Pedro Alvares Cabral a Portuguese explorer was the first European to see Brazil in April 1500. He claimed it for Portugual, naming it the "Island of the True Cross" which later became Brazil named after a plant. The Brazil he landed in was populated with between 2 and 6 million indigenous peoples, living as farmers or hunter-gatherers.
Very early in the settlement process the colonial office requested a sugar technician. By 1518 the first plantation was in operation but it was not until the 1530's that sugar agriculture was firmly established in Brazil.
By the sixteenth century, both demand and prices had risen because refined sugar was replacing honey in most recipes and was increasingly used as a sweetener in jams, jellies and other popular food products. The first commercial production of sugar in the new world was undertaken in 1550, when the Portuguese Donatarios built mills near Pernambuco and Sao Vicnete along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. This early producation was derived principally from techniques developed in Maderia, based upon a system resembling sharecropping, where the owner, or senhor de engenho (leased his land to a number of smaller planters in return for a portion of the sugar produced).
Senhor de engenho - lord of the mill, owned a hughe tract, maintained a large force of salaried artisans, tenant farmers and slaves. Lived nobly in a big house and presided over a self-sufficent, paternalistic community complete with church, court, police force and social welfare agencies.
The senhor lease his cane fields in small units (ten to fifteen acres) to a number of tenant lavradores de cana or cane growers who worked on the share cropping principal. Tilling the land with ten to twenty slaves and sending his cane to the senhor. The cane grower received usually considerably less the half then half the sugar as his share.
Slaves better suited to working on cane plantations then Indians or indentured servants, were used to living in hot, humid climate, and insects. The very harsh manual labour of the sugar cane fields involved slaves using hoes to dig large trenches. They planted sugar cane in the trenches and then used their bare hands to spread manure. They were a better value, cost less the feed and clothe and a permanent acquistion. Africans could be forced to submit to slavery.
In 1591 the sugar industry was expanding rapidly to meet the growing demand in European markets. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Brazilian sugar industry had begun to expand rapidly with support of capital from the Dutch East India Company, which had seized Permambuco from the Portuguese in 1630, and the Dutch importation of slaves from equatorial Africa. In 1612 the total production of sugar in Brazil had reached 14,000 tons, and by the 1640's Pernambuco alone exported more than 24,000 tons of sugar annually to Amsterdam.
In 1660 the focus of sugar production began to shift from Brazil to Barbados and other islands of the West Indies. It may have been that Brazil suffered economic stagnation because of higher cost of slaves and lower crop harvests that negatively affected sugar production in Brazil. Futhermore, the expulsion of the Dutch from Pernambuco in 1654 and the subsequent disruption in trade led the Dutch to focus their capital investments in the West Indies.
The Capham Sect were a group of evangelical reformers that campaigned during much of the 19th century for the United Kingdom to use its influence and power to stop the traffic of slaves to Brazil. Besides moral qualms, the low cost of slave-produced Brazilian sugar meant that British colonies in the West Indies were unable to match the market prices of Brazilian sugar, and each Briton was consuming 16 pounds (7 kg) of sugar a year by the 19th century. This combination led to intensive pressure from the British government for Brazil to end this practice, which it did by steps over three decades. To this day, Brazil still is the world's largest sugar producer.
Brazil obtained 35.4% of all African slaves traded in the Atlantic slave trade, more than 3 million slaves were sent to Brazil to work mainly on sugar cane plantations from the 16th to the 19th century.
The Slave Trade - Hugh Thomas
Sugar and Slaves - Richard S. Dunn