New York as a Sugar Capital

New Yorkers began refining sugar in the 1720s, first importing it from British colonies like Barbados and then from the French colony of Saint Domingue. When a slave rebellion (1791-1804) created the free republic of Haiti and disrupted the island’s sugar production, merchants and refiners turned to the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico and Cuba where slavery survived until 1873 and 1886 respectively. 
 
In the 1800s, as planters in the Caribbean installed steam-powered mills to process cane more efficiently, vast amounts of raw sugar reached the refineries of New York and Brooklyn, where it was turned into white sugar. By 1860, Brooklyn had become the world’s center of sugar refining. By 1900, its factories processed millions of pounds each day. Mass production made white sugar a household staple. 

Franciso Oller (Puerto Rico, 1833–1917), Hacienda La Fortuna, 1885. Oil on canvas. Collection of Carmen G. Correa. Estates like La Fortuna, located in fertile Ponce, Puerto Rico, grew and milled sugar cane, shipping most of their product to U.S. refineries. The owner, a Barcelonan émigré, commissioned distinguished Puerto Rican artist Francisco Oller to paint his house, warehouse, mill, and laborers. Oller applied the impressionist techniques he mastered in Europe to studies of his native landscape. 
Franciso Oller (Puerto Rico, 1833–1917), Hacienda La Fortuna, 1885. Oil on canvas. Collection of Carmen G. Correa.

Franciso Oller (Puerto Rico, 1833–1917), Hacienda La Fortuna, 1885. Oil on canvas. Collection of Carmen G. Correa. Moses Taylor clerked for the Howlands before opening his own counting house in 1832, specializing in the purchase and transport of sugar from Havana to New York. Here he poses for José Mora, a Cuban photographer whose family moved to New York to oversee its sugar interests. 
José María Mora (Cuba, 1850–1926), Moses Taylor, 1870–82. Albumen silver print on card. Special Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard College Library.

Franciso Oller (Puerto Rico, 1833–1917), Hacienda La Fortuna, 1885. Oil on canvas. Collection of Carmen G. Correa. In the mid-1800s, enslaved and free people of color comprised the majority of Cuba’s population. Even as Afro-Cubans labored on sugar plantations, they created distinctive religious, culinary, and musical traditions that enrich the culture to this day.
Slave shackles, ca. 1866. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Carroll Beckwith, 1921.20.
""