The profits that traders and plantation owners made from the slave trade and African labour could be large. Such profits were not necessarily put back into the business. Instead, many chose to spend their money on home comforts and invested in property. By the mid 1700s, many people who lived in Bristol who were involved in the African slave trade or who owned (but did not live on) Caribbean plantations moved out of the central area of Bristol. They moved to areas such as Clifton that were considered then to be ‘leafy suburbs’.
Some traders and plantation owners moved further out of the city to live in the surrounding countryside, adopting the style of the country landowner. Henry Hobhouse for example, from a slave trading family, acquired land at Castle Cary, in nearby Somerset. The Harfords, whose brass factories provided trade goods to the slave traders, bought property in Cardiganshire, in south west Wales. Caleb Dickinson (who owned a Jamaican plantation and traded in sugar in Bristol), purchased King Weston house in Somerton, Somerset. The Helyar family, who also owned Jamaican sugar plantations, owned Coker Court in East Coker near Yeovil, Somerset. Continue reading →
Land in the Caribbean islands was cheap, but the costs of setting up a sugar plantation were high. Sir Dalby Thomas in 1690 estimated that a 100 acre plantation on the island of Barbados, with 50 enslaved Africans, seven white indentured servants, sugar mill, boiling works, equipment and livestock would cost £5,625 (over £250,000 at today’s values). To recover these costs, the plantations had to produce enough good quality sugar to pay off debts and mortgages and cover the running costs each year. The owners also wanted a profit. Some families, such as the Pinneys of Nevis in the Caribbean and Bristol, were able to build up a fortune based on land, sugar producing and trading.
Enslaved people from Africa were the basis of these sugar fortunes. John Pinney, a plantation owner on the island of Nevis, wrote in the 1760s to his managers “a word respecting the care of my slaves and stock [animals] – your own good sense must tell you they are the sinews of a Plantation and must claim your particular care and attention”. He also wrote that “it is impossible for a Man to make sugar without the assistance of Negroes as to make bricks without straw”. Continue reading →
Spain’s Slavery Contract
From Discovering Bristol [edited]
Spain was building its empire in the [re]discovered lands of the Americas. It needed people to work in the mines and on the plantations that were developing. At first, the local people, AmerIndians, were used as free labour. They had been in the Americas long before the Spanish and other Europeans arrived. The AmerIndians were enslaved and forced to work by the newcomers. But, the AmerIndian population decreased rapidly after the Europeans [started exploiting and murdering them]. The Europeans came with swords and guns, as well as dogs and horses. The AmerIndians had bows and arrows and spears, and were no match for the newcomers. The Europeans brought diseases such as measles and the flu. The AmerIndians were not used to these new diseases, and they died in great numbers.
In 1500, it is estimated that there were about 50 million AmerIndians in the Americas. By 1600, after 100 years of European warfare, disease and forced labour, this number had been reduced to about 8 million. Continue reading →