Sugar Barons

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sugar barons were the owners of extensive plantations in the Caribbean. From the mid-seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, they made huge fortunes growing and processing sugar.

Around 1642, after years of struggle, the tiny English colony of Barbados suddenly found itself the richest spot of land in the British Empire. James Drax, one of the original 50 settlers in 1627, had successfully grown sugarcane and processed sugar. See sugarcane and sugarcane agriculture. According to Richard Ligon, who spent three years in Barbados, from 1647 to 1650, there had been costly failures along the way, but with advice from Dutch planters in Brazil, and thanks to the “thriving genius of James Drax,” the difficult processes had been mastered. Drax’s first shipment of sugar arrived in London at a time of scarcity, largely caused by disturbances and crop failures in Brazil, and he made a fortune. Within half a dozen years, almost the entire island was planted with cane.