King's College London
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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

Breaking the monopoly

Title page, from: Edward Littleton. The groans of the plantations ... London: printed by M. Clark, in the year MDCLXXXIX [1689] [FCO Historical Collection HF2651.S8 LIT]Title page, from: Edward Littleton. The groans of the plantations ... London: printed by M. Clark, in the year MDCLXXXIX [1689] [FCO Historical Collection HF2651.S8 LIT]The aim of this pamphlet, written by the judge and twice speaker of the Barbados Assembly, Edward Littleton (d1702) was to show ‘by what cruel Methods, and by what fatal Degrees, the once flourishing English Colonies have been brought to ruine.’

Littleton was a plantation owner having, according to the 1679 census of the island, 205 acres and 120 slaves, and was particularly concerned with the additional duties placed on colonial sugar by Parliament in 1685. These duties amounted to two shillings and four pence per hundred weight on muscovado or raw sugar and seven shillings on clayed sugar (sugar purified and whitened with clay).

Littleton asserted that these duties were having a severely detrimental effect on the profits of his fellow sugar planters in Barbados, writing that ‘as the Old Duties upon Sugar did fleece us, so the Addition of the New doth flea [flay] us.’

Furthermore, Littleton believed that the various measures to control and regulate colonial trade introduced by Parliament in the 1650s and 1660s and collectively known as the Navigation Acts, had seriously damaged the prospects of England’s West Indian colonies. He questioned the requirement that colonists import goods from England that could be obtained more cheaply from other sources and maintained that the obligation upon colonists to channel all the sugar that they produced through the English market ‘hath gone a great way in destroying that Trade’.

Another of his concerns was the monopoly of the Royal African Company on the importation of slaves. This monopoly, according to Littleton, had raised the cost of African slaves from £7 to £20 a head.

The Barbados assembly hired Littleton to serve as its agent and to lobby William III and Parliament on behalf of the island’s plantation owners. His efforts contributed to the decisions not to continue the additional duty on sugar imposed in 1685 after 1693 and to withdraw the monopoly of Royal African Company on importing slaves.

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