If you follow my column you will know that I have mentioned the sugar industry in the Manatee / Sarasota area countless times. However, most of the history books I have read vaguely mention the involvement of slaves in these large-scale operations. Today we take a closer look at these companies and how and why they succeeded or failed.
It’s no secret that slaves were locally employed to cultivate, harvest and cultivate sugar, but I discovered new details of my new obsession with history, Sarasota Times Past: A Reflective Collection of Florida’s Gulf Coast by Bernice Brooks Bergen.
Let’s first see what happened during this time.
The sugar rush was spurred by the collapse of the Union Bank in Tallahassee, where many of Florida’s most profitable cotton plantation owners had unfortunately secured their investments. The accident coincided with the federal government’s decision to pass the Armed Occupation Act, which promised “any able-bodied man” a 160-acre plot of land as long as he lived on the property for five years and built there. a kind of residence.
The idea behind the donation of the free land was to push a newly established nation of indigenous Seminoles further south, as their presence and thriving cattle and farming businesses made government officials uncomfortable. But, as the land promises in the west, the business has garnered a lot of attention.
While many of the people who profited from the land grab had nothing beforehand, such as Madame Joe Atzeroth from Palmetto, those profiteers who went bankrupt when the bank collapsed saw the opportunity for significant income.
But plantation farmers also had their eyes set on Florida due to large-scale flooding that hampered production in the sugar lands already established in Louisiana.
Two of those savvy business-savvy Tallahasseeans were Robert Gamble and Doctor Joseph Braden, according to Bergan. She says the men planned to “recoup their losses by expanding the sugar industry in Florida,” and they were quick to break the backs of many slaves to do so.
One hundred and sixty acres, although a generous donation from many, was not quite enough land to start the large-scale operation that Gamble and Braden had in mind. Instead, they bought thousands of acres along the Manatee River and Braden Creek.
“In less than a year, the land to the south and west of the Manatee was out of the market,” Berger explains.
It was not the settlers, but the slaves who planted the long rows of cane; Gamble brought 100 slaves with him to do his plantations, while Braden carried 80.
Another family, the Craigs, also built a mill which included a fifty foot chimney; the structure is still in Ellenton today.
Bergan describes Gamble’s irrigation system as “innovative” by telling about a wooden pipe that carried water to the boiling rooms where the juice was extracted into large kettles and boiled. The leftovers were then poured into “shallow vats with a porous bottom through which the molasses was filtered and the sugar cooled.” Miles of land were cultivated for water to drain off the crops, which were irrigated with four massive cisterns, each containing 20,000 gallons of water.
Of course, none of this would have been accomplished without the slaves working on the plantations. Even Gamble’s impressive mansion, still standing in Ellenton, and Braden’s residence, which was called a castle at the time, were built entirely with slaves.
The business boomed in the 1850s despite some setbacks in the form of Seminole uprisings. The two impressive mansions of Gamble and Braden have become centers of the community and, on at least one occasion, served as a refuge for settlers during a Seminole attack.
As Caucasians threw festive parties with booming music across the river to celebrate their success, slaves recovered from a hard day’s work, rubbing balm on sore muscles or wrapping any gashes they got. by cutting the stems of the sugar cane.
The sugar was eventually brought by sailboat to New Orleans where it was transported by train throughout the SHU. A motor crane lifted the rod loads from the rail cars at the Gamble plant for processing.
The successful business ended during the Civil War. Northern troops loot sugar operations along the Manatee River, taking cattle, bombarding mills and freeing slaves (often with the intention of recruiting them to join Union forces).
Of course, these plantations could never survive without forced labor, and plantation owners were unwilling to rebuild after troops burned their livelihoods. They ended up leaving their properties, selling their properties and giving up on their dreams.
The only structure to survive the war was the Gamble Mansion. It was completely renovated in 1925 after being bought by the Daughters of Confederation and can be visited today.
The other sugar farms were not so lucky. Today there are a handful of clues that reveal a big picture of what was once a profitable business. The large stone fireplace built by the Craigs is now attached to a church, while the ruins of Braden Castle decorate the center of a housing estate in East Bradenton. The real purpose of the structures only lives through the pages of various history books.