Caribbean trade



This is a lithograph of the town and harbour of Lucea in Hanover, Jamaica. It became a huge port for the export of sugar to Europe in the eighteenth century.




The Triangular Trade


The fertile soil and tropical climate of the Caribbean made it an ideal place to grow many crops. Some crops that excelled in the Caribbean were sugar, coffee, cocoa, indigo, tobacco, and cotton. In order to grow these crops, it was necessary to have a dependent source of labor. This source of labor was African slaves.

In order to receive slaves, those in the Caribbean would trade cash crops such as sugar, rum, wood and molasses in return for slaves. This became the Triangular Trade. Slaves were captured and brought to the coast of Africa, where they were traded to Europeans in return for arms and liquor. The slaves were then shipped to the Caribbean through the infamous Middle Passage. On average, 12% of the slaves never made it across the Atlantic.

This is a map illustrating the goods traded along the Triangular Trade Route.



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Sugarcane was the most prosperous crop grown in the Caribbean area. After 1700, Barbados, alone, was producing 8,000 tons of sugar a year. Using sugar mills known as trapiches or ingenios, sugarcane was pressed with heavy rollers to squeeze out all of the juice. Then the juice was boiled and clarified and placed into forms. While in these forms, the liquid crystallized into sugar. The by-product was drained from the crystals and used to make molasses and rum. These two products were also exported in return for other goods, such as slaves. The best sugar land was located on the coast, where barrels could be rolled to the beach and easily shipped.

In 1750, Saint Domingue, modern day Haiti, became the largest sugar producer along with Jamaica, due to their use of irrigation technology. Entire islands were dependent upon sugar as their major source of economy.

As Europeans discovered that fruit can be preserved using sugar and began consuming more coffee and tea, the demand for sugar increased, along with its production in the Caribbean islands. The Caribbean produced 90% of Europe's sugar supply. Barbados and the British Leewards became the leaders in Caribbean sugar production. During wars and conflicts, the price of sugar continued to rise.

With sugar production continuing to thrive in the Caribbean because of the efficient use of mills and the plantation society, sugar became more available to Europeans and all levels of society. During the nineteenth century, Cuba took over as the main producer of sugar in the Caribbean. Many of the other islands had exhausted their soil. Sugar production also excelled in Martinique, St. Croix, Grenada, Jamaica, Barbados, Leeward Islands, and St. Domingue.    


This is an illustration pictured on the cover of James

Grainger's "Sugarcane: A Poem" published in 1766.

This is a painting by William Clark from 1823 which depicts

slave planting sugarcane on a plantation.




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Tobacco TobaccoCultivation.html

This is an illustration of a slave picking tobacco.


At first, tobacco was used for medicinal purposes but as pipe smoking became popular, in large part by Sir Walter Raleigh, the demand for it grew. The high demand and lack of product allowed for high prices. When Virginia and other colonies in the New World began producing large amounts of tobacco, the prices fell. In 1630, the price of tobacco fell to one pence a pound. The price eventually bounced back in 1631 to about 5-6d. a pound. More Europeans flocked to America in search of prosperity. They began to grow more and more tobacco and the supply dramatically increased. The price of tobacco fell from 6d. to 2.5 d. in 1635 and never regained its value. Sugar became the main crop grown.






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In order to cultivate the massive amounts of sugarcane and other cash crops being grown in the Caribbean, it was necessary to find a reliable source of labor. It was difficult for plantation owners to use indentured servants because they could easily escape and blend into society. Next, owners began to enslave Native Americans to perform these tasks, but the Native American population was soon destroyed by European disease and harsh treatment. Since Africans were exposed to the same diseases as Europeans and they were skilled in metal working, mining, and agriculture, they seemed like the obvious choice to work the plantations.

The plantation owners in the Caribbean began to acquire massive amounts of slaves from the Triangular Trade. Historians debate the exact number of slaves brought to the Americas through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. One estimate is that about 10.3 million Africans were imported to the Americas through this trade route. The British islands alone imported 1.5 million African slaves from the beginning of the plantation system until just before the American Revolution. In the late 18th century, the average slaveholding in the British islands was 240 slaves. In some parts of the Caribbean, the ratio of Africans to Europeans reached 25:1.

The mortality rates of African slaves were very high due to the harsh conditions they faced on the plantations. Since the labor in the Caribbean consisted mostly of cultivation of crops, women were rarely acquired by plantation owners. This resulted in skewed sex ratios which made it nearly impossible for Africans to reproduce. With high mortality rates and skewed sex ratios, there was a constant need to import more slaves to continue the work on the plantations.

This is an excerpt from Alexander Falconbridge's book An

Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa published in 1788.




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Travel and the trade winds


The trade winds present in the Atlantic Ocean made travel between Europe and the Caribbean fast and efficient. They blew northeast all year round which enabled Europeans to conduct trade with those in the Caribbean throughout the year, weather permitting. A ship was able to sail back to Europe from Barbados using the trade winds to sail north until they hit the westerly winds. The Windward Passage, located between Cuba and Hispaniola, is upwind from Jamaica but downwind from Saint Domingue. A ship leaving from Hispaniola could easily sail north through the Windward Passage to return to Europe. On the other hand, it was much faster for a ship leaving Jamaica to sail around Cuba and hit the gulf stream currents. Trade winds allowed for tremendous trade in the Caribbean.

This map illustrates the trade winds in the Atlantic Ocean used by sailors.



Andrew Douglas, Cheryl Neifert, Amy Sanderson & Kristen Toskes 2005