Sugar in the United States

In America, sugar cane wasn’t mentioned for use as a crop until 1650 in areas that are now a part of South Carolina.  People said that if sugar cane was brought to this area, if not naturally growing, it would definitely see a successful yield because of things like climate, soil pH and other factors that are necessary for any crop to flourish. (Deerr).  The first account of sugar to actually be grown in the United States was in Charlestown, South Carolina in about 1800 thanks to a man who brought sugar cane plants which he purchased in Havana.  The first yield was about 200 pounds.

In 1751, Louisiana started growing sugar cane thanks to troops bringing it from St. Domingue to New Orleans.  Although the United States didn’t acquire Louisiana until 1804, sugar was already very prevalent thanks to work done by the French and Spanish, the previous rulers over the area.  By 1830, there were 691 plantations on which 36,000 slaves worked.  In 1850 thanks to the increasing cultivation of sugar, the slave population in Louisiana was a stunning 244,895. (Deerr, 248).

In Georgia, a farmer named Thomas Spalding wrote his account of the beginnings of sugar cane from his eyes.  He wrote, “In the year 1805 I began the cultivation of sugar cane with 100 plants.  My progress to successfulness was interrupted by the non-importation Act, by the Embargo Act, and finally by the war up to the year 1814…In the year ’14, however, my crop of sugar amounted to $12,500 from the labour of 50 slaves…the next year brought peace with it…” (Deerr, 246)  He goes on to say that thanks to the Altameda River, now the Altamaha River in Georgia was responsible for the spread of sugar cane in Georgia and Florida thanks to the soil around the river.

This picture shows the Altameda River, now the Altamaha River and watershed, the area mentioned by Thomas Spalding.

Sugar cane, although not usually associated with slavery, would not have been as successful as it was without the help of slaves.  The average yield per acre in America was about 961 pounds plus another 45 gallons of molasses from processing.  Sugar eventually went down in interest because farmers were making more money growing things like cotton and rice in the years around 1831.  By 1845 sugar cane was almost extinct as a crop in the United States but the industry never fully disappeared.  (Deerr, 247).  (1)

(1) Deerr, Noël. The History of Sugar. London: Chapman and Hall, 1949. Print.


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