Barbados started with an intense beginning, and a dependency on tobacco and white indentured servants. But this system was ultimately not sustainable. In the seventeenth century in the English and French islands, a change occurred in the basic cash crop which was at the time, tobacco, which was losing its appeal as other English colonies were also staring to produce tobacco and it was commonly accepted as superior to the one in Barbados. This change was so rapid and far reaching that “revolutionary” was a fitting word used to describe it.
Sugar was fast becoming a necessity in Europe as it was needed for a variety of different things, from distilling and brewing to the making of biscuits and cakes. However, the Dutch played a big part in the launching of the sugar revolution; they were waring with the Portuguese people for Brazil but failed, they were seen as the greatest traders in the Caribbean, sugar needed capital to which the Dutch could easily deliver, the sugar needed to be grown on large plots of land and as a result of this they also needed a large number of laborers which the Dutch provided.
Initially, the Dutch settled in the Portuguese captaincy of Pernambuco and successfully assisted them with the sugar cultivation but they also attempted to take over captaincy when Portugal’s throne was temporarily commandeered by the Spanish. Ironically, it was a Dutchman, Pieter Blower that came to the rescue of the Barbados’ economy during the fall of tobacco. He was the first man to bring sugar cane to Barbados in 1637 and in 1642 the Barbadian planters started to grow cane to use as sugar.
Yet, the Dutch were keen on expanding their trade routes, seizing their opportunity, they provided Barbadian planters with cheap loans, insurance and inexpensive equipment. Nevertheless, in February 1630, a Dutch fleet of 67 vessels, with 1170 cannons and 7000 men arrived off Pernambuco which is a state in northeastern Brazil and by March 3rd this state was under Dutch control.
The following years the Dutch conquered Portuguese strongholds and extended their control but in 1640 Portugal restored her independence and by 1645, the Portuguese took initiative and by the end of that year the Dutch were reduced and the Dutch and Portuguese went back and forth for several years until the Dutch lost in 1645 and with this they fled to Barbados bringing with them their different types of expertise in sugar production.
It is said that the Dutch’s involvement to the Sugar Revolution was so great, that one can say it actually made the change. By about 1640 the Dutch were easily the greatest traders in the Caribbean region, almost having a monopoly of trade and by the mid-17th century the Dutch controlled and possessed 60% of the ships involved in maritime trade amounting to a total of 15,000 ships out of roughly 25,000 ships.
They were also seen as the "foster fathers” of the nation because they kept the Barbadians supplied with all of the necessary things for comfortable sustenance. Nonetheless, the Dutch traders and captains were looking for ways by which they could increase their trade and they saw that encouraging the planting of sugar was a great opportunity and the Dutch quickly urged local farmers to change their main crops from cotton and tobacco to sugar cane.
Primarily, sugar needed funds to which the small planters of the eastern Caribbean did not have because the price of land also increased. Under the impact of the sugar revolution the price of land went up, in some parts of Barbados the price of land went up by at least thirty times the original price. Usually 10 acres of land was sold for £25 in 1630 and in 1648 when the sugar revolution was almost complete in Barbados land price was over £30 an acre and in Barbados to grow sugar the minimum land required was about 150 acres which meant that the capital required would be well over £4000 but the Dutch came to the rescue by supplying credit.
Usually, a Dutch merchant would put up the capital on the security of the crop. However the Dutch also devised an agreement with the planters who were not entirely financially equipped to sustain a sugar plantation by offering loans on credit to planters in return the Dutch exported and sold the cultivated sugar back to Europe.
In addition to the sugar needing a large capital investment it also needed to be grown on large plots of land. Economically, sugar could only be grown on large estates therefore the land holding increased in size. As a result of this the previous land holdings were grouped together to form large estate under the ownership of a rich planter or a planter whose credit rating was good enough for the Dutch to supply him with machinery and slaves.
In Barbados the landholding tended to be smaller than those on the island however after the change to sugar the average holding was about 150 acres and a few were 500 acres which tended to be very prosperous for Barbados. Under the 150 acres the owner would make a profit, this was because a sugar estate had to be self-contained in those days.
The sugar production brought about a change in the size and composition of the population of each island. The labor needed on the new plantations were provided by slaves who began to be imported in large numbers by about 1657 as a result of this the white population declined as smallholders and indentured servants working side by side on the small plots were replaced by a relatively small number of landowners employing white servants in certain jobs on large plantations.
However, at the same time the owners of these plantations imported more and more slaves to form the labor force therefore the black population increased and as a result of this the planter government to into action to try to prevent the black to white ratio from exceeding ten to one, but over the years this became even more difficult to maintain.
The displaced white smallholders who lost their land in the sugar revolution refused to become wage laborers who worked alongside the slaves on the sugar estate so they migrated to other islands, but the same revolution took place in these islands too. Some then became buccaneers, inn keepers and clerks while many gave up and returned to England.
Gradually, the white population dwindled proportionally everywhere and a new picture of the West Indian society emerged. It is said that the Dutch made the West Indies black. Sugar profoundly changed the economic conditions, social structure and political organization of the islands. But the profit of the sugar depended on having enough labor for the yearly cycle of planting, hoeing, cutting, hauling, crushing, boiling and packing.
Although the sugar revolution changed conditions in Barbados profoundly, the cultivation of sugar also increased the wealth to be obtained from the West Indies. This led to change in the governing system of the West Indies. The islands had previously been neglected by the British however their recent profitability caused the British to bring their islands in the West Indies under closer control. The increasing of the West Indian colonies also caused the other European nations to attempt to wrestle the colonies away from one another.
To conclude, the Dutch played a big part in the launching of the sugar revolution because they were seen as the “foster fathers” of the nation in Barbados as the provided them with many of their necessities in order to produce sugar. The Dutch provided capital to which the Barbadians lacked; they helped with trade because they were perceived as being great at trading, they brought with them from Brazil their expertise on the production of sugar, they helped in the buying of the land which after the launching of the sugar revolution became extremely expensive and lastly they provided labor to the lands as they production of sugar on large plots of lands required a great deal of hands.
Also the Dutch were seen as the ones responsible for making the West Indies “black” as they imported African slaves to work on the plantation and because the whites did not want to work alongside the blacks they left, more blacks were brought in thus the white to black ratio changing drastically.
Callaghan, Brett. “From Tobacco to Sugar; From White Servants to Black Slaves (1637 – 1702).“ Totally Barbados, https://www.totallybarbados.com/articles/about-barbados/history/tobacco-to-sugar/.Claypole, William; Robottom, John. “Caribbean Story 1.” Pearson Schools; 3rd edition, Longman Publisher, February 2002, pp 104 – 107.
Mclean, Adrian. “The Sugar Revolution.” Scibd, Scribd, 19 Mar. 2011, https://www.scribd.com/doc/51122465/The-Sugar-Revolution.
Ramerini, Marco. “Dutch – Portuguese War over Brazil 1630 – 1654.” WHKMLA: The Economic History of Italy During the Renaissance, 13 June 2003, http://www.zum.de/whkmla/military/17cen/dutchbrazil16301654.html.
Watson, Dr Karl. “History – British History in Depth: Slavery and Economy in Barbados.” BBC, BBC, 17 Feb. 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/barbados_01.shtml.