Sugar: A Short Bittersweet History

Wealthy Europeans of the Renaissance adored dessert time.  Indeed their cravings for sweet cakes and marzipan, plum pies and mince tarts far outstripped supplies of the chief ingredient—refined sugar.  To keep up with the vast demand and turn fields of  sugar cane into bags of white sugar, European mill owners required timber to fuel their boiling vats: by the early 16th century, sugar masters from Italy to Madeira had all but exhausted the most easily accessible forests.

The first Spanish colonists to land in the Caribbean understood this problem perfectly, and when their quest for gold failed in Jamaica, they turned to sugar in 1515 to make their fortunes.  In Jamaica’s earliest settlement–Sevilla la Neuva–Francisco Garay, a former slave trader and minor member of the Spanish nobility, imported a sugar master,  constructed a large mill to process newly planted sugar cane and forced Jamaica’s indigenous Taino villagers to do all the hard labor.

Simon Fraser University archaeologist Robyn Woodward and her team are now excavating the industrial quarter of Seville la Neuva,  uncovering traces of a tragic history that ended in the decimation of the Taino .   To read more about this new research,   please see my newly posted article on the Smithsonian magazine website.

About these ads

2 thoughts on “Sugar: A Short Bittersweet History

Comments are closed.