In the 17th century sugar cane was brought into British West Indies from Brazil. At that time most local farmers were growing cotton and tobacco. However, strong competition from the North American colonies meant that prices in these crops were falling. The owners of the large plantations decided to switch to growing sugar cane. The plantation owners purchased slaves to provide the labour for this work. The sugar was best grown on land that was near the coast where the soil was naturally yellow and fertile.
James Ramsay, a doctor working for several sugar plantations in St Kitts, was shocked by the way the slaves were treated by the overseers. Ramsay later recalled in his book, Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (1784): "At four o'clock in the morning the plantation bell rings to call the slaves into the field.... About nine o'clock they have half an hour for breakfast, which they take into the field. Again they fall to work... until eleven o'clock or noon; the bell rings and the slaves are dispersed in the neighbourhood to pick up natural grass and weeds for the horses and cattle (and to prepare and eat their own lunch)... At two o'clock, the bell summons them to deliver in their grass and to work in the fields... About half an hour before sunset they are again required to collect grass - about seven o'clock in the evening or later according to season - deliver grass as before. The slaves are then dismissed to return to their huts, picking up brushwood or dry cow dung to prepare supper and tomorrow's breakfast. They go to sleep at about midnight."
At first settlers in America imported cane sugar from the British West Indies. However, after the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, plantation owners began growing sugar cane. This crop was labour intensive and large numbers of slaves were purchased to do this work. The crushed cane was used for fuel, molasses and as a base for rum. The industry grew rapidly and by 1830 New Orleans had the largest sugar refinery in the world with an annual capacity of 6,000 tons.
Francis Fredric was a slave working on a sugar plantation in Maysville, Kentucky. "When we arrived there we found a great deal of uncultivated land belonging to the farm... The neighbouring planters came and showed my master how to manage his new estate. They told the slaves how to tap the sugar-tree to let the liquid out, and to boil it down so as to get the sugar from it. The slaves built a great many log-huts; for my master, at the next slave-market, intended to purchase more slaves."
At four o'clock in the morning the plantation bell rings to call the slaves into the field.... They go to sleep at about midnight.
From Welland we took boats to Maysville, Kentucky. My master had bought a farm in Mason County, about twenty miles from Maysville. When we arrived there we found a great deal of uncultivated land belonging to the farm. The first thing the negroes did was to clear the land of bush, and then to sow blue grass seed for the cattle to feed upon. They then fenced in the woods for what is called woodland pasture. The slaves built a great many log-huts; for my master, at the next slave-market, intended to purchase more slaves.
I was taken into the house to learn to wait at table - a fortunate chance for me, since I had a better opportunity of getting food. I shall never forget my first day in the kitchen. I was delighted to see some bread in the pantry. I took piece after piece to skim the fat from the top of the boiling-pot, overjoyed that I could have sufficient.
The first African slaves had been taken to Portugal, then to Madeira and finally to Sao Tome. After 1523, however, African slaves began to move in a westerly flow - to the Americas. Once sugar had been firmly established in Brazil in the 1540s, the future direction of the slave trade was sealed. The first blacks shipped to the Americas were those already accustomed to Spain or Portugal or the Atlantic islands. Henceforth, Africans were shipped directly across the Atlantic. By the end of the sixteenth century, about 80 per cent of slaves exported from West Africa went to the Americas. This was confirmed in 1576 by the Portuguese settlement of Luanda, which quickly became their main African slave-trading base. Thereafter, Africans were shipped from a region "that was to provide America with the most slaves of any area of Africa over the next three centuries"...
In Brazil, the enslavement of native people began more slowly and lasted longer, but never proved satisfactory, especially for work in the sugar industry. Indians died, drifted away or simply failed to work as the Portuguese settlers required. But both the Spaniards and the Portuguese knew that other peoples - Africans - had already proved their worth as slaves in the sugar industry of the Atlantic islands. Though some regions of Brazil saw a survival of enslavement of native peoples, it was Africans who, in time, came to dominate the sugar industry. Africans and sugar cultivation were thus wedded together, as were slavery and Africans.
Parts of the American settlement did not require labour on such a scale, but sugar did. Whatever the legal or moral objections to slavery, both the Portuguese and the Spanish turned towards African slavery. This was especially true of the Portuguese in their Brazilian sugar industry. European immigrant labour was non-existent; they would not, or could not, uproot and migrate to the uncertainties and dangers of the Americas, and local Indian labour was inadequate for a variety of reasons. Africans, however, were readily available, courtesy of the Portuguese slaving presence on the African coast, and at what contemporaries regarded as an acceptable price.
The wealth disgorged by Spanish America (often on a fabulous scale) provided the money to buy African slaves, who poured into Mexico and Peru, where they were used in a wide range of urban occupations, such as in mining, agriculture and ranching. By the mid-seventeenth century the slave population of Mexico was 35,000 (less than 2 per cent of the population) but in Peru it stood at 100,000 (between 10 and 15 per cent of the population). However, it was in Brazil and the Caribbean that demand for African slaves took off in spectacular fashion. The sugar plantations and mills of Brazil and later the West Indies devoured Africans. By the early seventeenth century, some 170,000 Africans had been imported to Brazil and Brazilian sugar now dominated the European market. In this the Dutch were crucial, capturing key slave-trading posts from the Portuguese in Africa, gaining a temporary toehold in Brazil itself, but also providing money, financial expertise and markets."
When the Dutch were finally pushed out of Brazil, they sought new areas to develop the sugar craved by the markets served by Amsterdam. Thus, Dutch money, expertise, technology and slaves moved from Brazil to the West Indies. Dutch finance and know-how (especially their sophisticated credit arrangements) enabled British and other settlers in the islands to buy the Africans needed to work in their fledgling settlements. With this invaluable Dutch help, the English in particular were able to brush aside the fading power of Spain in the Caribbean. They were uncertain, at first, how best to develop their newly secured lands, trying a range of agricultural crops and labour systems - notably tobacco. Barbados offers the best example of what happened.
The initial settlement was on smallholdings, worked by white indentured servants from Britain. But the arrival of sugar saw the emergence of large-scale sugar plantations (the landscape was dotted with windmills used for crushing the cane) and the widespread use of African slaves. By the end of the seventeenth century, Barbados, a small island, no larger than the Isle of Wight, was home to 50,000 slaves. A similar pattern unfolded close by on the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Altogether, the Caribbean islands had, in a relatively short period, absorbed more than 450,000 Africans, Brazil 500,000 to 600,000, and Spanish America between 350,000 and 400,000.
But even these figures began to pale with the development, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, of the two islands which came to dominate the Atlantic sugar industry and consequently the slave trade: Jamaica and St Domingue (later Haiti). The English seized Jamaica in 1655 from the Spanish and, like their neighbours on the smaller islands, the pioneering settlers created a string of small-scale agricultural settlements. When the settlers turned to sugar (aided by migrants from Barbados), they developed a society characterised by large-scale plantations and large slave holdings. Much the same pattern evolved in St Domingue. Africans soon came to dominate the islands' populations, outnumbering local whites to such an extent that whites and colonial governments began to fear for social and racial tranquillity (i.e., white dominance and control). Moreover, Jamaica produced sugar on a phenomenal scale: the 500 tons of 1669 rose to 6,056 tons by 1704.16 St Domingue's rapid expansion was even more impressive. By 1780 its sugar industry was the best in the world and the slave population stood at almost half a million. Exports from the island formed a substantial slice of France's trading wealth, but it was built at a terrible price and exploded in revolutionary and racial fury in the 1790s.
The Dutch had been vital in the early English and French settlements in the Caribbean, but the commercial and military rise of those two nations (enemies from first to last) effectively displaced the Dutch in the Atlantic. The Atlantic slave trade was now dominated by English and French slave ships. Between them, in the eighteenth century, they shipped more than 4 million Africans into the Americas, the very great majority destined to work in sugar. By then, slaves were employed everywhere throughout the Atlantic economy, from the myriad domestic chores in the homes of local whites through to sailor's tasks on the Atlantic ships, but sugar dominated - in Brazil and the Caribbean - and therefore the Atlantic slave trade. It was all made possible not solely by African slave labour, but by the use of plantations. The plantation had become a critical institution in developing the Americas; it made it possible for Europeans, through their African slaves, to bring profitable cultivation to vast reaches of the Americas. What happened in North America was, however, slightly different.
The History of Sugar
The Sugar Trade has a bad history starting in the 15th century, when Europeans discovered the New World. We know the story of how the English, Spanish, French, Portuguese & Dutch took Africans to the Caribbean, South America and Southern American States.
Slaves were used to plant and manufacture different produce, like coffee, tobacco, cocoa, cotton and of course european sugar in sugar mills. The Sugar Barons used the tropical climate of the West Indies to grow sugar cane. Production and sugar prices soared during the 17th century & 18th century. 70% of all slaves were producing sugar by the 19th century.
Being of African descent this has always been of interest to me, from the time I was a young boy watching the first ‘ROOTS’ series on TV, and watching my mum cry.
This isn’t just about the slave trade but I wanted to write a series of articles about the sugar industry and the history of refined sugar, and to do so I had to start at the very beginning.
This hopefully will enable you the reader to see the full picture.
The Middle Passage
Much has been written about how slaves were taken and treated on their way to the new world. Imagine being sat with your family one day or night and hearing the sound of armed strangers enter your village. These were fellow Africans who were paid or under duress themselves to capture you and your families.
You were then taken to the coast to await sale. When bought you were herded into the bowels of a ship laden with other cargo. You were laid down and tied up. You had limited food and water if any at all, and no toilets. Disease spread in the hot stinking cramped conditions.
The “Middle Passage” could take about 3 weeks if the weather was good, if the weather was bad well much longer or worse the ship would sink.
These slave ships didn’t have it all their own way, many times they were taken over by the slaves, who killed all on board.
The Sugar Plantations
If you were lucky or unlucky enough to survive the middle passage, all that awaited you was more misery. Worked to death like mules, men women and children, old and young it didn’t matter. They worked 18 hour days, in hot conditions, without proper clothing, food or water. They may get Sunday off for church unless it was harvesting time. Then they worked 7 days a week.
The treatment of slaves was obviously terrible (which is an understatement), whippings for no reason, hangings if they escaped and even death by a pack of dogs was common punishment.
Life expectancy for a slave was about 21 years old. So sugar was harming even people who didn’t eat the stuff years before the ‘mass sugarisation’ of the modern world.
The Sugar Making Process
The slaves picked the ripe sugar cane by hand using machetes, loaded it into carts where it was taken to the sugar mills. During harvesting season the mills worked 24 hour days to process the crop. Plantation owners used their estates to build these large sugar mills to process the cane. The cane needed to be put through rollers to extract the juice, these were powered by cows or horses, they eventually upgraded to the use of windmills, then eventually steam engines.
The waste bi-product was called ‘bagasse’, which was used as a fuel, this was used in the boiling process. Boiling Houses used large metal basins to heat and reduce the juice. Many slaves died during this procedure in accidents, much of which was carried out at night after long working days.
The end product was Crystallized Sugar, that was fit for the nouveau riche of Europe.
The Sugar Industry
The financial history of the sugar industry reads like the modern equivalent of silicon valley. The rich slave owners of the sugar industry built stately homes in the country and had huge London mansions all built with the blood of the slave trade. Harewood House in Yorkshire is a prime example.
They amassed large fortunes that went on for generations, and some are still here today. Henry Drax a Plantation owner shipped home £5000 worth of sugar from Barbados in 1680. I know it doesn’t sound much but he was the second richest man in Barbados at the time.
The Slavery Abolition Act of Parliamnent of 1833 abolished slavery in nearly all British Colonies. More than 800,000 African slaves were set free (well free-ish), in the Caribean, South Africa and Canada this took effect on August 1st 1834.
However the slave owners made fortunes from this Act, MPs who brought in the Act benefited. £20,000,000 was paid in total, and split between slave owners, as compensation. That money today would be worth £1.3bn and that’s without compound interest added in the intervening years.
The Slavery Legacy
Africans were spread all around the new world, working on plantations, working for their masters. Today descendants of these African slaves are also spread far and wide. Who knows what would have happened if all those Africans had been left alone.
How Sugar Changed the World
What's not to like about candy, ice cream and all those other sweet treats made with everybody's favorite indulgence, sugar?
Plenty, as it turns out, beyond the way it expands waistlines and causes cavities. It's unlikely that many candy-lovers in the United States think about history while quaffing an estimated 100 pounds of sugar per year, but sweet stuff once played a major role in one of the sourest eras in modern times.
White Gold, as British colonists called it, was the engine of the slave trade that brought millions of Africans to the Americas beginning in the early 16th-century. The history of every nation in the Caribbean, much of South America and parts of the Southern United States was forever shaped by sugar cane plantations started as cash crops by European superpowers.
Profit from the sugar trade was so significant that it may have even helped America achieve independence from Great Britain.
The Trade Triangle
Today more sugar is produced in Brazil than anywhere else in the world even though, ironically, the crop never grew wild in the Americas. Sugar cane &mdash native to Southeast Asia &mdash first made its way to the New World with Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage to the Dominican Republic, where it grew well in the tropical environment.
Noting sugar cane's potential as income for the new settlements in the Americas &mdash Europeans were already hooked on sugar coming from the Eastern colonies &mdash Spanish colonizers snipped seeds from Columbus' fields in the Dominican Republic and planted them throughout their burgeoning Caribbean colonies. By the mid 16th-century the Portuguese had brought some to Brazil and, soon after, the sweet cane made its way to British, Dutch and French colonies such as Barbados and Haiti.
It wasn't long, however, before the early settlers realized they were lacking sufficient manpower to plant, harvest and process the backbreaking crop.
The first slave ships arrived in 1505 and continued unabated for more than 300 years. Most came from western Africa, where Portuguese colonies had already established trading outposts for ivory, pepper and other goods. To most of the European merchants, the people they put on cargo ships across the Atlantic &mdash a horrendous voyage known as the Middle Passage &mdash were merely an extension of the trading system already in place.
Sugar slavery was the key component in what historians call The Trade Triangle, a network whereby slaves were sent to work on New World plantations, the product of their labor was sent to a European capital to be sold and other goods were brought to Africa to purchase more slaves.
By the middle of the 19th century, more than 10 million Africans had been forcibly removed to the New World and distributed among the sugar plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean.
Sugar boosts independence
During those three centuries, sugar was by far the most important of the overseas commodities that accounted for a third of Europe's entire economy. As technologies got more efficient and diversified, adding molasses and rum to the plantation byproducts, sugar barons from St. Kitts to Jamaica became enormously wealthy.
The importance of those sugar-rich colonies, especially those belonging to Britain and France, had enormous consequences for the map of the Americas during the 1700s.
Britain lost its 13 American colonies to independence in part because its military was busy protecting its sugar islands, many historians have argued.
As opposed to the slaves working plantations in the U.S. South, Africans on Caribbean sugar plantations (and the islands themselves) outnumbered their European owners by a wide margin. The British planters lived in constant fear of revolt and demanded soldiers for protection. Several decisive battles of the Revolutionary War would have turned out differently had Britain thrown its full might behind the war, experts believe.
Sizable garrisons were also stationed in the West Indies to guard the few sugar holdings Britain had left at the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763. In carving up the Americas after the fighting stopped, King George III had decided to cede a few of his Caribbean sugar islands to France in order to secure a sizable chunk of North America.
How important was sugar cane in that time?
In swapping sweet and profitable Guadeloupe for the barren, sugar-free wasteland of Canada, plus most of the land east of the Mississippi River, many Englishmen thought the King got a raw deal.
Puerto Rico Sugar Plantations and Sugar Mills
For many years, visiting the abandoned sugar mills (Centrales) in Puerto Rico was a favorite pastime. Long since closed, the ruins of the sugar mills are decaying and in disrepair. It is a shame that more isn’t being done to preserve such an important part of history. The production of sugar was an important aspect of Puerto Rico’s history. The rise and fall of the sugar industry had much to do with it’s colonization by first Spain, then the US and it’s effects were wide-reaching. Although defunct today, it provides an interesting insight into this time in history. As the years go by, it is becoming more difficult to appreciate them due to deterioration, vandalism, and sell offs of the metals, so if visiting these mills are of interest to you, the time is now to check them out.
Photos are of Central Guanica: Then and Now
A Short History of the Sugar Industry in Puerto Rico (Source: EnciclopediaPR).
The cultivation of sugar cane and the production of sugar largely forged the local and international identity of Puerto Rico until the 20th century. According to historical documents, the first farms producing the sweetener date to the 16th century. These sugar mills were known locally as ingenios or trapiches. In 1523, Genovese native Tomás de Castellón established in San Germán the first sugar mill, called San Juan de las Palmas. Others were founded in the 1540s along the banks of navigable rivers near San Juan. From the late 17th century on, huge extensions of land were dedicated to commercial agriculture. Those dedicated to raising sugar cane were called haciendas azucareras, the sugar plantations.
In the following centuries, several historical events affected the cultivation and processing of sugar. Except for the decline in sugar production that occurred in the 17th century, the industry experienced various periods of prosperity. The first significant surge occurred between 1790 and 1849. It was largely due to the agrarian reforms of 1776 and the Real Cédula de Gracias of 1815. These measures partially revoked the Spanish monopoly on commerce, as well as making it easier to traffic in African slaves. Also, demand for Puerto Rican sugar by the United States increased as production and export of sugar from Haiti were affected by the chaos of the Haitian revolution. By the middle of the 19th century, there were 789 sugar plantations in Puerto Rico.
Despite this increase, cultivation and processing of sugar went through difficult times at the end of the 19th century. Various factors contributed to this decline, including the depreciation of unrefined sugar and a reduction in production volume caused by plagues, droughts and hurricanes. Obligatory taxes and the technological backwardness of most of the plantations combined to worsen the problems. Events such as the abolition of slavery in 1873 and the tariff wars between Spain and the United States also adversely affected industry conditions.
With the establishment in 1873 of the first sugar factory, the San Vicente mill in Vega Baja, the industry and its diverse forms of production began to be transformed. New technologies were developed in the mills, which produced their own electricity for machinery for processing the sugar. Some of the old plantations transformed their operations and became mills. At the same time, the Puerto Rican colono arose, farmers who grew cane and sold it to the mills for processing.
In 1898, following the Spanish-American War, the industry experienced additional changes. United States investors replaced many of the established European investors on the island. Huge sugar mills such as the Guánica Central and Fajardo Sugar were established. The increase in the price of sugar on the world markets, as well as the investment of capital, made Puerto Rico into one of the principal producers of sugar internationally. Despite this, the sugar industry required a large number of laborers who were submitted to conditions similar to those of slavery.
During the first decades of the 20th century, the sugar industry continued to develop and reached its peak. Despite the establishment of huge sugar trading businesses, some mills backed by Puerto Rican capital also showed considerable production capacity. By 1930, there were 44 mills in operation. In the 1940s, however, the mills began to weaken, due to various factors. The fall in the price of sugar, mismanagement by some administrators, the restriction of credit to independent farmers, as well as the strikes by workers, created conflict and conditions that led to the decline and eventual closure of many of the mills in the subsequent decades.
Following the record sugar cane harvest of 1952, the industry experienced an accelerated deterioration. Additionally, the production of sugar took a lower priority as the government undertook to industrialize the island. Between 1951 and 1968, 17 mills ceased operations. At the end of the 1960s, the government tried to rescue the industry through a recovery program. The Land Authority acquired a significant number of mills and in 1973 created the Sugar Corporation. Despite the fact that the government became the principal sugar producer in Puerto Rico, the mills, both privately and publicly funded, were shut down, one by one. In 2000, operations ceased at the last mills still functioning: Roig in Yabucoa and Coloso, which had operated for nearly 100 years in the municipality of Aguada. Some of the mills also included refineries and packaging operations whose refined white sugar, with its fine grain, built the reputation of the Puerto Rican sugar producers as true artisans.
To read more about the Centrales and see Photos, check out this website which is excellent: EnciclopediaPR Sugar
Centrales in operation in 1940, location (closest town) and date they closed down:
Playa Grande in Vieques (1942) Carmen in Vega Alta (1945) Caribe in Salinas (1946) Boca Chica in Juana Díaz (1946) Herminia in Villalba (1947) Santa Barbara in Jayuya (1948) Pellejas in Adjuntas (1949) San Joseé in Río Piedras (1952) Constancia in Ponce (1954) Rochelaise in Mayagüez (1957) Victoria in Carolina (1957) Pasto Viejo in Humacao (1958), Ejemplo in Humacao (1961) Constancia in Toa Baja (1962) Guamaní in Guayama (1963) Juanita in Bayamón (1963) Plazuela in Barceloneta (1963).Canóvanas in Loíza (1965) Santa Juana in Caguas (1966) Cayey in Cayey (1967) Machete in Guayama (1967) Rufina in Guayanilla (1967) San Vicente in Vega Baja (1967) Soller in Camuy (1968) Río LLano in Camuy (1970) Lafayette in Arroyo (1971) Los Caños in Arecibo (1972) Monserate in Manatí (1972) Juncos in Juncos (1973) Cortada in Santa Isabel (1974) Eureka in Hormigueros (1977) Fajardo in Fajardo (1977) Igualdad in Añasco (1977) and San Francisco in Guayanilla (1977).
News and Recent Efforts to revive the sugar industry:
Visit a Restored Sugar Mill:
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English planters first began growing sugarcane in Barbados in the 1640s, using a mixture of convicts and prisoners from the British Isles and enslaved people from Africa. Sugar agriculture was very profitable and it quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and to Louisiana and Mississippi in North America. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved men, women and children were brought from Africa to the Caribbean and America so that Europeans could have sugar and rum, the main products of sugar cane.
Sugarcane was an unusual crop. Europeans were used to growing crops such as wheat, which they then harvested and sent to other people who would turn the crop into flour. But on Caribbean and American plantations enslaved labourers had to do everything. They sowed, tended and harvested the crop, and then worked to extract the juice from the sugar cane and boil and process the juice in order to turn it into sugar and molasses, and later they might work to distil some of the waste products into rum. The sugar plantation was both a farm and a factory, and enslaved men, women and children worked long days all year round.
There are picture from this period, showing sugar agriculture and production. But we must remember that the artist who created these pictures wanted to make the system look good: they were defending slavery, trying to show people back in Britain that it wasn’t too bad. Therefore we cannot take these pictures at face value, and must always remember how terribly hard this work was. Young men and women joined the First Gang in their late teens, once they were strong enough, but within ten or twelve years the hard work had wrecked their bodies and they were relegated to the Second Gang, which worked hard but not as hard as the First Gang. After perhaps twenty years in the Second Gang, a person now about 40 years old would appear old and worn out, and would join other old people and young children in the Third Gang (the ‘Grass Gang’), which weeded the crops, and gathered weeds and grass as feed for animals. White owners and overseers watched over all of these processes, and enslaved ‘drivers’ also organised work. Overseers and drivers had whips, and they used them to force enslaved people to work harder.
In the early summer the First and Second Gangs prepared the fields for planting, turning over the soil with hoes. Then in the late-summer and early-autumn the First Gang would plant the sugar cane, often using the cane-holing process.
William Clark, ‘Planting Sugar Cane,’ Ten Views in the Island of Antigua… (London, 1823). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
Cane-holing was back-breaking work. First Gang slaves marked out squares of between 4 and 6 feet square, then dug out each square to a depth of 6 to 9 inches. They used only hoes, not spades, making this work even harder. A First Gang slave was expected to dig out between 60 and 100 squares each day, which involved moving as much as 1,500 cubic feet of soil. The soil taken out was built up as a bank around each square. Two young sugar cane plants were then planted in each hole, and First and Second Gang slaves then carried huge baskets of animal manure on their heads to the squares, placing sufficient manure around each plant. This was both hard and disgusting work, and was hated by the slaves. One large basket of dung, containing as much as 80 pounds of manure, was sufficient for two holes (four sugar cane plants). One acre of sugar cane plants might require as much as 1.25 tonnes of manure.
In the Caribbean weeds grow quickly, and if left alone they will quickly strange and destroy other plants and crops. Throughout the year the older people and children in the Third Gang constantly weeded sugar cane fields, and they also set traps and hunted the thousands of rats who enjoyed feeding on young sugar cane plants. Some white masters gave rewards to the enslaved people who caught and killed the most rats.
Sugar cane plants were often much taller than a man when it came time to harvest them in February or March. The men and women of the First and Second Gangs used ‘bills’ (billhooks), very sharp curved knives. Men and women of the First Gang had to constantly bend over and hack through the thick sugar cane about six inches from the ground. They then used the bills to cut the top and the leaves off the cane. Second Gang slaves would tie the canes into bundles and load them onto wagons.
William Clark, ‘Sugar Cane Harvest,’ Ten Views in the Island of Antigua… (London, 1823). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
Once harvested the canes had to be processed quickly, for if left for too long the juice inside the cane would spoil and become useless. As a result during harvesting and boiling season (February to April) the slaves of the First and Second Gangs worked harder than ever. On large plantations the sugar mill and boiling house worked round the clock, 24 hours a day six days a week. The First and Second Gang slaves were divided into two groups, with the first group working 12 hours during the day, and the second group then working 12 hours during the night, after which they repeated the cycle.
The canes were taken to the mill (which might be powered by wind, by animals or by people. The wind drove large rollers, and enslaved men fed the canes back and forth between the rollers which crushed them and allowed the juice to run into collecting pans, and from there along pipes to the nearby boiling house. This was dangerous work, for these men were often exhausted, and sometimes they did not let go of the sugar cane in time and their arms were drawn into the rollers: when this happened an axe was used to chop off the crushed arm: some plantations had one-armed men who had suffered this fate.
The juice ran down into a large holding tank in the Boiling House. From there it ran into the largest copper vat or bowl, and fires below this bowl boiled the sugar juice. Skilled men and women stirred it as it boiled, and skimmed off the top. The Boiler, a highly skilled slave, decided when the juice had been sufficiently reduced and purified, and he then allowed it to be ladled into the next, slightly smaller copper vat, where this process began again. This happened four or five times, and with each transfer the cane juice became darker and thicker.
William Clark, ‘Interior of a [Sugar] Boiling House,’ Ten Views in the Island of Antigua… (London, 1823). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
By the end of the process one gallon of the original cane juice might produce about one pound of muscovado (semi-refined brown) sugar. When the cane juice was in the final vat the Boiler decided when it was about to crystalize, at which point he tempered it with lime juice, and transferred it to an unheated cooling vat. Once properly cooled it was transferred to clay pots, and then several days later holes in the bottom of these pots were removed and molasses drained out of them. The molasses were taken to the spirit or still house, and distilled into rum. What was left in the pots was semi-refined sugar, which was dried in the sun, packaged up, and sent to Europe and America.
The white men who owned plantations knew that this tremendously hard work would so exhaust many enslaved people that they would die young. Each year a planter bought newly imported slaves from Africa to replace those who had died. One Barbados planter named Edward Littleton estimated that a sugar planter who owned 100 slaves and employed them in growing and processing sugar cane would kill them all in 19 years. The production of sugar required – and killed – hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans. So, between 1748 and 1788 over 1,200 ships brought over 335,000 enslaved Africans to Jamaica, Britain’s largest sugar-producing colony. Yet in 1788 a Jamaican census recorded that only 226,432 enslaved men, women and children were alive on the island. Even with all who had already been there before 1748, the more than 335,000 new arrivals, and all of the children born to enslaved mothers, many died to produce sugar.
Sugar Plantations by Island
Some islands had a larger sugar presence than others during the industry’s peak. But most of them still offer tours of historic sugar plantations in Hawaii.
The Hawaii Plantation Village in Ewa gives tours of places where plantation workers lived. You can also offers visit its museum from 10 am to 2 pm Monday through Saturday.
Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum in Maui.
Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum hosts a large collection of memorabilia from the sugar industry. It offers a look into sugar harvesting as well as tells the history of sugar-production in Hawaii. As one of the original “Big Five” plantations, you will not want to miss this place. The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Saturday.
The Gay and Robinson Sugar Plantation in Kaumakani offers tours from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday. The Grove Farm Homestead in Lihue was one of Hawaii’s earliest plantations and has an extensive museum. The Waimea Sugar Mill Camp Museum is also a great place to learn about sugar in Hawaii.
Sugar Plantations - History
Every man is required to deliver a half picul of good sandalwood [a picul being 133 lbs.] to the governor of the district to which he belongs, on or before the 1st day of September, 1827 in case of not being able to procure the sandalwood, four Spanish dollars, or any property worth that sum, will be taken in payment.
No person, except those who are infirm, or too advanced an age to go to the mountains, will be exempted from this law.
Every woman of the age of 13 years or upwards, is to pay a mat, 12 feet long and 6 wide, or tapa of equal value, (to such a mat,) or the sum of one Spanish dollar, on or before the 1st day of September, 1827. 2
Coinciding with the period of the greatest activity of the missionaries, a new industry entered the Hawaiian scene. The cry of "Whale ho!" ushered a dramatic change in the economic, political and community life of the islands. The sailors wanted fresh vegetables and the native Hawaiians turned the temperate uplands into vast truck farms. There was a demand for fresh fruit, cattle, white potatoes and sugar. These, too, were grown and supplied by the native population. Merchants, mostly white men (or haole as the Hawaiians called them) became rich.
Meanwhile the ships crews brought to the islands not only romantic notions, but diseases to which the Hawaiians lacked resistance. Venereal disease, tuberculosis and even measles, which in most white communities was no more than a passing childhood illness, took their toll in depopulating the kingdom.
The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years. Fortunes were founded upon industries related to it and these were the forerunners of the money interests that were to dominate the economy of the islands for a century to come. And then swiftly whaling came to an end. The whales, like the native Hawaiians, were being reduced in population because of the hunters. In 1859 an oil well was discovered and developed in Pennsylvania. Within a few years this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses.
Whaling left in its wake a legacy of disease and death. It wiped out three-fourths of the native Hawaiians. It shifted much of the population from the countryside to the cities and reduced the self-sufficiency of the people. In short, it wreaked havoc on the traditional values and beliefs of the Hawaiian culture. By 1870, Samuel Kamakau would complain that the Hawaiian people were destitute their clothing and provisions imported. Instead of practicing their traditional skills, farming, fishing, canoe-building, net-making, painting kau`ula tapas, etc., Hawaiians had become "mere vagabonds":
THE GREAT MAHELE:
In 1848 the king was persuaded to apply yet another force to the already rapidly evolving Hawaiian way of life. The dividing up of the land known as "The Great Mahele" in that year introduced and institutionalized the private ownership or leasing of land tracts, a development which would prove to be indispensable to the continued growth of the sugar growing industry.
The Mahele was hailed as a benevolent redistribution of the wealth of the land, but in practice the common people were cheated. Of 4 million acres of land the makaʻāinana ended up with less than 30,000 acres. This is considerably less than 1 acre per person. By contrast the 250 chiefs got over a million and a half acres. King Kamehameha III kept almost a million acres for himself. And there was close to another million and a half acres that were considered government lands. 4
As expected, within a few years the sugar agricultural interests, mostly haole, had obtained leases or outright possession of a major portion of the best cane land.
Nonoke au i ka maki ko,
I ka mahi ko.
Ua &lsquoeha ke kua, kakahe ka hou,
A &lsquoai&lsquoe au i ka hale ku&lsquoai,
A &lsquoai&lsquoe au i ka hale ku&lsquoai.
A noho ho&lsquoi he pua mana no,
A noho ho&lsquoi he pua mana no.
I labored on a sugar plantation,
My back ached, my sweat poured,
All for nothing.
I fell in debt to the plantation store,
I fell in debt to the plantation store.
And remained a poor man,
And remained a poor man.
Though this strike was not successful, it showed the owners that the native Hawaiians would not long endure such demeaning conditions of work. Faced, therefore, with an ever diminishing Hawaiian workforce that was clearly on the verge of organizing more effectively, the Sugar planters themselves organized to solve their labor problems.
The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society organized to protect the interests of the plantation owners and to secure their supply of and control over cheap field labor. The first group of Chinese recruited came under five year contracts at $3.00 a month plus passage, food, clothing and a house. An advance of $6 was made in China to be refunded in small installments.
From the beginning there was a deliberate policy of separation of the races, pitting one against the other as a goal to get more production out of them.
The President of the Agricultural Society, Judge Wm. Lee, advised the planters in these words:
MASTERS AND SERVANTS (Na Haku A Me Na Kauwa):
From June 21st, 1850 laborers were subject to a strict law known as the Masters and Servants Law. Under the provisions of this law, enacted just a few weeks after the founding of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, two different forms of labor contracts were legalized, apprenticeships and indentured service. Under this law, absenteeism or refusal to work could cause a contract laborer to be apprehended by the district magistrate or police officer and subsequently sentenced to work for the employer an extra amount of time after the contract expired, usually double the time of the absence.
For those contract laborers who found conditions unbearable and tried to run away, again the law permitted their employers "coercive force" to apprehend them, and their contracts on the plantation would be extended by double the period of time they had been away. If such a worker then refused to serve, he could be jailed and sentenced to hard labor until he gave in. The law, therefore, made it virtually impossible for the workers to organize labor unions or to participate in strikes. Indeed, the law was only a slight improvement over outright slavery.
Even the mildest and most benign attempts to challenge the power of the plantations were quashed. One early Japanese contract laborer in Hilo tried to get the courts to rule that his labor contract should be illegal since he was unwilling to work for Hilo Sugar Company, and such involuntary servitude was supposed to be prohibited by the Hawaiian Constitution, but the court, of course, upheld the Masters and Servant's Act and the harsh labor contracts (Hilo Sugar vs. Mioshi 1891). A far more brutal and shameful act was committed agianst another one of the first contarct laborers or "imin" who dared to remain in Hawai'i after his contract and try to open a small business in Honoka'a. His name was Katsu Goto, and one night, after riding out to help some other imin with an English translation, he was assaulted, beaten, and lynched [read more].
It should be noted, as Hawai&lsquoi's National Labor Relations Board officer first remarked, that "our Hawaiian advocates of "free enterprise," like their mainland confreres, never hesitated to call upon the government to interfere with business for their special benefit." 7 For a hundred years, the "special interests" of the planters would control unhindered, the laws of Hawai&lsquoi as a Kingdom, a Republic and Territory.
In the United States, most of the sugar was produced in the South, so with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1864, the demand and, therefore, the price for sugar increased dramatically. The Hawaiian sugar industry expanded to meet these needs and so the supply of plantation laborers had to be increased as well. The Kingdom set up a Bureau of Immigration to assist the planters as more and more Chinese were brought in, this time for 5 year contracts at $4. a month plus food and shelter.
Even the famous American novelist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, while visiting the islands in 1866 was taken in by the planters' logic. Normally a foe of racism and economic servitude, he accepted entirely the plantation sentiment that the Chinese in Hawai&lsquoi were the dregs of their society. He wryly commented that, "Their Former trade of cutting throats on the China seas has made them uncommonly handy at cutting cane." 8 Having observed the operations of plantations throughout the south and in California, Clemens knew exactly how low the "coolie" wages were by comparison and expected the rest of the country to soon follow the example of the Hawai&lsquoi planters. He wrote:
Of all the groups brought in for plantation labor, the largest was from Japan. Before the century had closed over 80,000 Japanese had been imported. At first their coming was hailed as most satisfactory. The Planters' journal said of them in 1888, "These people assume so readily the customs and habits of the country, that there does not exist the same prejudice against them that there is with the Chinese, while as laborers they seem to give as much satisfaction as any others." 14
By 1892 the Japanese were the largest and most aggressive elements of the plantation labor force and the attitude toward them changed. In 1894 the Planters' journal complained: "The tendency to strike and desert, which their well nigh full possession of the labor market fosters, has shown planters the great importance of having a percentage of their laborers of other nationalities. . They seize on the smallest grievance, of a real or imaginary nature, to revolt and leave work. " 15
Most of the grievances of the Japanese had to do with the quality of the food given to them, the unsanitary housing, and labor treatment. And chief among their grievances, was the inhuman treatment they received at the hands of the luna, the plantation overseers. Such men were almost always of a different nationality from those they supervised. In fact, most were 7Europeans who did not hesitate to apply the whips they carried constantly with them to enforce company discipline. 16
Many workers began to feel that their conditions were comparable to the conditions of slavery. The plantation management set up rules controlling employees' lives even after working hours. They were not permitted to leave the plantation in the evenings. There were rules as to when they had to be in bed -usually by 8:30 in the evening - no talking was allowed after lights out and so forth. 17
The Japanese immigrants were no strangers to hard, farm labor. But the heavy handed treatment they received from the planters in Hawai&lsquoi must have been extreme, for they created their own folk music to express the suffering, the homesickness and the frustration they were forced to live with, in a way unique to their cultural identity. These short lyrics, popularly sung by the women, followed the rhythm of their work and were called Hole Hole Bushi after the Hawaiian expression hole hole which described the work of stripping dried leaves from the cane stalks, and the Japanese word fushi for tune or melody. Their lyrics [click here] give us an idea of what their lives must have been like.
Before the 19th century had ended there were more than 50 so-called labor disturbances recorded in the newspapers although obviously the total number was much greater.
The earliest strike on record was by the Hawaiian laborers on Kōloa Plantation in 1841. Though they were only asking for twenty-five cents a day, with no actual union organization the workers lost this strike just as so many others were destined to suffer in the years ahead.
They followed this up a few years later by asking and obtaining annexation of the islands as a Territory of the United States because they wanted American protection of their economic interests. As the 19th century came to a close, there was very little the working men and women could show for their labors. Plantation field labor averaged $15. a month for 26 days of work. The average workday was 10 hours for field labor and 12 hours for mill hands.
Even away from the plantations the labor movement was small and weak. As early as 1857 there was a Hawaiian Mechanics Benefit Union which lasted only a few years.
The only Labor union, in the modern sense of the term, that was formed before annexation was the Typographical Union.
On June 14, 1900 Hawai&lsquoi became a territory of the United States. This had no immediate effect on the workers pay, hours and conditions of employment, except in two respects. The labor contracts became illegal because they violated the U.S. Constitution which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. And the Territory became subject to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a racist American law which halted further importation of Chinese laborers.
When the plantation workers heard that their contracts were no longer binding, they walked off the plantations by the thousands in sheer joy and celebration. These were not strikes in the traditional sense. There were no "demands" as such and, within a few days, work on the plantations resumed their normal course. Many of the freed men, however, left the plantations forever. They and their families, in the thousands, left Hawai&lsquoi and went to the Mainland or returned to their homelands or, in some cases, remained in the islands but undertook new occupations. Meanwhile, the planters had to turn to new sources of labor. They brought in more Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, Spanish, Filipinos and other groups.
The year of 1900 found the workers utilizing their new freedom in a rash of strikes. There were no unions as we know them today and so these actions were always temporary combinations or blocs of workers joining together to resolve a particular "hot" issue or to press for some immediate demands. Twenty-five strikes were recorded that year. Most of them were lost, but they had an impact on management. Within a year wages went up by 10 cents a day bringing pay rates to 70 cents a day.
Because most of the strikers had been Japanese, the industrial interests and the local newspapers intensified their attacks upon this racial group. Just as they had slandered the Chinese and the Hawaiian before that they now turned their attention to the Japanese. An article in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser of 1906 complained:
SKILLED TRADE UNIONS:
Meanwhile in the towns, especially Honolulu, a labor movement of sorts was beginning to stir. These were craft unions in the main. They too encountered difficulties and for the same basic reason as the plantation groups. The racist poison instigated by the employers infected the thinking and activities of the workers.
As early as 1901 eleven unions, mostly in the building trades, formed the first labor council called the Honolulu Federation of Trades. Later this group became the White Mechanics and Workmen and in 1903 it became the Central Labor Council affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Similarly the skilled Caucasian workers of Hilo formed a Trade Federation in 1903, and soon Carpenters, Longshoremen, Painters and Teamsters had chartered locals there as well. But these locals tended to die out within 20 years without ever fulfilling the goal of organizing the unorganized, in large part because of their failure to take in Orientals. 20
The 1909 STRIKE:
There came a day in 1909 when the racist tactics of the plantation owners finally backfired on them. For years they had been paying workers unequal wages based on ethnic background. The Japanese were getting $18 a month for 26 days of work while the Portuguese and Puerto Ricans received $22.50 for the same amount of work.
A young lawyer named Motoyuki Negoro pointed out the injustice of unequal wages in a series of articles he wrote for a Japanese newspaper. This led to the formation of the Zokyu Kisei Kai (Higher Wage Association), the first organization which can rightfully be called a labor union on the plantations.
The leaders, in addition to Negoro were Yasutaro Soga, newspaper editor Fred Makino, a druggist and Yokichi Tasaka a news reporter. The members were Japanese plantation workers.
The Association initiated a polite request to the Planter's Association asking for a conference and appealing to the planters for "reason and justice." The Planters acknowledged receipt of the letter but never responded to the request for a conference. On the contrary, they made a decision amongst themselves not to deal with the workers representatives and they forbade any individual plantation manager from coming to an agreement with the workers.
The workers waited four months for a response to no avail. Meanwhile they used the press to plead their cause in the hope that public opinion would move the planters. The English language press opposed the workers demands as did a Japanese paper that was pro-management. In desperation, the workers at &lsquoAiea Plantation voted to strike on May 8. This was followed within the next two weeks by plantations at Waipahu, Ewa, Kahuku, Waianae, and Waialua. The Waimanalo workers did not walk off their jobs but gave financial aid as did the workers on neighboring islands.
Immediately the power structure of the islands swung into action again st the workers. Sixty plantation owners, including those where no strike existed banded together in a united front against labor. Strikebreakers were hired from other ethnic groups, thus using the familiar "divide and rule" technique. The Hawaiian, Chinese and Portuguese were paid $1.50 a day which was more than double the earnings of the Japanese workers they replaced.
The Newspapers denounced the strikers as "agitators and thugs." An article in the Advertiser referred to the Japanese as, "unskilled' unthinking fellows, mere human implements." 21 The Japanese Consul was brought in by the employers and told the strikers that if they stayed out they were being disloyal to the Japanese Emperor. But this had no impact upon them.
On June 7th, 1909 the companies evicted the workers from their homes in Kahuku, 'Ewa and Waialua with only 24 hours notice. The people picked up their few belongings and families by the hundreds, by the thousands, began the trek into Honolulu. Yes, even from Kahuku 600 marched along the coast and over the Pali to Palama. It took them two days. There, and in Kaka&lsquoako and Moili'ili, makeshift housing was established where 5,000 adults and many children lived, slept and were fed. But this too failed to break the strike.
On June 8th, police rounded up Waipahu strikers who were staying with friends and forced them at gunpoint to return to work. Thirty of their friends, non-strikers, were arrested, charged with "inciting unrest." On June 10, the four leaders of the strike, Negoro, Makino, Soga and Tasaka were arrested and charged with conspiracy to obstruct the operation of the plantations. On June 11th, the chief of police banned all public speeches for the duration of the strike. In a cat and mouse game, the authorities released the strike leaders on bond then re-arrested them within a few days. The documents of the defense were seized at the office of the Japanese newspaper which supported the strike. In the trial of the leaders, which began on July 26th, the only evidence against them was the Japanese newspaper articles and these were translated in such a way as to twist the words and give them a more violent meaning.
In the midst of the trial there was an attempted assassination of the editor of an anti-strike Japanese newspaper. It had no relation to the men on trial but it whipped up public feeling against them and against the strike.
On August 5, 1909, after three months out, the strike was called off. On the record, the strike is listed as a loss. It cost the Japanese community $40,000 to maintain the walkout. The Higher Wage Association was wrecked. But the strike was well organized, well led and well disciplined, and shortly after the walkout the employers granted increases to the workers who were on "Contract", that is working a specified area on an arrangement similar to sharecropping. This was estimated at $500,000. The ordinary workers got pay raises of approximately $270,000. Housing conditions were improved. The racial differential in pay was gradually closed.
As for the owner, the strike had cost them $2 million according to the estimate of strike leader Negoro. The four strike leaders were found guilty and sentenced to fines and 10 months imprisonment. But when the strike was over public pressure mounted for their release and they were pardoned by Secretary of the Territory, Earnest Mott-Smith. In 1973, Fred Makino, was recommended posthumously by the newswriters of Hawai&lsquoi for the Hawaii Newspaper Hall of Fame.
In the years following the 1909 strike, the employers did two things to ward off future stoppages. They imported large numbers of laborers from the Philippines and they embarked on a paternalistic program to keep the workers happy, building schools, churches, playgrounds, recreation halls and houses. Though they did many good things, they did not pay the workers a decent living wage, or recognize their right to a voice in their own destiny.
Two years after the strike a Department of Immigration report said, "The sugar growers have not entirely recovered from the scare given them by the strike. and would like to bring in to the islands large numbers of Filipinos or other cheap labor to create a surplus, so that. they would be able to procure the necessary help without being obliged to pay any increase in wages."
A Commissioner of Labor Statistics said, "Plantations view laborers primarily as instrument of production. Their business interests require cheap, not too intelligent, docile, unmarried men."
THE BIG FIVE:
In 1911, the American writer, Ray Stannard Baker, said, "I have rarely visited any place where there was as much charity and as little democracy as in Hawaii." 22
The decade after 1909 was a dark one for Labor. There were no major strikes although 41 labor disturbances are on record in this period. These were not just of plantation labor. They involved longshoremen, quarry workers, construction workers, iron workers, pineapple cannery employees, fishermen, freight handlers, telephone operators, machinists and others. Wages were the main issue but the right to organize, shorter hours of work, freedom from discrimination, and protests against unfair discharge were matters that triggered the disputes.
The employers had continued to organize their efforts to control Hawai'i's economy, such that before long there were five big companies in command. The notorious "Big Five" were formed, in the main, by the early haole missionary families at first as sugar plantations then, as they diversified, as Hawai'i's power elite in all phases of island business from banking to tourism. They were C. Brewer, Castle & Cooke, Alexander and Baldwin, Theo. Davies, and Hackfeld & Co., which later became AmFac.
The first notable instance of racial solidarity among the workers was in a 1916 dispute when longshoremen of all races joined in a strike for union recognition, a closed shop, and higher wages. This strike was led by Jack Edwardson, Port Agent of the Sailors Union of the Pacific. The workers did not win their demands for union security but did get a substantial increase in pay. These were the years of World War I. War-induced inflation raised the cost of living in Hawai'i by 115%. Yet the plantation owners were so strong that basic wages remained unchanged.
THE 1920 STRIKE:
In 1917 the Japanese formed a new Higher Wage Association. They reminded the Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association that the established wage of $20 to $24 a month was not enough to pay for the barest necessities of life. The planters ignored the request. Instead, they stepped up their anti-Japanese propaganda and imported more Filipino laborers.
Because a war was on, the plantation workers did not press their demands. But when hostilities ended they formed a new organization called the Federation of Japanese Labor and began organizing on all islands.
Meanwhile the Filipinos formed a parallel but independent Filipino Labor Union under the leadership of Pablo Manlapit. The two organizations established contact. However they worked independently of each other. Eventually this proved to be a fatal flaw.
In December of 1919 the Japanese Federation politely submitted their requests. The appeal read in part:
- An increase from 77 cents to $1.25 a day. Women laborers to receive a minimum of 95 cents a day.
- The bonus system to be made a legal obligation rather than a matter of benevolence.
- An eight hour day
- Maternity leave with pay for women two weeks before and six weeks after childbirth.
- Double-time for overtime, Sundays and holidays.
1924 -THE FILIPINO STRIKE & HANAPĒPĒ MASSACRE:
Typically, the bosses now became disillusioned with both Japanese and Filipino workers. They spent the next few years trying to get the U.S. Congress to relax the Chinese Exclusion Act so that they could bring in new Chinese. Suddenly, the Chinese, whom they had reviled several generations back, were considered a desirable element. Congress, in a period when racism was more open than today, prevented the importation of Chinese labor.
Unfortunately, organized labor on the mainland was also infected with racism and supported the Congress in this action. For a while it looked as though militant unionism on the plantations was dead. To ensure the complete subjugation of Labor, the Territorial Legislature passed laws against "criminal syndicalism, anarchistic publications and picketing." 26
This repression with penalties up to 10 years in prison did not stifle the discontent of the workers. Particularly the Filipinos, who were rapidly becoming the dominant plantation labor force, had deep seated grievances. As the latest immigrants they were the most discriminated against, and held in the most contempt.
Although the planters claimed there was a labor shortage and they were actively recruiting from the Philippines, they screened out and turned back any arrivals that could read or write. They wanted only illiterates. Of 600 men who had arrived in the islands voluntarily, they sent back 100. But these measures did not prevent discontent from spreading.
In 1922 Pablo Manlapit was again active among them and had organized a new Filipino Higher Wage Movement which claimed 13,000 members. In April 1924 a strike was called on the island of Kaua&lsquoi. The chief demands were for $2 a day in wages and reduction of the workday to 8 hours. It looked like history was repeating itself. The employers used repression, armed forces, the National Guard, and strikebreakers who were paid a higher wage that the strikers demanded. Again workers were turned out of their homes. The propaganda machine whipped up race hatred. Spying and infiltration of the strikers ranks was acknowledged by Jack Butler, executive head of the HSPA. 27
Arrests of strike leaders was used to destroy the workers solidarity. People were bribed to testify against them. On September 9th, 1924 outraged strikers seized two scabs at Hanap p , Kaua'i and prevented them from going to work. The police, armed with clubs and guns came to the "rescue." 28 The Filipino strikers used home made weapons and knives to defend themselves.
The Associated Press flashed the story of what followed across the nation in the following words: Honolulu. - Twenty persons dead, unnumbered injured lying in hospital, officers under orders to shoot strikers as they approached, distracted widows with children tracking from jails to hospitals and morgues in search of missing strikers - this was the aftermath of a clash between cane strikers and workers on the McBryde plantation, Tuesday at Hanapēpē , island of Kauaʻi. The dead included sixteen Filipinos and four policemen.
In the aftermath 101 Filipinos were arrested. 76 were brought to trial and 60 were given four year jail sentences. Pablo Manlapit was charged with subornation of perjury and was sentenced to two to ten years in prison. The Hawaii Hochi charged that he had been railroaded to prison, a victim of framed up evidence, perjured testimony, racial prejudice and class hatred. Shortly thereafter he was paroled on condition that he leave the Territory. 29
After 8 months, the strike disintegrated, illustrating once again that racial unionism was doomed to failure. And what of the sugar companies? The Federationist, the official publication of the AFL, reported: In 1924, the ten leading sugar companies listed on the Stock Exchange paid dividends averaging 17 per cent. From 1913 to 1923 eleven leading sugar companies paid cash dividends of 172.45 percent and in addition most of them issued large stock dividends. 30
After the 1924 strike, the labor movement in Hawai'i dwindled but it never died. Discontent among the workers seethed but seldom surfaced. Pablo Manlapit, who was imprisoned and then exiled returned to the islands in 1932 and started a new organization, this time hoping to include other ethnic groups. But the time was not ripe in the depression years. There were small nuisance strikes in 1933 that made no headway and involved mostly Filipinos. In 1935 Manlapit was arrested and forced to leave for the Philippines, ending his colorful but tragic career in the local labor movement.
The mantle of his leadership was taken over by Antonio Fagel who organized the Vibora Luviminda on the island of Maui.
The Vibora Luviminda conducted the last strike of an ethnic nature in the islands in 1937. Fagel and nine other strike leaders were arrested, charged with kidnapping a worker. Fagel spent four months in jail while the strike continued. Eventually, Vibora Luviminda made its point and the workers won a 15% increase in wages. But there was no written contract signed. The loosely organized Vibora Luviminda withered away. The era of workers divided by ethnic groups was thus ended forever.
The years of the 1930s were the years of a world wide economic depression. Unemployment estimated at up to 25 million in the United States, brought with it wide-spread hunger and breadlines. Hawai&lsquoi too was affected and for a while union organization appeared to come to a standstill.
PA&lsquoA HUI UNIONS: TRIUMPHS OF SOLIDARITY 31
The third period is the modern period and marks the emergence of true labor unions into Hawaiian labor relations. Labor throughout the entire United States came to new life as a result of President Roosevelt's "New Deal". Under the protection of a landmark federal law known as the Wagner Act, unions now had a federally protected right to organize and employers had a new federally enforceable duty to bargain in good faith with freely elected union representatives. In this new period it was no longer necessary to resort to the strike to gain recognition for the union. Under the Wagner Act the union could petition for investigation and certification as the sole and exclusive bargaining representative of the employees.
Two big maritime strikes on the Pacific coast in the '30's that of 1934, a 90 day strike, and that of 1936, a 98 day strike tested the will of the government and the newly established National Labor Relations Board to back up these worker rights. The strike of 1934 in particular finally established the right of a bona fide union to exist on the waterfront, and the lesson wasn't lost on their Hawaiian brothers.
By terms of the award, joint hiring halls were set up, with a union designated dispatcher was in charge, ending forever the humiliating and corrupt "shape up" hiring that had plagued the industry.
The West Coast victories inspired and sowed the seed of a new unionism in Hawai&lsquoi. Harry Kamoku, a Hilo resident, was one of those Longshoremen from Hawai'i who was on the West Coast in '34 and saw how this could work in Hawai&lsquoi. He and other longshoremen of Honolulu, Hilo and other ports took up the job of organization and struggle to achieve recognition of their union, improved conditions, and greater security through a written contract. This new era for labor in Hawai'i, it is said, arose at the water's edge and at the farthest reach from the power center of the Big 5 in Honolulu.
On Kauaʻi and in Hilo, the Longshoremen were building a labor movement based on family and community organizing and multi-ethnic solidarity. Harry Kamoku was the model union leader. Part Chinese and Hawaiian himself, he welcomed everyone into the union as "brothers under the skin."
- Wages were frozen at the December 7 level.
- Workers were forbidden to change jobs without permission from the employer.
- Unemployed workers had to accept jobs as directed by the military.
- Absenteeism was punishable by fines up to $200 or imprisonment up to two months. Under this rule hundreds of workers were fined or jailed. In some instances workers were ordered to buy bonds in lieu of fines or to give blood to the blood bank in exchange for a cut in jail time.
- Labor contracts were suspended.28
- Plantations and the military worked out an arrangement whereby the army could borrow workers. The workers received 41 cents an hour but the Planters were paid 62 cents for each worker they loaned out. All told, the Planters collected about $6 million dollars for workers and equipment loaned out in this way. taken.
The 1946 Sugar Strike
As to the plantations, still no union had been successful in obtaining so much as a toe-hold in any plantation of the Territory until 1939. There were many barriers. Anti-labor laws constituted a constant threat to union organizers. Strangers, and especially those suspected of being or known to be union men, were kept under close surveillance. Camp policemen watched their movements and ordered them to leave company property. The Anti-Trespass Law, passed after the 1924 strike and another law provided that any police officer in any seaport or town could arrest, without warrant, any person when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that such person intends to commit an offense. These provisions were often used to put union leaders out of circulation in times of tension and industrial conflict.
Thirty-four sugar plantations once thrived in Hawai&lsquoi. "King Sugar" was a massive labor-intensive enterprise that depended heavily on cheap, imported labor from around the world. While the plantation owners reaped fabulous wealth from the $160 million annual sugar and pineapple crop, workers earned 24 cents an hour. With the War over, the ILWU began a concerted campaign to win representation of sugar workers using the new labor laws. From 1944 to 1946 membership rose from 900 to 28,000 as one by one plantation after plantation voted overwhelmingly for the union.
The plantation owners could see a strike was coming and arranged to bring in over 6000 replacements from the Philippines whom they hoped would scab against the largely Japanese workforce. But the ILWU had organizers from the Marine Cooks and Stewards union on board the ships signing up the Filipinos who were warmly received into the union as soon as they arrived.
About twenty six thousand sugar workers and their families, 76 thousand people in all, began the 79-day strike on September 1, 1946 and completely shut down 33 of the 34 sugar plantations in the islands. By actively fighting racial and ethnic discrimination and by recruiting leaders from each group, the ILWU united sugarworkers like never before. Members were kept informed and involved through a democratic union structure that reached into every plantation gang and plantation camp. Every member had a job to do, whether it was walking the picket line, gathering food, growing vegetables, cooking for the communal soup kitchens, printing news bulletins, or working on any of a dozen strike committees. The organization that won that strike for the union remained long after the strike and became the basis of a political order that brought about a political revolution by 1954.
The agreement ending the strike abolished the perquisite system on sugar plantations and provided for the conversion of perquisites into cash payments, an estimated $10,500,000 in increased wages and benefits. More than any other single event the 1946 sugar strike brought an end to Hawai&lsquoi's paternalistic labor relations and ushered in a new era of participatory democracy both on the plantations and throughout Hawai&lsquoi's political and social institutions.
The Great Dock Strike of 1949
The 1949 longshore strike was a pivotal event in the development of the ILWU in Hawai&lsquoi and also in the development of labor unity necessary for a modern labor movement. The 171 day strike challenged the colonial wage pattern whereby Hawai&lsquoi workers received significantly lower pay than their West Coast counterparts even though they were working for the same company and doing the same work.
The employers included all seven of the Territory's stevedoring companies with about 2,000 dockworkers total, who were at the time making $1.40 an hour compared to the $1.82 being paid to their West Coast counterparts. After trying federal mediation, the ILWU proposed submission of the issues to arbitration. When that was refused by the companies, the strike began on May 1, 1949, and shipping to and from the islands came to a virtual standstill.
The local press, especially the Honolulu Advertiser, vilified the Union and its leadership as communists controlled by the Soviet Union. This vicious "red-baiting" was unrelenting and stirred public sentiment against the strikers, but the Union held firm, and the employers steadfastly rejected the principle of parity and the submission of the dispute to arbitration.
The Legislature convened in special session on August 6 to pass dock seizure laws and on August 10, the Governor seized Castle & Cooke Terminals and McCabe, Hamilton and Renny, the two largest companies, but the Union continued to picket and protested their contempt citations in court.
From the beginning the Union had agreed to work Army, Navy and relief ships at pre-strike wages. A "splinter fleet" of smaller companies who had made agreements with the Union were also able to load and unload, which as time passed became an effective way for the union to split the ranks of management.
The strike was finally settled with a wage increase that brought the dock workers closer to but not equal to the West Coast standard, but it was certain the employers were in disarray and had to capitulate.
One year after the so-called "Communist conspiracy" trials, the newly won political rights of the working people asserted itself in a dramatic way. Union contracts protected workers from reprisals due to political activity. And so in 1954 Labor campaigned openly and won a landslide for union endorsed candidates for the Territorial Legislature.
The newly elected legislators were mostly Democrats. Many were returned World War II veterans whose parents had been plantation laborers. They reflected the needs of working people and of the common man. Thus the iron grip of the industrial oligarchy, which had controlled Hawaiian politics for over a half century through the Republican Party, was broken.
In the years that followed the Labor Movement was able to win through legislative action, many benefits and protections for its membership and for working people generally: Pre-Paid Health Care, Temporary Disability Insurance, Prevailing Wage laws, improved minimum wage rates, consumer protection, and no-fault insurance to name only a few.
Labor was also influential in getting improved schools, colleges, public services and various health and welfare agencies.
In the meantime the Labor Movement has continued to grow. Late in the 1950's the tourist industry began to pick up steam. The advent of statehood in 1959 and the introduction of the giant jet airplanes accelerated the growth of the visitor industry. At the same time that mechanization was cutting down on employment on the plantations, the hotel and restaurant business was growing by leaps and bounds.
The Unity House unions, under the leadership of Arthur Rutledge, which covered hotel and restaurant workers plus teamsters, reached a growth in 1973 of about 12,000 members.
Early struggles for wage parity were also aimed at attempts to separate neighbor island wage standards from those of Honolulu City & County. A permanent result of these struggles can be seen in the way that local unions in Hawai'i are all state-wide rather than city or county based. For example, Local 745 of the Carpenter's Union in Hawaiʻi is the largest in the International Brotherhood of Carpenters.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order which recognized the right of Federal workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. This gave a great impetus to an already growing union movement among Federal employees. In 1973 it was estimated that of 30,000 Federal workers in Hawaii, about one third are organized, mostly in AFL-CIO Unions. Of these, the Postal Workers are the largest group. In 1966 the Hawai'i Locals of the AFL-CIO joined together in a State Federation. [see Pa'a Hui Unions] In 1973 the Federation included 43 local unions with a total membership in excess of 50,000.
The ILWU lost membership on the plantations as machines took the place of man and as some agricultural operations, were closed down but this loss was offset by organizing other fields such as automotive repair shops and the hotel industry, especially on the neighbor islands. In 1973 it remained the largest single trade union local with a membership of approximately 24,000.
By 1968 unions were so thoroughly accepted as a part of the Hawaiian scene that it created no furor when unions in the public sector of the economy asked that the right of collective bargaining by public employees be written into the State Constitution.
The Constitutional Convention of 1968 recommended and the voters approved a section which reads:
With Sugar Came the Slaves
While the influx of slaves from Africa initially meant low labor costs and increased sugar production, slavery in the eighteenth century on the sugar plantation had other profound effects in the Caribbean too. It wasn’t long before the largest group in the Caribbean population was these very slaves.
While the working conditions on the sugar plantations make the sweatshops that lurk in that part of the world in our own time seem gentle in comparison, there were always plenty of Africans to bring in to take the places of those who had worn out – or died. In 1700, there was an annual average influx of 17,000 slaves from Africa to North and South America and the Caribbean by 1810, that rate had more than tripled. During the 1800’s, three out of every five Africans who came to the Caribbean were brought as slaves for sugar plantations. By the time the slave trade fizzled out, following its abolition in England in 1807 and in the United States in 1863, about 4.5 million Africans had ended up as slaves in the Caribbean. This led to an extremely complex social structure, in which skin color and ancestry had a great deal to do with personal power.
This information is just an introduction to this significant issue. Read more about it through the links in the reference section.
Hidden In A Huge Texas Subdivision, A Rare Plantation Building Where Slaves Made Sugar
Slavery may have started out relatively small in Texas but it grew to be big business in what is now the Lone Star state. Sugar workers on a Jamaican plantation. This photograph was taken in the mid-19th century, after emancipation, but conditions in the fields had barely changed since the days of the Antiguan slave rebellion. About half the work force in the fields was typically female. (Wikimedia Commons)
Slavery may have started out relatively small in Texas but it grew to be big business in what is now the Lone Star state.
“The Mexican government was opposed to slavery, but even so, there were 5000 slaves in Texas by the time of the Texas Revolution in 1836. By the time of annexation a decade later, there were 30,000 by 1860, the census found 182,566 slaves — over 30 percent of the total population of the state,” according to the Texas State Library.
Now, a rare plantation building where slaves made sugar has been discovered hidden in a huge Texas subdivision. It is an antebellum sugar purgery.
Joanne Ryan is an archaeologist who specializes in excavating plantation sites where slaves cooked sugar. And she wants to check out the finding — but isn’t allowed.
“Experts had thought that no such building still existed in the U.S. It’s a thing of national historic significance, a remnant of slavery’s most brutal crop — and a building that Ryan desperately wants to examine and document,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
The site’s owner — Sienna, the master-planned subdivision (aka Sienna Plantation) — would not permit Ryan and a team to visit the site.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 68: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin talks about the recent backlash against Lebron James for not speaking up for Joshua Wong and the violent Hong Kong protestors.
Because of this history buffs and archaeologists are concerned that this last-of-its-kind building could be wrecked before they get to examine it.
“With this exposure,” Ryan and two members of the Fort Bend County Historical Commission wrote in their proposal, “the risk of damage or destruction through neglect, vandalism and fire is high.”
Alvin San Miguel, the vice president and general manager of Sienna by Johnson Development Corp., said in an email to the Houston Chronicle, “It is the intent of the owners to maintain the items in their current conditions, until such time that another entity would take responsibility for those items.”
According to James Sidbury, a Rice professor who studies the history of race and slavery, the remnants of sugar plantations have special historic significance.
“There just weren’t as many of those,” Sidbury said. “So blocking the ability to look at those things is a bigger blow to what we know about slavery in the U.S. than if it were a cotton plantation or a tobacco plantation.”
Prior to being known as Sienna, the plantation was called Arcola. “And it was both one of the most valuable and most brutal plantations in Texas,” the Hoxton Chronicle reported.
The plantation was owned by Jonathan Dawson Waters, who left Alabama to move to the Republic of Texas in 1840. He continued to amass land to grow cotton and sugarcane and by1860 he owned one of the largest plantations in Texa. He was the richest person in Fort Bend County. “According to the 1860 Census, he owned 216 slaves, which made him the third-largest slaveowner in Texas,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
Slave on sugar plantations, say experts, hard it harder than others. According to Historian Michael Tadman, slaves on sugar plantations had a lower life expectancy than slaves on other kinds of plantations “compared with other working-age slaves in the United States, [sugar plantation slaves] far less able to resist the common and life-threatening diseases of dirt and poverty,” he wrote.
And, Waters was known as a harsh slavemaster. According to the Texas State Historical Association, he “had a reputation for overworking his slaves and of feeding them nothing but cornmeal mush.”
What remains of the plantation is the “purgery,” which looks like a large barn. It was the planation’s slaves that made its bricks.
“Ryan discovered the Arcola site via photos labeled ‘brick barn of Arcola’ on LifeOnTheBrazosRiver.com, a history website run by John Walker. Walker and other history buffs used to maintain the site as volunteers, when previous subdivision owners allowed them access. They’re the ones who put the current metal roof on the building, and who discovered the giant bowls, once used to boil sugar, that are now displayed at Sienna History Park,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
But bottom line, the land’s new owner doesn’t need to let anyone examine the land.
“If it’s entirely a private concern — if it’s not on federal or state land, or using federal funds, or something like that — it’s up to the landowner,” explained Texas state archaeologist Pat Mercado-Allinger. “It’s not the jurisdiction of the Texas Historical Commission to impose anything on a private landowner unless a site is designated as a state antiquities landmark.”
Explore Sugar Mill & Plantation Ruins
You have probably seen dozens of historic sugar mills dotting the landscape of St. Croix. Many of these mills were constructed between 1750 and 1800 when, while under Danish rule, St. Croix was one of the richest sugar producing islands in all of the Caribbean. These picturesque mills and remaining sugar plantation ruins now serve as reminders of the heritage of the island when ‘sugar was king’ and St. Croix was known as ‘The Garden of the West Indies’, with more than 200 sugar plantations.
While most of the plantations have disintegrated, or been destroyed in hurricanes or the great Fire Burn of 1878, there are still some full and partial plantation ruins you can explore. If you would like to see the most well maintained sugar plantation on St. Croix, visit the Estate Whim Museum where the sugar mill, Great House, and other plantation buildings have been restored by the St. Croix Landmarks Society. If you are not familiar with the traditional Caribbean sugar plantation estates, a typical plantation consisted of numerous buildings which housed the residents and workers, and provided for the processing of the sugar cane.
The most easily recognizable building was the sugar mill that crushed the sugar cane, which could be animal driven or the more traditional windmill operated. A factory (or ‘boiling-house’) was the building where the sugar cane juice was reduced until crystallized. The cure house was the building where the sugar settled and the molasses separated out and dripped from the sugar crystals. A cooperage and/or blacksmith shop were necessary for producing barrels for transporting the sugar and sugar byproducts for export. The plantations also had stables for horses and mules, and sometimes additional high walled animal pens for other animals. There was an Overseer’s house where the plantation manager (or master’s boy) lived. There was generally a ‘Slave Village’ where a series of cabins were located for the slaves that worked the plantations. The Great House was the main building where the planter, or plantation owner, and his family resided. The cook house (or kitchen) was a separate building located slightly away from the other houses and buildings because of the heat generated during cooking, and the general fire hazard.
The workings of the wind operated sugar mills themselves were relatively simple. Inside the stone and coral exterior was the machinery, including three upright iron-plated rollers. The middle roller was attached by a central wooden pole to the sails and axle mechanism at the top of the mill, and it turned the other two rollers using cogs. The almost constant Caribbean trade winds would blow the sails with enough force to turn the machinery inside while workers fed sugar cane stalks through the rollers. As the stalks were crushed, sugar cane juice was extracted and ran downhill in a sluice to the factory buildings where slave laborers used it to produce sugar, molasses, and rum for export. The dried out leftover cane stalks were then used as fuel for fires under the huge copper pots used to boil the cane juice, so nothing was wasted.
Today on St. Croix the sugar mills and plantation ruins are recognized for their haunting beauty. Much of the old machinery from the mills is gone, either sold off as scrap metal or dismantled and lying rusting in the surrounding underbrush. The wooden windmills that once stood on top of the sugar mills have long since been destroyed by weather and time. Although many of the 200 or so sugar mills originally built have tumbled into ruin, some of the mills have been cared for and even restored to their former grandeur. As you drive around the island you will find that some of these plantation ruins are found on private property, some have even been incorporated into island homes or other structures. Obviously, common courtesy dictates that an invitation is required for you to explore ruins found on private properties. The good news is that there are some sugar mill and plantation ruins located in places open to the public that are available for exploration and beautiful photo opportunities. Two of my personal favorites are Rust Op Twist on the North Shore, and Estate Mount Washington on the West End. Both of these former sugar plantation estates are on private property, but the owners are kind enough to allow the public to access to the plantation ruins.
You can see Rust Op Twist from North Shore Road. This beautiful sugar mill is up on a hill overlooking the North Shore coastline. However, Rust Op Twist is privately owned and visitors are not welcome at this time…so you’ll have to see this one from the road. If you head over to Estate Mount Washington you can enjoy exploring plantation ruins in the shade of huge trees on a serene working orchard in the West End’s rainforest environment. The ruins at Estate Mount Washington also allow you to walk into an animal operated sugar mill set into the ground instead of the more often seen windmill. This estate also offers the ruins of a dungeon, a small bell tower, a cistern, and remnants of equipment and copper pots scattered across the grounds.
Aerial view of Rust Op Twist
In addition to the Estate Whim Museum, the St. George Village Botanical Gardens and the Cruzan Rum Distillery are both open to the public for tours. The St. George Village Botanical Gardens are built around the ruins of Estate St. George, and you can take a self-guided tour. This peaceful space allows you to explore some of the island’s plantation ruins while also enjoying the beautiful flora and fauna of the botanical gardens. The Cruzan Rum Distillery is housed on Estate Diamond, and the plantation buildings have been incorporated into the distillery and its offices. The distillery offers tours which include some of the history of the Nelthropp family and Estate Diamond. Cruzan Rum also offers a fantastic cultural photo op of a sugar mill surrounded by the seven flags of the countries that have owned the island of St. Croix throughout its history.
These sugar mills and plantations pay homage to the heritage of the island, and have become a recognized symbol of St. Croix. As you explore these remnants of St. Croix’s past, please be careful and respect the history and culture of these sites. Many of the ruins are obviously crumbling, so please do not to stand on the walls or loose piles of the stone ruins. Also, please do not take pieces of the ruins, or leave any trash behind. These plantation ruins and sugar mills are some of St. Croix’s most historically revered areas, and we want to preserve them for the enjoyment of our residents, visitors, and for future generations. Don’t miss an opportunity to visit some of the plantation ruins and sugar mills, where you can truly touch and be touched by part of St. Croix’s history and culture.