The best books about the West Indies sugar and slave trade in the 17th century

The Books I Picked & Why

A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados

By Richard Ligon

A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados

Why this book?

If you want to know exactly what things looked like and what living in Barbados felt like in the 17th century, this is the book. Originally published in 1657, this is like a travelogue of the Island that became a prosperous English colony known for its sugar plantations, rum, and slave trade. Ligon was a royalist in exile during the English civil war.


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If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730

By Donald Harman Akenson

If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730

Why this book?

Akenson’s book opened my eyes to the small island of Montserrat and the Irish colony that became the setting of my first novel, Sharavogue. Mostly overlooked by the English, the island became a haven for Irish settlers who established sugar and tobacco plantations. In addition to descriptions of the location and industry, this book explores whether the Irish, given the opportunity to control an empire, would be more humane than the English.


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Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

By Richard S. Dunn

Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

Why this book?

My copy is loaded with underlines, dogears, and stickies to signify the wealth of information provided, particularly on the West Indies slave trade. From the geography of the islands to architecture, planting schedules, clothing fabrics, political corruption, and the slave market, Dunn covers everything in an interesting and illuminating way.


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Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl

By Kate McCafferty

Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl

Why this book?

This novel, set in the time of Oliver Cromwell, is about a girl kidnapped from her Galway home and shipped to Barbados to be sold as an indentured servant to work alongside African slaves. We learn of her life as she gives testimony to an English officer after a failed rebellion. Well researched and powerfully written, one can feel the anger and bitterness of her oppressed existence, and her fierce passion for her African rebel husband. It brings history to life.


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Sugar Barons

By Matthew Parker

Sugar Barons

Why this book?

For perhaps 200 years after 1650, sugar became such a valuable commodity it became known as “white gold.” This book gives the broad and sweeping history of the conflicts over control of the sugar trade, the slave trade, and the wealth that ultimately led to the Industrial Revolution. It also provides intimate details of the families whose fortunes depended on sugar.


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