The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies

The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies

by Matthew Parker

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To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent and shocking history. For some 200 years after 1650, the West Indies were the strategic center of the western world, witnessing one of the greatest power struggles of the age as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar-a commodity so lucrative it became known as "white gold." As Matthew Parker vividly chronicles in his sweeping history, the sugar revolution made the English, in particular, a nation of voracious consumers-so much so that the wealth of her island colonies became the foundation and focus of England's commercial and imperial greatness, underpinning the British economy and ultimately fueling the Industrial Revolution. Yet with the incredible wealth came untold misery: the horror endured by slaves, on whose backs the sugar empire was brutally built; the rampant disease that claimed the lives of one-third of all whites within three years of arrival in the Caribbean; the cruelty, corruption, and decadence of the plantation culture.
While sugar came to dictate imperial policy, for those on the ground the British West Indian empire presented a disturbing moral universe. Parker brilliantly interweaves the human stories of those since lost to history whose fortunes and fame rose and fell with sugar. Their industry drove the development of the North American mainland states, and with it a slave culture, as the plantation model was exported to the warm, southern states. Broad in scope, rich in detail, The Sugar Barons freshly links the histories of Europe, the West Indies, and North America and reveals the full impact of the sugar revolution, the resonance of which is still felt today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802777997
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 08/23/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 380,765
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Matthew Parker was born in Central America and spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, acquiring a lifelong fascination with the history of the region. He is the author of Panama Fever, the story of the building of the Panama Canal, and Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II. He lives in London. Visit his website at

Table of Contents

Maps vii

Simplified Family Trees xii

Chronology xv

Picture Sources xviii

Introduction 'Hot as Hell, and as Wicked as the Devil' 1

Part 1 The Pioneers

1 White Gold, 1642 9

2 The First Settlements, 1605-41 14

3 The Sugar Revolution: 'So Noble an Undertaking' 32

4 The Sugar Revolution: 'Most inhuman and barbarous persons' 44

5 The Plantation: Masters and Slaves 52

6 The English Civil War in Barbados 67

7 The Plantation: Life and Death 76

8 Cromwell's 'Western Design': Disaster in Hispaniola 88

9 The Invasion of Jamaica 97

Part 2 The Grandees

10 The Restoration 115

11 Expansion, War and the Rise of the Beckfords 132

12 'All slaves are enemies' 147

13 The Cousins Henry Drax and Christopher Codrington 161

14 God's Vengeance 169

15 The Planter at War: Codrington in the Leeward Islands 180

16 The French Invasion of Jamaica 192

17 Codrington the Younger in the West Indies 197

18 The Murder of Daniel Parke 211

19 The Beckfords: The Next Generation 219

20 Piracy and Rum 234

21 The Maroon War in Jamaica and the War of Jenkins's Ear 248

22 Barbados, the 'Civilised Isle' 259

23 Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica: 'Tonight very lonely and melancholy again' 270

24 Jamaica: Rich and Poor 285

25 The Sugar Lobby 296

Part 3 The Inheritors

26 Luxury and Debt 311

27 The War Against America 325

28 The West Indian 'Nabobs': Absenteeism, Decadence and Decline 333

29 Peace and Freedom 345

Epilogue The Sins of the Fathers 359

Source Notes 365

Select Bibliography 417

Acknowledgements 433

Index 435

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The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written and an excellent history of the region. It provides and outstanding reference as to why the "new world" experienced the racial difficulties that it has.
Shrike58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This reasonably interesting survey of the roots of the First British Empire is at its best when dealing with the settlement of Barbados and Jamaica, how sugar came to be the predominant cash crop, and the con-commitment to slavery as the prime means of production. Parker's narrative rapidly tails off when he reaches the conclusion of the Seven Years War, and then moves as quickly as possible to London's abolition of African slavery. Considering that Parker seems to be as interested in how piracy came to be the poor man's alternative to agribusiness, perhaps starting with a narrow focus on the origins of the sugar barons wasn't the best narrative choice; writing more of an account of London's West Indian empire from both sides of the Atlantic might have been a better strategy. Again, there's nothing actually wrong with this book, it just feels a bit thin.
gernamgmer More than 1 year ago
This is the worst book I have ever read. There are so many Grammatical errors. Do not buy! I could only read five pages before I had to stop.
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