Sugar in Early American History
September 07, 2011
In studying sugarcane and sugar, we've looked at its biology, origins, spread to the West, association with forced labor, how it was processed in the olden days, and how the English developed a taste for it. (Go here for the project index.)
Now we'll look at sugar in America. Again I have used these resources for my facts and understanding of history, as I'm certainly no expert and I welcome your comments.
Jamestown, Virginia was founded in 1607. Sugarcane was brought there by 1619, but the colonists couldn't make it grow.
As it was a new country, the United States started their sugar production late in the game versus the forces of England, France, and Portugal. However they had their own sugar islands in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, and The Philippines.
Around the time of the US Civil War, we got half our sugar from Cuba and half from Louisianna. After the American Civil War (that ended slavery), Cuban slave owners wanted to end slavery but wanted to be compensated from Spain for each slave freed. Spain refused, and this lead to the Ten Years War. This didn’t end up freeing Cuba (that was 1898) from Spain but it did end slavery in Cuba in 1886.
After this, the US imported 82 percent of all Cuban sugar, so sugar interests in Cuba became controlled by American interests. Eventually 2/3 of Cuban sugar was controlled by American interests.
In the US, it was sugar producers fleeing the Haitian revolution who made Louisiana’s sugar plantations profitable.
In Hawaii as land leases were granted to grow sugarcane, native Hawaiians were displaced. Irrigation for sugarcane cultivation diverted streams from their land, so many younger Hawaiians immigrated to California.
The US marines, acting for the sugar interests, deposed Queen Lili’uokalani. Hawaii was annexed to the US mostly so that the sugar planters could have free access to the US market.
At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Miss Louisiana was carved from a five-foot sugar lump. Jell-O created new fans. Fairy Floss, aka cotton candy, was also introduced.
In the 1800s in the US, grocery stores had portable mills to grind lumps of muscovado sugar into granules.
In 1858 the Mason Jar was invented and canning took off. Canning required white sugar, increasing the demand for it.
The ice cream craze also increased demand for sugar through mid-1800s.
Milton Hershey, the chocolate guy, built a factory town named for himself. Then in 1916 he duplicated it in Cuba and bought more than 100,000 acres of sugarcane and built the world’s largest refinery.
Now sugar is challenged by high-fructose corn syrup, which is cheaper to produce and transport. In the US (as of the writing of my source book) it takes only 1.4 minutes of work to buy a pound of sugar.
The Sugar Spirit Project is sponsored by Bacardi Rum. Content created and owned by Camper English for Alcademics. For the project index, click on the logo above or follow this link.
You might want to research Simon Kenton and his early search for the cane fields of Kentucky. It was the landmark he was searching for when floating down the Ohio River in the 1600’s as written in the book “The Frontiersman”. Good book anyway.
Posted by: Kevin | July 01, 2019 at 06:18 PM
How is the civil war related to sugar
Posted by: Shlok Srivastava | September 09, 2021 at 08:08 AM
Wow moved straight from 1620 to the American Civil War
Exhaustive info - thanks
Posted by: Dougy | March 03, 2022 at 07:17 AM