Earliest Example Of Plantation Slavery Found On Small African Island, Researchers Claim

(Photo by Adrien Marotte / AFP) (Photo by ADRIEN MAROTTE/AFP via Getty Images)

Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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A study published Monday claims that the earliest example of plantation slavery was identified in São Tomé and Principe.

The discovery was made at a 16th-century sugar mill and estate in the tiny Central African nation, according to the study published in the journal Antiquity. The island was settled by the Portuguese in the late 15th century as it was found to be abundant with fresh water, wood, and the right conditions for sugarcane cultivation.

During this period, other Portuguese sugar mills enslaved Africans for manual labor. But evidence from one sugar mill called Praia Melão suggests that enslaved peoples performed almost all tasks, including agriculture, carpentry, and the stone masonry to build the actual home and mill.

“Sugar production was a very complex process,” study author M. Dores Cruz told LiveScience. Sugar “was not packed in bags and loose as today.” Instead, the cane was boiled until it crystallized. It was then placed in molds and allowed to harden as the molasses drained. (RELATED: Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Maya City Filled With Pyramids, Palaces, And Sports Fields)

By the 1530s, São Tomé was one of the largest suppliers of Europe’s sugar. But it turned out that São Tomé couldn’t keep up with the demand, largely due to the humidity and slave rebellions. The Portuguese moved operations to Brazil, LiveScience continued. Most of the mills were reused or collapsed into disrepair by the 1800s.