This volume contains around 300 letterpress business letters from commission merchant W. G. Beal in Caibarién, Cuba, to recipients in Cuba, France, Spain, Boston, and London respecting administration of nearby sugar plantations Floridanos and Prudencia from December 10, 1877, to February 3, 1879. Working on behalf of Benjamin Burgess & Sons of Boston, Beal's letters provide detailed, day-to-day documentation of mechanical aspects of growing sugar cane, processing it, storing it, transporting it, securing buyers, shipping it, and financing the efforts. Beal also wrote about slavery, contract labor, other labor issues, impending emancipation, the final days and conclusion of the Ten Years' War, and the beginnings of the Little War.
The Walter Gibbs Beal Letter Book contains around 300 business letters from commission merchant W. G. Beal in Caibarién, Cuba, to recipients in Cuba, France, Spain, Boston, and London respecting administration of nearby sugar plantations Floridanos and Prudencia from December 10, 1877, to February 3, 1879. Working on behalf of Benjamin Burgess & Sons of Boston, Beal's letters provide detailed, day-to-day documentation of mechanical aspects of growing sugar cane, processing it, storing it, transporting it, securing buyers, shipping it, and financing of the efforts. Beal also wrote about slavery, contract labor, other labor issues, impending emancipation, the final days and conclusion of the Ten Years' War, and the beginnings of the Little War.
Sugar Plantation Oversight
Walter Beal's letters primarily take the form of reports to his employers, his uncle Nathan Bourne Gibbs (a retired merchant who had been a part of Burgess & Sons until 1876), and Santiago Innerarity of "Hendaya" [Hendaye, on the Franco-Spanish border]. The volume also includes correspondence with contractors, financial factors, nearby plantation owners, and the overseers of Floridanos and Prudencia. Beal visited both plantations regularly to assess the status of planting and harvesting, the volumes of "1st" sugar, "2nd" sugar, melado (sugar/molasses), and molasses produced, and the mood and disposition of the work force. With fine detail, he wrote about securing plantation machinery, planting and harvesting sugar cane, moving the cane on the plantation, grinding the cane, manufacturing molasses, transporting the products by cart and railroad, arranging for storage and insurance, securing contracts for the sale of the goods, chartering vessels for export, and handling any post-sale issues. The harvesting season of 1878-1879 was particularly poor because of unrelenting rain and thunderstorms that prevented the use of roads to cart cane or products on account of mud. The weather placed the plantation at a standstill.
Enslaved and Contract Labor
Beal's letters provide regular information about the plantations' enslaved laborers, who he frequently referred to as "the people." More detailed accounts include costs for the purchase and hire of enslaved persons, including an instance where he arranged for the purchase of a man, woman, and two free children, Nicolas and José (Beal to Dodge, February 6, 1878). As harvesting season ended, more and more laborers took ill with fever and were exhausted to the point of needing to rest. While peace negotiations were underway in 1878, the subject of slavery became more prevalent. Enslaved persons who had fought in the Ten Years' War for the Spanish were granted their freedom while Beal (and other planters) became very concerned about their own enslaved work forces. Fearing that they would refuse to work or plan to emancipate themselves, Beal made efforts to pacify them with additional gifts--while also securing additional guards. Rumors spread that the enslaved laborers believed slavery would be abolished on January 1, 1879, and the Governor installed 100 men on an adjoining estate for even more security. Matters became more complicated when a nearby planter named Carbo arranged for the freedom of his 68 slaves. Carbo agreed to furnish these persons with agricultural implements and oxen--and then purchase the cane from them in the crop season. For this, Beal and other planters censured him, believing that this action would set in motion a wave of enslaved persons refusing to work.
Following the Ten Years' War, labor shortages increased and Beal wrote about attempts to hire Spaniards from the Canary Islands, but found them to be good at all work excepting fieldwork (see Beal to Gibbs, April 8, 1878, for example). He also wrote about difficulties hiring Chinese laborers on contract because of the poor treatment they received by plantation overseers in the 1860s. By the fall of 1878, a company out of Havana began importing Chinese labor and Beal estimated that his force would include 24 Chinese laborers and 56 hired hands for Prudencia, and 31 Chinese laborers and 15 hired hands for Floridanos.
The Ten Years' War, etc.
Early in the volume, W. G. Beal kept an eye on developments in the "Eastern Section" as General Martínez y Campos made efforts to round up surrendering revolutionaries, but regularly reported that matters remained calm in the country. In February 1878, however, a group of unidentified persons injured (hamstrung) or killed 80 oxen on Floridanos, prompting Beal to make inquiries for assistance in identifying the perpetrators and replacing the dead oxen. In March, after Major-General Carlos Roloff capitulated, Beal had the opportunity to interview him at Caibarién and discovered who had led the attacks on the oxen. Beal kept track of which revolutionary leaders had surrendered, General Campos' progress, and developments related to the peace negotiation process and its aftermath. Once the Pact of Zanjón was signed, he wrote about militants in the woods, still refusing to surrender, and especially about José Antonio de la Caridad Maceo, who would not accept the terms of the pact and maintained a force of men. Other revolutionaries mentioned include the Brothers Arcos, Miguel Ramos, Máximo Gómez, Francisco Carillo, and Francisco Jimenez.