Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

slavery refers to the brutal system of production in which people are forced to labor for overseers who reap large profits from their work.

As the European craving for sugar exploded in the mid-seventeenth century, planters devised ways to provide huge quantities at affordable prices. Labor was an essential element in the production process, and because sugarcane is a demanding and labor-intensive crop, the acquisition of slaves seemed an obvious solution. See sugarcane.

From 1630 to 1660, England, France, Holland, and Denmark established large-scale sugarcane operations in the New World, following the example of Portugal and Spain. Labor remained the most urgent issue. The indigenous peoples who had been forced into slavery were dying out, killed by overwork, malnutrition, brutality, despair, and European diseases. European indentured workers and prisoners fared little better. Frustrated sugar planters turned to Africa, kick-starting an international slave trade that transported millions of Africans into slavery, of whom 6 million were eventually sold as sugar slaves.