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HIST1000 Introduction to Atlantic History The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus

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The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus

HIST1000 Introduction to Atlantic History The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus

As a child, growing up here in St. Kitts, I heard my mom and dad reminisce about the sea of
sugarcane plants that once dotted the landscape. During my third and fourth form years of
Caribbean History, I learnt that sugar replaced tobacco as the main crop. The change from
tobacco to sugar led to what is known as the ‘Sugar Revolution’. My curiosity grew more as
to why a change in cash crop was deemed a revolution. Hence the topic: “To what extent is it
safe to say that the change from tobacco to sugar was indeed a revolution?” By researching
this topic I hope to unearth valuable information that will not only help me answer
unanswered questions, but aid me in preparations for the upcoming CSEC examinations in
May.
It is my belief that the change from tobacco to sugar was not only a change in cash crop but a
rewriting of Caribbean history. My intension is to examine the social, economic and political
consequences of the change from tobacco to sugar.
A number of secondary sources such as History books by: William Claypole and John
Robottom, and Brian Dyde, Robert Greenwood and Shirley Hamber would be perused to
gather data. Said data would be analyzed via statistics, direct quotes and a discussion of the
literature and presented as an extended essay.
Introduction
1
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lOMoARcPSD|5960618Until mid-seventeenth seventeenth century the English-speaking colonies with the aid of the
Kalinagos produced tobacco for export. By the 1640s the demand for West Indian tobacco
had declined due competition from Virginia. The English settlers in the Caribbean realized
that there was a great need for a new cash crop of greater profitability. The change from
tobacco to sugar led to demographic changes, social stratification, introduction of African
slaves on a larger scale and the change in the system of government. These changes were
radical, complete and in some cases very drastic. As a result it is clear that the change from
tobacco to sugar was indeed a revolution. Hence the topic: “To what extent is it safe to say
that the Sugar Revolution was indeed a revolution?”
Social Consequences of the Sugar
Revolution on the Caribbean
2
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lOMoARcPSD|5960618As stated earlier during the 1640s sugar became the only of importance. “The growth of the
monoculture was much more than a spread of a profitable crop and a new market. It was a
revolution which changed the whole racial composition and social structure of the islands.”1
The sugar revolution single handedly reduced the white population. “In nearly almost every
case the white population declined, as smallholders and indentured servants working
alongside each other on small plots were replaced by a relatively small number of wealthy
plantation owners employing white servants in certain jobs on large plantations.”2While the
number whites were systematically being reduced, the number of enslaved persons was
rapidly increasing. See figure 1.
Country Year White Black Total
Barbado
s
1645 18 000 5 500 23 500
1712 12 500 52 500 65 000
Jamaica 1675 8 500 9 500 18 000
1722 7 000 80 00 87 000
Figure 1 Chart showing the changes in the population pre and post sugar.
Sourced from Dyde, Hamber and Greenwood.
A large reliable source of labour was necessary in order for sugar to profitable, hence
increase in enslaved Africans. The smallholders who lost their lands as a result of the sugar
revolution, refused to become wage owners, working alongside the enslaved on the sugar
plantations. Some migrated to other islands but when the sugar revolution began on those
islands, they left. While some became buccaneers, others gave up and returned to England.
Parry, J H et al. A Short History of the West Indies p64.
Dyde, Brian et al. History for CSEC Examinations: Amerindians to Africans 3rd Edition, p107.
As time progressed the white population dwindled proportionally everywhere; a new West
Indian society emerged. “In its earliest form this, the sugar society, consisted of a small elite
and mass of black slaves.”3
Rapid population growth took place; more than likely as a result of the importation of large
numbers of enslaved Africans. Or it may be a direct or indirect result of the emergence of a
coloured population. African women forced to mate with white slave masters often gave birth
to mixed raced children. Finally, sugar provided substantial wealth; tobacco farming
communities were replaced by a rich white plantocracy.
The introduction of enslaved Africans not only altered the size of the population but also the
ethnic composition. By the eighteenth century Caribbean societies became highly stratified,
with the minority white planter class occupying the top rungs of the social ladder. Wealth,
education and origin no longer determined an individual’s place in society. Race and colour
were now the main determinants of social positioning. Whites, whether rich or not, were at
the top, coloureds and free blacks were in the middle and the enslaved at the bottom

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HIST1000 Introduction to Atlantic History The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus

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