European settlement in Saint Lucia gained a foothold in the early 1700s. In 1763, under French rule, sugar cane was introduced as a commercial crop and the first sugar factory opened in Vieux Fort on April 15th, 1763. Sugar remained the main product of this quarter until WWII. The years following the introduction of this crop have been noted by some historians as the most prosperous of Saint Lucian history with hundreds of sugar mills springing up island-wide.

Previous crops were economically low-end, while sugar was premium. As the sugar fields became larger, spreading throughout many of the islands, the demand for labour increased, and thus the transatlantic slave trade triangle developed.

Balenbouche Estate Sugar Mill

Although control of Saint Lucia passed between the British and French several times, this did little to interrupt the sugar industry, unlike the devastating hurricane of 1780. Many planters abandoned their estates while others rebuilt. The island was recovering when the French Revolution hit in the 1790s. During this time, production was interrupted as the nobility, which included the planters, was sought out and some individuals were guillotined.

The slaves were declared free and many not only left their posts but joined a campaign to ravage the land, destroying several of the substantial estates and mills across the island. Shortly after this destruction, the British regained control over the island; slaves not wishing to return to the plantations became freedom fighters, further hampering the re-establishment of planting and trade. When British occupation of Saint Lucia was recognised in 1814 the island settled down to the business of development. Sugar remained the primary crop until the early 1900s and, by the 1940s, banana production had paved the way for the new “green gold”.