Many historians use the term “sugar revolution” to denote the establishment of sugar cultivation and processing in the Eastern Caribbean islands, especially Barbados, in the middle of the 17th century. Other contemporary historians, such as Russell R. Menard, prefer to talk about the “sugar boom.”
When the Portuguese expelled Dutch and Jewish settlers from Brazil, these refugees brought sugar cultivation technologies with them to the Caribbean islands, which at that time were under British and French control. British and French planters used these technologies to develop a sugar plantation system that relied on African slave labor. The huge growth of demand for sugar in Europe at that time financed this transition to an essentially monocultural economy and agriculture. As Christian Koot points out, sugar constituted 90 percent of the value of Barbadian exports in the mid-1660s (Koot 2007).
Many free white settlers gradually moved elsewhere. The slave population in the Caribbean islands grew rapidly despite high mortality due to the continuous capture and import of African slaves. The use of white indentured servants declined at the same time, because laws prevented the planters from exploiting these people as harshly as they did African slaves. When their indenture period ended, most of these former servants emigrated. As a result, there were significantly more slaves than free whites on most of the islands; for example, in Barbados, which was the center of the sugar plantation system, the number of white people went down from 40,000 in 1645 to 20,000 in 1685; the number of African slaves in Barbados increased from 6,000 in 1645 to 45,000 in 1685.
A small elite group of wealthy planters now completely dominated local politics. Some of them lived in London and hired overseers to supervise their plantations. Many planters eventually became heavily indebted to European banks.
The sugar revolution entailed the building of elaborate sugar processing facilities and created a significant demand for metal tools produced by British manufacturers. In this way, it stimulated the development of British industry and possibly contributed to the Industrial Revolution.
Christian J. Koot, Another Revolution in Need of Revising, Common Place vol. 07 No 2, common-place.org