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Micheal Bennett, Plantation Slavery and the Seventeenth-Century English East India Company
13 December, 2018 @ 1:05 pm - 1:50 pm
In the 1680s the English East India Company sought to establish a plantation economy on its small and isolated South Atlantic colony of St. Helena. The Barbados sugar industry, which had brought great wealth to English planters and merchants extraordinarily quickly, served as a model for the company. In the second half of the seventeenth century numerous merchants who served on the East India Company’s court of committees also had business interests in the West Indies, accounting for why Barbados was prominent in their vision for St. Helena. By analysing the factors which precipitated the expansion of a successful plantation economy on Barbados, it becomes apparent that the East India Company was taking the right approach with St. Helena. They were providing planters on the island with the seeds, knowledge, capital, and labor necessary to initiate plantation agriculture. The scheme to expand the Caribbean plantation system to the South Atlantic failed, primarily because the climate of St. Helena was not conducive for the cultivation of sugar cane. The company’s directors were misguided in their belief that the environment of the island was bountiful, and that its latitude meant that planters would be able to produce tropical commodities. Studying the East India Company’s project to replicate the Barbados plantation system underscores the significance of Caribbean colonies within the early English empire, helps us to identify what variables were necessary for the development of successful plantation economies, and offers an opportunity to think critically about early modern corporations and their contributions to overseas expansion.
This session is organised by the EMDG. All welcome!