Sugar Revolution in the Caribbean in the 18th Century

Table of Contents


The Caribbean region is located southeast of North America and the Gulf of Mexico. It is in the north of South America and east of Central America the region was also referred to as the West Indies and comprised of twenty-seven territories. Historically, the region was colonized by several colonial masters who included the British, the Danish, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Swedish, and the Courlander. However, the emergence of the sugar revolution in the 1640s and 1650s greatly changed both the political and economic organization of the region. Some colonial masters such as the British, the French, and the Spanish dominated the region after the revolution. The sugar industry was however a labor-intensive one that triggered the rise of slavery. Indeed, the era was renamed the “sugar revolution” as the colonial masters in the region shifted their economic and social transformation from the then tobacco, ginger, and cotton to sugar production. This paper seeks to analyze the socio-economic significance of the sugar revolution in the Caribbean up to the mid 18th century.

The sugar proliferation

With the increased demand for sugar within the region and also abroad, sugarcane cultivation increased each day. The 1645-1660 sugar became the most prioritized cash crop farming on the island. Before this period the Caribbean region was well known for tobacco production. With the new shift to a sugar plantation, more social-economic factors dominated the region. For instance, more workers were required to sustain both sugar manufacturing and cultivation. Since the colonial masters came from Europe, the economic enhancement which was brought about by the sugar revolution increased the number of settlers from Europe into the region.

As the settlers scrambled for the cultivation land in the region, demand for workers to work on the farm steadily rose. It is due to the increased demand for workers that caused the emergence of the triangular and the transatlantic trade which mainly specialized with slave and sugar trade in the region. The transition was necessitated by the continued reduction of tobacco popularity and the immense economic appreciation which the sugar industry possessed at the time. The era was however characterized by rivalries between the European countries as they battled to win over the wealthier colonies. Some colonialists such as the Dutch ended up having a reduced power and authority as they mainly majored in the trading arena rather than cultivation and manufacturing which enriched the others such as the British, Spanish and the French.

The eighteenth century was characterized by the British domination in the Caribbean Islands. The industry rise was however characterized by spontaneous increase of slavery in the region. The British dominated the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica territories. Due to the large tracks of land that they possessed in the region they acquired more slaves from the Africa. These slaves were supposed to serve on the sugar plantations thereby economically strengthening their masters. The 1780 was a remarkable period to the British West Indies as they were able to accumulate enough wealth from the sugar and slave trade. Historically, the British West Indies was divided into two, the Leeward Islands which was initially developed in the 1674 by Sir William Stapleton and the Windward Islands. Throughout his reign Stapleton managed to multiply his people’s wealth by actively participating on the triangular trade with fellow colonial masters in the region. All through to 1711 Sir Stapleton acted as the region’s governor. The leeward island was further subdivided into two forming the windward island beside the later leeward island. The Barbados which was major slave trading ground was left under the Windward Islands. The division was however meant to ensure proper and efficient administration within the British territories in the Caribbean region. They therefore managed to maximize their wealth through the sugar revolution and the participation in the transatlantic trade which mainly dealt with slaves’ transportation in the West Indies (Williams 169).

The French economic ambitions and greed resulted to huge investments in the sugar manufacturing and cultivation process which gained them some political and economic power in the region. It was noted that the French island’s population in 1680s was more than that of Massachusetts or Virginia today. The influx was due to the increased Negro slavery in the region. The French colonies mainly acquired slaves from the transatlantic and triangular trade which transported strong and energetic men and women from Africa to the West Indies. This strong men and women were then supposed to serve in both the small and large scale sugar plantations in the French island in the Caribbean. The island drastically raised sugar production as it entered into the intercontinental trade. The sugar sector was also the most specialized economy then and therefore the French companies sort to maximize their gains out of it. It is due to the economic gains in the island that made the French people to flock into the region. A census done in 1687 showed that the island had a total of 50,000 people of whom approximately 39% came from Europe. More settlers moved from France into the French West Indies to compete and increase domination in the sugar industry..

Sugar plantation and the slavery trade

With the taste for sweetness explosion in the eighteenth century, the colonial masters Caribbean region sort to maximize their gains from the sugar industry. Throughout this period, there was a heightened triangular trade which majored in slave, sugar and rum. The main parties to the trade included Africa, North America and the West Indies. The trade therefore increased the colonial holdings as they effectively utilized the slave in their sugar plantations. These colonial masters managed to increasingly benefit from the sugar industry though at the expense of the Africans who worked as slaves in the region. The colonial masters were harsh and acted cruelty towards the slaves who had no any individual rights. As a result the slaves were supposed to provide free labor in their masters farms without any social or financial benefit. It’s notable that the Caribbean sugar revolution greatly empowered the region economically. Socially, the Caribbean region was recognized as the center of slave trade operations in the transatlantic and triangular trade.

It is also known that between 1518 and late 1700s, the Caribbean region mainly depended on the transatlantic slave trade as their labor source. As the cultivation expanded within the island, more African slaves were brought to increase the labor force and also to replace the dying slaves in the plantations. The transportation of this people therefore became one of the lucrative businesses during that time. It is estimated that the slave trade increased from 2,000 African slaves in the 1600 to around 55,000 slaves by 1800. The colonies therefore maximized their returns from the slave trade until it was abolished by the British parliament in early years of the 19th century (Sheridan 2). With the increased effect of the slave trade in the Caribbean region the abolition was a major blow for the masters in the region. Approximately 45% of the ten million African slaves brought to America at the time had been absorbed in the island. The slaves therefore dominated in Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bahamas among others.

Demographic effects

The region was however demographically categorized into three basic divisions which included the free white and the free non-white persons and the slaves. The white were further divided in accordance to the level of wealth they owned. From the whites there were the principal whites and the poor whites. The principals were the owners of the large plantations and slaves in the region. The poor white were in the other hand the small independent farmers and the highly ranked servants to the principal whites. Regardless of the rank, the skin color gave the whites a privilege within the plantation communities.

The slave society on the other hand was comprised of the freed persons of color and the slave communities. The free colored people were the outcomes of the miscegenation between the masters and the African slaves (Moitt 101). The group however never had any personal right despite their freeness nature. The freed non white population was nevertheless competing by the two ends spectrum. They competed with the jobbing slaves who were putting more efforts in their work to buy their freedom and on the other hand with the artisan and semi-skilled low whites’ class. The lowest social class on the other hand was the slaves who were entitled to daily hard and enormous labor for the colonial masters in the region.

The impacts of sugar revolution on the Haiti revolution

It should be remembered that sugar revolution heightened slave trade within the Caribbean region. The expansion of sugar cultivation in the island led to many to the transportation of many African slaves into the American and the West Indies. The 1791 to 1804 period was characterized by hostile and brutal conflicts between the French Haitian colonies and the black American communities who had African ancestry.

The Haiti revolution was a war between the slaves and the masters. The slaves were opposed to their master’s cruelty and mistreatments. The revolution is still registered in the world history as the only scenario that the slaves have ever fought a successful battle against their colonial masters. The revolution also triggered the slave trade abolition in 1807 which had a great impact on the sugar industry. The revolution was registered a positive outcome as the Haiti people gained their independence later in 1804 after defeating the French colonial masters. Haiti therefore became the first nation to gain its independence in the Latin America. With the slaves victory in Haiti their fellow counterparts in the carnelian island realized their potential powers and begun to demand fair treatment from their colonies. The revolution greatly participated in sensitization of the slave’s world wide and it can be noted that some colonial masters begun to pay their laborers some wages though very minimal. The slave trade in the Caribbean region however continued in the British West Indies and the French colonial territories. With the Haiti revolution, the colonial masters started appreciating the job done by the slaves and little token was advanced to them for the labor offered. The French white planters and the free people of color were therefore forced out of the Haitian territory after conceding on the war, a phenomenon that significantly shook the French power in the Caribbean region.


The sugar revolution which was mostly experienced in the 1700-1800 was marked with the increased sugar manufacturing and cultivation on the Caribbean region. The revolution brought about increased economic expansion by the colonial masters who owned huge track of sugar plantations. Equally the revolution expanded the triangular and the transatlantic slave trade which was initially aimed at providing slaves to work in the sugar plantations. The trade also assisted the colonial masters to market their manufactured products such as sugar and cotton which were cultivated in the region. The increase of slaves in the region led to the formation of demographical classes which separated between people in the Caribbean society. The increased cruelty and brutality of the colonial masters triggered the slave’s revolution in Haiti which drove the French colonies out of the nation.

Works cited

Moitt, Bernard. Women and slavery in the French Antilles, 1635-1848. Bloomington, Indiana University Press. 2001. Web.

Sheridan, Richard. Sugar and slavery: an economic history of the British West Indies, 1623-1775. London, Canoe Press. 1994. Web.

Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Virginia, READ BOOKS. 2008. Web.

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