Historical Museum of Southern Florida

 

VISIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN

Slaves on Hispaniola
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Theodor de Bry, 1528-1598.
Nigritae exhaustis venis metallicis: conficiendo faccharo operam dare debent.
Frankfurt: de Bry, 1623.

The title of this engraving reads: "The veins of gold ore having been exhausted, the Blacks had to work in sugar." The image, engraved by Theodor de Bry, is from Girolamo Benzoni's Americae pars quinta nobilis & admiratione (1623). Theodor de Bry was born in Liège in 1528 and moved to Frankfurt during the 1580s. His copperplate engravings, widely copied, provided some of the earliest images of the New World.

Sugar was the most important crop grown in the Caribbean. By the mid-sixteenth century, Hispaniola was producing an exportable surplus. The first rudimentary sugar mills required a significant labor force that the indigenous population, decimated by disease, did not provide. Planters then turned to Africa for a steady supply of enslaved labor. Enslaved Africans carried out such tasks as bringing the cane to the mills, turning the grinding machines and boiling the juice. This work was performed under a scorching sun, shown in the top right corner of this engraving. The brutality exercised on the Africans' bodies led to a high mortality rate and the constant enslavement and importation of more workers.

Image no. 1991-483-1

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