Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery

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Sugar nippers - The sugar trade

Sugar was produced by enslaved Africans on British owned sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean between the 1600 - 1800s. These plantations were immensely profitable and boosted the British economy to the extent that sugar was nicknamed 'white gold'. Most sugar was exported raw and was then refined when it reached Britain. Sugar refineries were discouraged in the West Indies; partly because refined sugar didn't travel well during long damp ocean voyages and also because a lot of value - and therefore profit - was added at the refining stage, to further protect British profits.

Life on the sugar plantations was much harsher and more hazardous than in the US cotton plantations. Sugar production was a 24-hour process involving exhausting labour in high temperature and humidity. The workers sometimes had 24 -hour shifts, and worked seven days per week and enslaved Africans usually died within five years of arriving. Importing more slaves was seen as the most economic way for plantation owners to replenish the supply of workers.

By the 1800s sugar had become widely popular and moved from being a luxury product to the mass market as sugar refineries grew and expanded.

1909.753 sugar nippers sugar nippers, made in England, 1700 - 1800, © Manchester City Galleries

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