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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:33

The triangle trade and the colonial table, sugar, tea, and slavery

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the galleries at the wodsworth Athenaeum looking at a lovely sugar bowl we think about sugar as part of our everyday lives but sugar has somewhat of a dark history and the history of sugar in a nutshell you go from India the Middle East where it's grown to Portugal Madeira the Azores and then it hops to the new world and we know for example that Christopher Columbus brought a sugar plant to the new world on his second voyage he knew that it was a crop that might do very well in the new world environment was seen as a crop that could be incredibly profitable people wanted sugar sugar was called white gold and we think about our sugar addiction today but that's hundreds of years old and our desire for sweetness may be as old as mankind imagine sugar as this luxury item doled out a little bit at a time because it was so precious mostly reserved for the absolute wealthiest individuals in European society kings and queens nobility and it's really in the 1530s with the sugar industry developing in Brazil that you're starting to get this massive influx and sugar prices go down so sugar prices start to go down because production increases than the West Indies in the Caribbean but still it is for only the highest echelons there are four beverages that are very important to popularity of sugar I can think of three coffee tea and chocolate all of which would benefit from added sugar absolutely and then there's punch but growing sugar is very labor intensive and so this is where the darker part of sugars history comes in the slave trade developed around the sugar industry as early as the 1440s in Madeira in the sugar colonies and Portugal and then it's transplanted to Brazil and millions individuals are abducted relocated to work in the plantations the work is incredibly harsh and the average enslaved worker upon a sugar plantation had a working life expectancy of seven years so a global trade between Africa Europe and the Americas and from New England to England to Africa to the West Indies sometimes you're stopping in the South Charleston Norfolk then you're coming back to New England with a cargo full of mostly sugar and rum those are the big moneymakers but also spices sensuous fruits salt from the Turks and Caicos it's important to remember too that molasses is being produced as a byproduct of the production of sugar and molasses is what you used to make rum and is also used as a sweetener rum is used in the slave trade to literally purchase individuals in Africa who have been abducted so we've got tea coming from China and other places in the East when T becomes a thing than the 1600s there aren't Western forms to use with this Eastern commodity tea so you have artisans creating forms sometimes directly based on objects imported from China and this shaped like a Chinese rice bowl even with its delicate lid that could have been turned over and used as a separate vessel so silver is clearly a sign of status and wealth that you displayed in your home and in the era before paper money there were silver coins and silver coins could be melted down and turned into beautiful silver objects like this one or silver objects could be melted down into coinage making objects as beautiful as this is highly skilled labor and there's different types of labor that's going to be happening in a silversmith shop so you have the master silversmith possibly a journeyman and then you have the apprentice we're talking about taking a block of silver and ingot and hammering it flat so silver for instance this bowl is going to be created through a process of raising through hammering and you're gonna do that on an anvil so you're gonna hammer around a concentric circle and it's going to cause this malleable material to start to rise up but the more you hammer the harder your silver is gonna get so you have to heat it again and that process is called a kneeling after you've annealed it and created your form you're gonna go through a process called pickling and that's putting it in acid bat and then polishing because silver is not this beautiful shiny substance in its natural state so we think that a global economy is new to our 20th 21st century world but the truth of the matter is the global economy started in the 1500s and this might be a domestic item that would have sat on someone's tea table but it represents the interconnected globe of the 18th century you