Thomas Leng

Mastering the market in colonial staples: Benjamin Worsley’s ‘project of the growth of sugar

By the 1660s, England could boast possession of an American and West Indian empire of settler-colonies dominated by the production of staple commodities that were reaping windfall profits in European markets. But the rapid expansion of first tobacco and then sugar cultivation raised questions as well as opportunities about the role of such staples in England’s developing imperial economy. By the Restoration, the volatility of tobacco prices and the resultant ruination of so many planters seemed to be a model of failed management as much as success. This paper considers how the question of how to regulate the colonial production of sugar in order to yield the best price, neither ruinously low nor uncompetitively high, was considered by one Restoration projector and official, Benjamin Worsley. It considers how visions for the future management of colonial economies were shaped by past experiences of staple production in both the colonies and England.