The rise of absolute monarchies in Western Europe during the 1400’s brought a new economic theory called mercantilism. In mercantilism countries desired a favorable balance of trade, in which raw materials were imported from their own colonies, manufactured, and then exported. After the discovery of the Americas, cane sugar was introduced to the West Indies and became a prominent plantation cash crop. From that time sugar trade remained part of the global economy. In the era of 1492 to 1750 key factors such as favorable climate, demand for sugar, and profit from the slave trade, drove the sugar trade to flourish.
In 1493 Columbus introduced sugar cane to the West Indies and the crop thrived. Originally native to New Guinea, sugar cane had eventually moved to India and the Mediterranean, but few Europeans had ever heard of it. In the Caribbean, sugar cane found its ideal growing conditions met. Facts from Document 2 state that sugar cane grows best in the latitude range of 37°N and 30°S (Document 2). In Document 1, the colonial map of the Caribbean shows the West Indies spanning from about 10°N and 27°N (Document 1). In addition, the temperature range for Jamaica and Barbados in the Caribbean fit the cane sugar’s ideal temperature range, soil range, and the rainfall averages are only a few inches short from ideal. With these growing conditions, sugar cane thrived. The surplus of cane sugar allowed Europeans to taste and demand more of it.
With the new abundant supply of sugar, more people encountered it. According to Benjamin Moseley, in his book in 1800, “The increased consumption of sugar, and increasing demand for it, exceed all comparison with any other article, used as an auxiliary, in food,” (Document 3). His book, A Treatise on Sugar with Miscellaneous Medical Observations was entirely about sugar, so the doctor had a little favorable bias towards it. He may have thought sugar was the most demanded of all other spices, while it actually was not. However, sugar was made into refined white sugar, molasses, rum, and used as an additional compliment to tea, chocolate, and coffee (Document 4). The connections of all different crops and trade drove the growth of the sugar trade.
With the introduction of cash crops to the Americas and of American crops to Europe, Europe’s population rose dramatically due to the increase in available food supply. Along with the increase of population, sugar became more popular ever decade. Document 5’s statistics include the sugar imports of England from 280,000 cwt. in 1700 to 1,379,200 cwt. in 1770 (Document 5). In London, sugar became so popular to have a store called “The Sugar Hogshead” (Document 3). The connections with other food drove trade, and most of all, the peoples demand for it drove it up.
Another driving factor was profit made from the slave trade for the slave traders and plantation owners. The sugar trade depended on the already thriving slave trade. IN 1775, a sugar plantation of 500 acres of land required 300 slaves (Document 6). The two pictures of Document 8 illustrate the great number of slaves hard at work with their white overseers watching over them (Document 8). John Campbell in Document 11 describes the slaves as “so necessary Negro slaves purchased in Africa by English merchants,” (Document 11). Willing slave traders may profit by, selling adult male slaves to sugar plantation owners for twice as much as they bought them in Africa (Document 9). For the plantation owners, the land and animals were cheap, but the slaves were not. Historian Peter Macinnis wrote, “This is the first curse of sugar: it is capital intensive.” (Document 7).
Only wealthy English families owned the plantations (Document 7). Nevertheless, the more slaves that worked the plantations, the more sugar could be grown. Document 10 describes the direct relationship between the slave population and the tons of sugar produced. In Jamaica from 1703 to 1789, the slave population rose from 45,000 to 250,000 and the tons of sugar produced rose from 4,782 to 59,400 (Document 10). On the other hand, the slave population shown may include the slaves on the islands, not only the sugar plantation shown may include all of the slaves on the islands, not only the sugar plantation laborers. Nevertheless, the profit involved with producing sugar by far drove wealthy Englishmen to continue their trading.
In conclusion, the sugar trade was mostly driven by the demand of citizens and by the profits in slave trade and business. Mercantilism and the pursuit of “national wealth that led to national power” certainly played a part for the whole of England in the sugar trade (Document 12). Mercantilism drove explorations for colonies which resulted in finding an ideal climate for cane sugar as well as other cash crops. The mass introduction of sugar to the English market drove up demand and created profit for all who were involved. A personal passage from someone who bought sugar, such as a cook would have been a document that I would’ve liked to have for this essay.