Sugar and Slavery
Sugar was labor intensive and difficult to produce. Laboring in sugar fields was physically taxing and thus finding workers was challenging. Eventually plantation owners turned to slavery. Until the mid nineteenth Century the entire sugar industry was based on slavery. Some historians have gone so far as to say that sugar allowed slavery to thrive as slavery enabled sugar to turn into an economic powerhouse. Slaves bought in Africa were shipped to the new world in exchange for sugar which was then exported to places like England, where ships took on goods that would then be used to purchase more slaves. This was known as the Triangle trade. A slave’s life expectancy could be seven years or less once sold to a sugar plantation. They were literally worked to death. The term “sold down river” refers to being sold to Louisiana sugar plantations.
Sugar production reached a lucrative pinnacle in French owned Saint Domingue, where it was known as “white gold.” Sadly, it was also one of the places where the french mistreated their slaves the worst. In 1789 approximately 32,000 whites controlled 500,000 slaves. In 1791 they revolted, burning plantation houses to the point that it reddened the skies as far away as the Bahamas. Many fled in the wake of the terror, migrating to New Orleans in such numbers that it nearly doubled the population. They came at a crucial time as we became American in 1803 and it was a shot of French culture in the wake of the Americans pouring into the city. The revolt was successful and in 1804, Haiti was born. The slave revolt was instrumental in Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana lands to the United States. He had assembled the largest French army ever to go abroad. They were coming to shore up his new world holdings but first, he instructed them to quell the slave revolt in Saint Domingue. The army was decimated by the slaves and Yellow Fever. Saint Domingue was lost and Napoleon saw no reason to keep the Louisiana territory as it had never made France money. It had only been kept to be the breadbasket for Saint Domingue.
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