When sugar became the major crop produced my plantation owners in the 18th century, many slaves were needed to produce the commodity. It was a labourious and strenuous job due to the conditions. African slaves were imported to the Caribbean from the western coast of Africa. Some slaves though didn’t all work on the sugar plantation; some were exported to countries such as Honduras. In the paragraphs to follow, the differences between the slave labour and the way of life of slaves on the mahogany plantation as opposed to that of those on the sugar plantation will be explored.
A negative outlook on the production of mahogany to that of sugar was the distance of the forests where the mahogany was located to the dwellings of the slaves. The trees were huge and grew singly throughout the forest, often many miles from a river. The slaves would have to leave their dwellings and family for many months while working on the mahogany plantations. This meant that the slaves wouldn’t see their family for many months at a time. On the other hand slaves on the sugar plantation worked on the same land as their dwellings and families and were able to always be in contact with their family.
In addition to the previous point mentioned, a positive outlook of mahogany production to sugar production was that the relationship between Europeans and slaves was far better on the mahogany plantation. The machete –carrying slaves on the mahogany plantation were allowed to roam the jungle with perhaps the only European present being the captain. There was sometimes a close bond between the owner and his slaves because unlike the planters who lived in England, mahogany trader’s only home was Honduras. The closer bond between the master and slave lead some slaves being freed when they aged or saving up money to buy their freedom. This was definitely not the case on the sugar plantation where planters lived in England and those who lived on the plantation only interacted with the domestic slaves. They also lived on hills away from the slave dwellings where they were able to supervise but not be near to them.
Secondly, another positive outlook in the comparison between mahogany productions to sugar production was that mahogany production provided a very distinct division of labour amongst the slaves. On the mahogany plantations the men cut the wood while the women tended to the crops. The men had jobs such as huntsmen who searched for wood who were almost invaluable to the captains, axmen who chopped down the trees and cattlemen who drove and fed animals which transported the trees. On the other hand, on sugar plantations, both women and men did strenuous work in the fields in the scorching hot sun throughout the days and there was little to no divide to what work women did as opposed to men especially after it became illegal to import slaves from West Africa.
To conclude we can almost accept the fact that when comparing slave life and labour on mahogany plantations and sugar plantations, the life of those on the mahogany plantations had it easier. Although there were some negatives such as the distance from family and their homes and the long periods of time spent away from family, the positives outweigh the impact of the negative.
Courtney from Study Moose
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