The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indiesby Matthew Parker
To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent and shocking history. For some 200 years after 1650, the West Indies were the strategic center of the western world, witnessing one of the greatest power struggles of the age as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar-a
To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent and shocking history. For some 200 years after 1650, the West Indies were the strategic center of the western world, witnessing one of the greatest power struggles of the age as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar-a commodity so lucrative it became known as "white gold." As Matthew Parker vividly chronicles in his sweeping history, the sugar revolution made the English, in particular, a nation of voracious consumers-so much so that the wealth of her island colonies became the foundation and focus of England's commercial and imperial greatness, underpinning the British economy and ultimately fueling the Industrial Revolution. Yet with the incredible wealth came untold misery: the horror endured by slaves, on whose backs the sugar empire was brutally built; the rampant disease that claimed the lives of one-third of all whites within three years of arrival in the Caribbean; the cruelty, corruption, and decadence of the plantation culture.
While sugar came to dictate imperial policy, for those on the ground the British West Indian empire presented a disturbing moral universe. Parker brilliantly interweaves the human stories of those since lost to history whose fortunes and fame rose and fell with sugar. Their industry drove the development of the North American mainland states, and with it a slave culture, as the plantation model was exported to the warm, southern states. Broad in scope, rich in detail, The Sugar Barons freshly links the histories of Europe, the West Indies, and North America and reveals the full impact of the sugar revolution, the resonance of which is still felt today.
A rich, multifaceted account of the greed and slavery bolstering the rise of England's mercantile empire.
Considering the myriad international influences that vied for predominance in the West Indies, London-based author Parker (Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time-- the Building of the Panama Canal, 2008, etc.) wisely focuses on the pioneer British dynasties that built the sugar empires on Barbados and the English Leeward islands, such as the related Drax and Codrington clans, and later on Jamaica, the Beckfords. Sugar production was not initially an English enterprise—from New Guinea to India, Persia to North Africa, sugar-cane cultivation was carried ever westward by the Arabs, Spanish and especially the Portuguese, the last who "put to cane" the islands of Madeira, Principe and the vast colony of Brazil to corner the sugar market by the early 17th century. The enterprising Dutch elbowed into Barbados by the 1640s, creating the ideal conditions whereby James Drax, an Anglican immigrant, would learn by trial and error how to coax the fabulous new crop in the rich soil. Barbados became a magnet for the dumping of indentured servants, dissidents and the disaffected during the reign of Charles I, followed by refugees from the English Civil War, many of whom perished by ill treatment and disease within three years of arriving. However, sugar production was labor-intensive, and blacks from West Africa—already long established as labor within Portuguese possessions—were imported, apparently hardier and more tractable than the native Caribs. Parker delves skillfully into the important effects of the English Civil War, such as the passage of the Navigation Act of 1651, which created a formal system of mercantilism to benefit England's home vessels and ports; even Oliver Cromwell masterminded a "western design" into Hispaniola and Jamaica, to less-than-successful effect. Still, the English dug in, and their treatment of slaves to wring profits from vast plantations was predictably harsh and deplorable.
Parker achieves admirable clarity and focus in this sprawling, ugly, complicated story of the sugar revolution.
- Walker & Company
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- 6.32(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.46(d)
Meet the Author
Matthew Parker was born in Central America and spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, acquiring a lifelong fascination with the history of the region. He is the author of Panama Fever, the story of the building of the Panama Canal, and Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II. He lives in London.
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This book is very well written and an excellent history of the region. It provides and outstanding reference as to why the "new world" experienced the racial difficulties that it has.
This is the worst book I have ever read. There are so many Grammatical errors. Do not buy! I could only read five pages before I had to stop.