Emergence of the Sugar Beet

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The depth of the cultural absorption of sugar explains why the wars, revolutions, and transformations to the institution of plantation slavery that occurred over 40 years at the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, disrupting the transatlantic trades in cane sugar and cane sugar byproducts, did not stem the overall consumption of sugar, but instead profoundly altered the way it was produced. The first of these events was the 1791 Haitian Revolution, when the enslaved plantation labor force of the French colony of Saint-Domingue successfully overturned the social, political, and economic structures of power—including slavery—and, almost overnight, upset the supply of cane sugar in the single most productive sugar colony in the world. Concurrently, rising abolitionism in Western Europe eventually led to the end of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves by the 1830s in the British colonies and 15 years later in the French ones. The new types of Asian and Indian immigration that were devised by colonial authorities after the collapse of slavery were not, however, profitable labor alternatives when it came to sugar production. Eventually, both these phenomena led to an overall decline in the cane sugar productivity of the traditional sugar colonies. While cane sugar production continued in Spanish and Portuguese colonies of the Atlantic world, especially in Cuba in the late nineteenth century and in British Guiana, these regions did not completely fill the vacuum left by the British and French Caribbean colonies, which were also facing competition in global sugar markets by colonies located in tropical Asia and Asia Pacific, where European empires were extending themselves in new ways and with renewed vigor in the nineteenth century.