SUGAR & RUM
While it's documented that the island's first commercial sugar cane crop was planted in 1640, settlers had been harvesting small crops create a popular beverage called 'Kill-Devil' an early ancestor of modern-day rum. Crude distillation methods resulted in a poor-quality spirit; it was not until over a century later that Barbados would produce rum on a commercial level; however the island is widely credited as the birthplace of rum.
The first settlers arrived in Barbados in February 1627; within the first 10 years there were over 6,000 English settlers with landholdings primarily used for tobacco and cotton. Between 1631 and 1637, an additional 37,770 acres of land were handed out. America had a stronghold on the tobacco market, and planters were desperately searching for a prosperous crop. When Dutch Jews immigrated to the island from Suriname, they brought with them the equipment, expertise and trade routes to establish a sugar industry, as well as the financing necessary to sustain the island's fledgling economy until the first sugar crop was ready for harvest.
Benjamin Berringer and John Yeamans, collectively owning over 360 acres of land in the island's highlands, enjoyed early success as planters. They burned the brushland to create arable fields; while some land would have been retained for provisional crops, the majority of land on the plantations would have been dedicated to sugar cane.
For several years Barbados enjoyed an economic boon; however natural disasters, political unrest, stringent English rule and an increased world supply of tropical products led to declining profits from 1661. It was during this time that John Yeamans and other Barbadians migrated to the Carolina colony in search of greater prosperity. Those who remained in Barbados struggled through years of fire, periods of drought and excessive rain and a smallpox epidemic that drastically affected the island's slave population. The depression stretched into the 1700s; Barbadians participated in both legal and illegal activities to supplement their income. Through struggle and strife the islanders persisted; a survey taken between 1717 and 1721 listed 870 estates and 320 windmills utilised in sugar production. It is this survey that shows Nicholas Plantation had shifted to windmill-driven production by this time.
Persistence paid off in 1739, when a new Sugar Act passed providing for direct trade with Europe, leading to a sharp rise in sugar prices. A planter aristocracy established, paving the way for the large plantations that would carry the economy through the next century.