Greed is an excessive desire to possess wealth or goods; the word greed in Latin can also be known to mean avarice or covetousness and like the sins of lust and gluttony, the sin of greed is one of excess. Now define irony, the same people who came to the Caribbean to colonize in the name of God were compelled by greed. Saint Thomas Aquinas, can be quoted as saying that greed was “a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.
This is beside the point, however, if we look at the opening of the Atlantic World as what it represented other than what it was at surface level, the assessment would be greater. It is premised that, following the rise of sustained European contact with the New World in the 16th Century, the continents that bordered the Atlantic Ocean – the Americas, Europe and Africa – constituted a regional system or common sphere of economic and cultural exchange. During this time the Atlantic Ocean served as a major highway, allowing people and goods to move easily between Europe, Africa and the Americas.
These interactions and exchanges transformed European, African and American societies led to the creation of new peoples, cultures, economies and ideas throughout the Atlantic arena. The Atlantic World provides a comprehensive and lucid history of one of the most important cross-cultural encounters in human history. The European drive to expand, as well as the creative ways in which the peoples living along the Atlantic’s borders were able to adopt and co-exist sustained the growth of empires, economies and trade in the Atlantic World.
All of the seas of the world are one, and knowledge of continuous sea passages from ocean to ocean around the world – established knowledge, not geographical hypothesis – was the outcome of the century or so of European maritime questing, which in European history books, is generally described as the Great Age of Discovery. The only major connecting passages known and regularly used by European shipping were the straits which join the Mediterranean and the Baltic with the North Atlantic, and the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. No ship had penetrated the Caribbean, the Mediterranean of the Americas.
Columbus did not discover a new world; he established contact between two worlds, both inhabited, both in human terms already old. European maritime prowess, according to Phillip Curtain “was the decisive factor shaping the Atlantic World. ” The Europeans were the first to transform the Atlantic Ocean from a great and seemingly impassible barrier into a highway of trade and communication. European mariners and traders as well as colonists, soldiers and missionaries spanned the ocean on behalf of princes, merchants, the church and of course their own private interests.
After the Treaty of Tordesillas and the division of the world by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, the Spanish and Portuguese were given, each, their own claim to the world, the New World going to Spain and Africa and India going to the Portuguese. The history of the Atlantic world begins with the crossing by Christopher Columbus in 1492. When he died in 1509, four transatlantic voyages later, he still had not realized that his mission had failed. Columbus had sailed westward from Spain, hoping to find a faster route to southern and eastern Asia.
Despite his steadfast belief to the contrary, he never approached those destination. Instead Columbus and his crew happened upon a vast land mass which we now call the Americas. Although a great sailor, when in the Americas Cristobal Colon never knew exactly where he was; he could never have fathomed the historical significance of his “discovery”. Winners and losers quickly emerged. The Europeans fared best of all – especially if we judge them according to their own ambitions. They seized control of vast areas of land which local populations had previously held.
They appropriated colossal amounts of bullion, the existence of which they could scarcely have imagined before 1492. Moreover, they did not have to work especially hard to do this; conquerors completely subjugated huge Amerindian populations and forced them to labour for the benefit of people who lived across the ocean and whom they would never meet (The Encomienda system: An encomienda consisted of a grant by the crown of a specified number of Indians living in a particular area. The receiver (encomenderos) could exact tribute from the Indians and was required to protect them and instruct them in the Christian faithii).
The Europeans could accomplish all of this for two reasons: technological superiority and disease. iii This miniature form of slavery would lead to the Europeans great dependency on human or physical labour to reap the rewards of newly colonized lands. This small relatively small scale benefit in the induction of slave labour (because that is what it was) by the Spanish depleting the Amerindian work force, this left other colonizers post-Columbus, the task of finding replacements.
What killed the Tainos in 1493 and 1495? Was it maltreatment, cold, hunger? Overwork? Yes, and no doubt about it, but could this be the entire answer? The hale and hearty immune system of one’s prime years of life, when challenged by unprecedented invaders, can overreact and smother normal body functions with inflammation and edemaiv Death was the most common factor within colonization next to growth in metropolitan economy, the fall in said same, and the rise of other European countries being the envy of its rivals. The coming of the British, French, and the Dutch into the Caribbean came as a result of many endogenous factors, mainly, the growth of Spanish wealth in the New World.
The rise of the Bullion concept and the effect of Mercantilism swung the hands of change. The extraction of raw materials once in the form of metallic wealth has now been changed to that of agricultural growth (the re-conceptualization of the term. This would prove to be the be-all and end-all of Caribbean economies. The introduction of tobacco as a cash crop by Sir Walter Raleigh during the 1560’s set up the basis on which the evolution of small scale agriculture to that of a lager and more intensive degree. Tobacco was introduced to Europe by the Spanish, who had learned to smoke it from Native Americans.
Despite some early criticism of “drinking smoke,” tobacco became popular among the middle classes in England. Much of the tobacco smoked in England was grown in the West Indies, and it is the West Indies being under British administration, enabled this occurrence. However, the rise of Virginian and Maryland Tobacco was the downfall of that in the Caribbean tobacco colonies, in 1619, tobacco was sold at 3s 6d per pound, in 1629, it was sold at 19s 6d per pound, by the 1630s however, planters could not get more than 1s per pound for tobacco.
Labour in this aspect was very little, and the crop could manage itself simply, (in the Caribbean) it was the implication of Sugar becoming the cash crop of the British Caribbean that changed this. There were other implications towards the growth of the economy via the growth of tobacco, ginger and indigo, all of which had a stable economy but experienced failure through the cycle of boom and bust. Sugar in the Caribbean has been a largely discussed topic and is generally the standard of development in the Caribbean region.
The West Indies was favourable for the growth of Sugar, with excess flat lands, gently rolling hills and the dual seasons; the wet season was favourable for planting Cane shoots and the dry season was ideal for harvesting. The assistance given by the Dutch was instrumental in establishing the Sugar Plantations. The Dutch were growing sugar in Pernambuco in Brazil however in 1647 they were expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese on the account that Brazil belonged within the lines of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1493 which gave them claim of this land.
The Dutch however were very persistent, as resistant merchants lived by the maxim “God is good but Trade is better”. Having been removed from Brazil, the Dutch were now looking for a new place to grow sugar; this place would be none other than Barbados. The Dutch brought much needed capital and expertise for the setting up of plantations, mills, boilers, acclamation of land, loans with low interest rates finally for credit, in which cane was used as collateral. The ready market for sugar in Europe was grand, as even when Spain, Britain, France and Holland were all producing sugar; it was thought that it wasn’t enough.
The Dutch also provided the labour force; on average the plantations needed 200,000 labourers, from Brazil they bought enslaved Africans and later on Africans from the African coast. This monoculture set in motion the template for future Caribbean procedures as this plantation economy held dearly to its heart, the policy of Mercantilism, Enslaved Labour (as it was necessary for the success of the plantation, sugar was a very labour intensive business) the Metropolis’ desire for wealth and the preferential treatment by foreign and local states.