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The Final Conquest

Andreas Malm


Dominica was the last island to be colonized. Flat like the side of a coin, Barbados could be shaved clean of all natural vegetation and transformed into one great plantation for whipping profits out of black bodies and red-brown soil. The same fate was bestowed on island after island, but this one held out for long. As Lennox Honychurch, one of the country’s pre-eminent historians and intellectuals, writes, “[It] continued to stand green and defiant in the center of the chain of the Lesser Antilles,” until the British finally conquered it in 1761. Having exhausted much of the soil on Barbados and other old sugar islands, planters were by now clamoring for fresh land and immediately set about surveying, enclosing, auctioning, and buying plots.

For capital accumulation to get off the ground, however, one obstacle first had to be removed: the woods. In a tract from 1791, planter Thomas Atwood marveled at the beauty of the trees that “by far exceed in loftiness the tallest trees in England. In this island their tops seem to touch the clouds, which appear as if skimming swiftly over their upper branches,” proceeding to explain why they must be cut down. As he wrote, there could be no avoiding “the necessity, in order to render Dominica a good sugar country, of clearing the extensive forests of trees in the interior parts of it. When this is done, and not till then, will this island be distinguished for the number of its sugar plantations, and for the quantity of sugar it is absolutely capable of raising.”