Sugar production

Raw materials

The most efficient method of growing sugar was on large plantations with many workers.

Because of the lack of labour in the Caribbean, vast numbers of African people were enslaved and forcibly transported from Africa to work on the sugar plantations. All were expected to work - including women, children and the elderly.

Life on the plantations was extremely hard with a third of enslaved people dying within three years of their arrival. This created a constant demand for new enslaved people.

Producing the crop

Between 1766 and 1791, the British West Indies produced over a million tons of sugar.

Sugar was produced in the following way:

  • The ground had to be dug, hoed, weeded, planted and then fertilised with manure, all under the hot West Indian sun. Slave gangs consisting of men, women and children worked under white overseers. They were whipped for not working hard enough. Enslaved people worked from dawn until dusk.
  • At harvest time, sugar cane was cut with machetes and loaded onto carts. This was back-breaking work.
  • The harvested cane was taken to the sugar mill where it was crushed and boiled to extract a brown, sticky juice. Operating the machinery was very dangerous - enslaved workers could be maimed or even killed. The sugar boiling houses were unbearably hot during the summer. During harvest time it was common for enslaved people to work 18-hour days.
  • The sugar juice was left in barrels until a brown syrup could be drawn off. This was used to make rum.