Excuse Me…Would You Like a Little Slavery With your Sugar?

In the beginning of chapter six of The Atlantic World, we are introduced to the narrative of Al Haji Seku Momodou Darbo. According to Egerton et al., Darbo’s ancestors were one of the contributors who sold slaves to Europeans which facilitated the Atlantic slave trade economy (Egerton et al. 185). Between the years of 1540 to 1870, approximately eleven to twelve million enslaved Africans endured the Middle Passage between Africa and the Americas. The Atlantic slave trade which encompassed four centuries not only provided Europeans and their colonies with free cheap labor, but was also considered to be one of the biggest (even though forced) migrations of people in the world. As Americans we tend to see the Atlantic slave trade as one of the defining elements of the Southern cotton production and trade. While African slaves were transported to the American South for this purpose, slavery in the United States contributed to less than six percent of the total Atlantic slave trade (Egerton et al. 187). As it happens, the destination for the majority of African slaves was Brazil and the Caribbean islands of the West Indies (Egerton et al. 187). As my colleague, Diana Tran, pointed out the decline in the indigenous people was due to disease or being worked to death that created a labor shortage and this storage needed to be resolved. As a result, both of these harbors received roughly seventy-seven percent of the African slaves that were destined for the Americas to work mining gold and silver or in the highly lucrative industry of sugar production (Egerton et al. 188).

Started by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, sugar production and trade grew by leaps and bounds throughout the years which led to the necessity of massive amounts of labor (forced or other) needed to satisfy Europe’s growing obsession for sugar products. My colleague Hunter Loya echos the same sentiment that during the mid-seventeenth century, Europe had love affair with sugar which became an addiction to the sweet stuff. According Sidney Mintz, sugar not only helped make bitter and dull tasting foods more palatable, sugar also helped attach certain meanings to food that led to particular social settings (Mintz 152). So with this and Europe’s growing addiction to sugar, massive amounts of African slave labor were needed to fulfill the demand. Hence slavery and sugar seemed to form a symbiotic relationship. But that begs the question, since we can clearly see that the production of sugar is dependent on slavery, is the institution of slavery dependent on sugar? In his book Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz, suggests that England’s elite though the working class love affair and addiction with the sweet crystals and treacle helped keep the sugar economy going (Mintz 184). Therefore without even knowing it, the English working class became a supporter, even though indirectly, of the African slave economy. This indirect support resulted in slaves who’s work supplied Europe with sugar produced consumer slaves who would need for sugar as a necessity would contribute their money to support the slave economy of sugar.

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