Sugar Manufacture in the Antilles Isles

In 1658, Charles de Rochefort authored a book which explores the geographical details, people and history of the Caribbean. The following visual text is an illustration from Rochefort’s book, depicting a scene in which enslaved people are working on a sugar mill in the Antilles.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 4 and 6.

Sugar Manufacture THH

(Translated from French to English)

A. How they make the oxen that turn the mill walk.

B. The big wheel of the machine.

C. The little wheel that breaks the canes.

D. The tube through which the sugar runs.

E. The barrel that receives the sugar.

F. The two vessels full of water or some other liquid that drops onto the canes to keep the constant turning of the machine from causing a fire.

G. The axle for the big wheel that turns all the wheels in the machine.

H. The interlaced pieces of wood that contain the machine and grip it tightly.

I. The planks on which the Negroes place the sugar canes.

K. The large cauldron in which the sugar is boiled until it thickens.

L. The Negroes who tend the mill, and who put the canes between the rollers.

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3b19466/.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    According to the illustration, how many steps are there in the sugar-making process?
    There are eleven, shown in steps A – L.
  2. Question
    Describe the various tasks being done by the black people in the illustration, and compare those to the tasks you see being done by the white people in the illustration.
    Black individuals in the foreground are all working alone, performing physically demanding tasks;
    White individuals are socializing in groups and supervising, a white woman seems to be helping with physical labor.
  3. Question
    What does the illustration tell you about the quality of life and the working environment of these enslaved people? Consider the geographical setting, clothes, physical description of bodies, etc.
    Answers will vary and may include that black individuals are wearing only short pants, indicating the weather may be warm, muscle tone and depiction is accentuated, indicating regular manual labor.
  4. Question
    Refer to the translations of the text that are provided, perhaps even attempting to translate more of the text on your own. What do these translations tell you about the purpose of this illustration? How might you rewrite the text of this illustration to give more insight into the lives and experiences of the individuals depicted in the illustration?
    Answers will vary and may include that black people are being shown as objects or property through the use of “the” in front of blacks. It appears to highlight the quality of labor performed by cattle, boards and black people equally.
Reveal Answers
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