The Dutch were very willing to assist the English sugar planters, possibly because they wanted to encourage the growth of a rival sugar industry, once they lost control of Pernambuco. Richard Dunn feels there were other reasons. 'Throughout the 1630s they had carried much of the English colonists' tobacco and cotton to Amsterdam. Now they stood to profit much more handsomely by offering a full range of lucrative middleman services to the tyro English planters...For the Barbadians this Dutch partnership was especially advantageous in the 1640s when English overseas trade was distracted by the civil war at home.'10 Once the plantation owners had mastered the techniques of growing and refining sugar cane, the results were spectacular. By 1643 Dalby Thomas reported that Barbados 'is growne the most flourishing Island in all those American parts, and I verily believe in all the world for the producing of sugar...'11 In 1635, French settlers in Guadeloupe were instructed to concentrate on cotton and sugar production, by the Company of the Isles of America. ...read more.


In addition to these factors, the expansion of the sugar market seemed inexhaustible. When all of these circumstances coincided, a situation arose, which made sugar the inevitable choice for those looking to make their fortunes on the Caribbean islands. 1 Richard S. Dunn Sugar and Slaves p.196 2 R.C. Batie 'Why Sugar? Economic Cycles & Changing of Staples on the English and French Antilles, 1624-54' ch.4 in Caribbean Slave Society and Economy. 3 Richard S. Dunn Sugar and Slaves p.40,41 4 Arthur Percival Newton The Colonising Activities of the English Puritans p33 quoted in 'Why Sugar' p.40 5 Richard S. Dunn Sugar and Slaves p.50 6 R.C. Batie 'Why Sugar? p.47 7 Colt Voyage of Sir Henry Colt p.69 quoted in 'Why Sugar?' p.42 8 R.C. Batie 'Why Sugar? p.45 9 Quoted in 'Why Sugar?' p.45 10 Richard S. Dunn Sugar and Slaves p.66 11 Dalby Thomas An Historical Account of the Rise and Growth of the West-Indian Collonies quoted by Richard S. Dunn in Sugar and Slaves p.61 12 R.C. Batie 'Why Sugar? p.46 13 R. Ligon Island of Barbadoes quoted in 'Why Sugar' p. 47 14 K.G. Davies The Royal African Company quoted in 'Why Sugar' p. 47 15 Richard S. Dunn Sugar and Slaves p.64 16 Sidney.W. Mintz Sweetness and Power p.37 17 R. J. Davis The rise of the Atlantic economies quoted in Sweetness and Power p.45 18 Richard S. Dunn Sugar and Slaves p.168 ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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