Documenting Louisiana Sugar provides historians and social scientists with an innovative tool for examining plantation economy and agrarian society in the American South. Utilizing exceptionally detailed annual crop returns and additional census records, Documenting Louisiana Sugar makes available two fully searchable databases that allow users to examine in micro and macro detail the evolution of one of America's definitive plantation crops, namely cane sugar. These are available at the Download Center on this website.
For over seventy years, agrarian economists in Louisiana diligently recorded economic and production data on each sugar producing estate. These remarkable records provide an unbroken time series of data; indeed, no other plantation crop in the American South was so meticulously recorded for such a long period of time as was Louisiana sugar. This project makes these sources available for rigorous analysis and provides users with the query functions capable of tracing people and plantations through time. It enables users to study the economic performance of an entire industry, to consider business consolidation, capital acquisition, technology transfer, and the shifting dynamics of plantation land use. The built in search functions enable researchers to limit or expand their enquiries by year, parish, crop output, technology, and even gender. Users can track persistence and change among the plantation elite, trace landholding and economic performance among both large and small cane farmers, examine the effect of the American Civil War, and assess the transition from slave to free labor on Louisiana's plantation economy. And for those interested in the late nineteenth century, the databases track the rise and fall of American sugar during U.S. imperial expansion.
Former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass described Louisiana's sugar country as a "life of living death." These databases do not tell the story of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who labored in the cane fields through the nineteenth century, but they tell the story of an industry where the exploitation of land, capital, and labor was central to business success.
Funding for this project was made available by research project grants awarded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom, The Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and by the University of Sussex and the University of Toronto. Many of the images on the website are used with the permission of Shadows-on-the-Teche, a National Trust Historic Site, New Iberia, Louisiana.