Our Sugar Cane History

Trinidad and Tobago, owes much of its culture, races and development to sugar cane plantation.  Explore this section to learn a bit about the country’s sugar cane history including its impact on population and traditions as well as the rise and fall of the sugar industry.   

The Beginning of our Sugar History

Trinidad began its road to development with the sugar industry which obtained its first boost with the arrival of Roume de St. Laurent and his French compatriots with their slaves in 1783.  Though discovered in 1498 by Christopher Columbus who claimed the island for Spain, Trinidad was largely ignored until 1777 when Philippe Rose Roume de Saint-Laurent made his first visit to Trinidad. 

Roume de Saint-Laurent was a French planter born in Grenada who saw Trinidad’s potential in many ways.  He wrote an in-depth report on the development potential of the island and although he was not given credit at the time, his advice was taken into consideration by the Spanish King.  This led to the historic issuance of the Cedula of Population on November 20th 1783, which was designed to attract immigrants to the island. 

While some of the land gained was used to plant cane, Trinidad’s sugar industry was further amplified when the island was taken over by England.  War in Europe bought a fleet of British ships into Trinidad waters in 1797 and without much of a fight Trinidad changed hands and became a British possession. For the next century Trinidad became a typical British sugar colony with its fortune following the price of sugar.

Sugar Cane Plantation & its Impact on Trinidad & Tobago’s Heritage

Trinidad and Tobago, two islands which comprise one country may be considered one of the most cosmopolitan societies in the Western World.  This can be greatly attributed to sugar cane plantation in Trinidad, where the melting pot formation began with the importation of labor to work the cane fields.  Europeans, Africans, Chinese and East Indians came to Trinidad bringing with them their cultural traditions which exist throughout the country today.

First from its beginnings in Northern Trinidad the sugar industry gradually moved to the Central and Southern areas as slavery continued to provide the necessary labour.  After emancipation, the African slaves brought over by the English, settled into their home with free rights.  Many left the fields while some remained as cartermen, boilers, carpenters, mechanics, cane weighers and policemen.  

To help work the sugar plantations after the abolition of slavery, indentured labourers were brought over from China, India and the Portuguese island of Madeira beginning in 1845.  The East Indians seemed to thrive on the sugar plantations and here the two major races, Africans and Indians, struggled to keep the economy on a sound footing.   In the process they created a culture of sugar which still dominates the life of the former sugar lands.  Taken together, all the people brought to Trinidad’s shores during the sugar cane era built the diverse culture and enriched heritage Trinidad and Tobago proudly boasts today.

The Development & Demise of Sugar Production

In 1937 there were two major developments which occurred on these sugar lands.  One was the formation of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates Factory Workers Trade Union which for the first time gave representation to many thousands of sugar workers who had revolted in 1935, 1936 and 1937 against slave conditions on the sugar estates.  Now, under the leadership of Adrian Cola Rienzi they transformed the nature of the industry. 

At the same time, Caroni (1937) was created when Tate and Lyle, a British multi-national company bought our Caroni Sugar Estates (Trinidad) Ltd making a conglomerate which included Waterloo on the Western coast and Brechin Castle in Couva.  By 1940 the landscape of its headquarters, Brechin Castle, was changed by the construction of the factory and the four cooling ponds at the back as well as major company offices, the dispensary, Sevilla School, Sevilla Club and residences for mainly expatriate senior staff.

In 1960 Caroni bought out Usine Ste. Madeleine factory which had grown considerably since its founding in 1870.  In 1975 the State bought the conglomerate, calling it Caroni (1975) Ltd which continued producing sugar but also went into diversification, producing citrus, prawns, large and small ruminants and rice. 

By the end of the 20th century as oil became increasingly significant, the sugar industry and agriculture generally sank into a low second place until the state closed down Caroni Ltd in 2003, retrenching 9,000 workers directly and a further 35,000 who were indirectly dependant on the industry.  Just over 75,000.00 acres of land now became available for other uses.

Our Sugar Cane History