The Sugar Revolution

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About
The Dutch plantation system was brought to Barbados in the 1640s. Within two decades, what came to be known as the Sugar Revolution had begun in the Caribbean, transforming the region from a backwater of colonists trying to survive growing tobacco, cotton, indigo, and other crops to a haven for those in search of riches.

Richard Ligon was among those who set out for the region in 1647. His True and Exact History of The Island of Barbados, published in 1650, details early sugar production on the island. It may also be the first work in the English language to describe rum and its effects. The process of refining sugar was simple and remained relatively unchanged since ancient times. The raw cane was crushed in wind- or water-driven mills, and the resulting liquid—the trash called bagasse—was removed and used to fire the burners that heated the cane juice. The heated juice was clarified with a small amount of lime, and then ladled into copper boiling pans of successively smaller size, each over increasingly higher heat. Once the syrup reached the last boiling pan, it was allowed to evaporate until reduced to a thick syrup. This syrup was allowed to cool and was then further cooled in troughs before being poured into large casks or hogsheads that were perforated in the bottom to allow the molasses to drip out. This process was called the Jamaica Train method. Byproducts of sugar production were molasses, which could be reboiled after having dripped from the hogshead, and rum, which was prepared from the first skimmings of the copper pans or made from molasses. Both became valuable commodities in themselves. See molasses and rum. The raw sugar and molasses were shipped off to the mother countries in Europe, where the raw sugar was further refined, thus guaranteeing economic and political control over the colonies that produced the sugar.