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Sugar production

Sugar was the dominant cash crop of the U.S. Territorial Period. The rich muck of Northeast Florida's lowlands seemed well-suited for growing sugar cane. Ironically, the seasonally cold weather in this part of Florida was the greatest obstacle, despite its reputation as a tropical region. Some varieties of sugar cane cannot tolerate severe frosts. In the Caribbean, cane was allowed to grow for two years and produced two-inch diameter stalks with a good quantity of juice. In northeast Florida, sugar cane was usually harvested in the fall after only one year of growth. This prevented possible loss of the crop to freezing temperatures. In Florida, one planting might sometimes be harvested two or more years running with each cutting providing less juice.

Once harvested, the cane was squeezed in a mill. The juice first went through a clarifying process to remove its impurities. Next, the juice entered a process called a "sugar train" that evaporated the water, leaving the sugar. The sugar train was a series of large iron kettles. The earliest version, also known as the "Spanish Train," consisted of four or more kettles, each with its own source of heat. Later mills utilized what was called the "Jamaica Train," a series of five kettles with a common source of heat that was funneled under all the kettles through a flue to a large chimney. The Spanish train system produced the best quality of sugar, but it required more fuel.

In either system, the water content was reduced in stages. The last kettle completed the final stage. Only a master of the process knew when to remove the granulating sugar syrup. The pasty sugary material from the last kettle was removed and placed in containers. The containers were allowed to sit for a period so that the liquid molasses would drain out of the bottom. What was left was granulated sugar. 

The molasses could be used as syrup or distilled to produce rum. Rum was created from a mash of sugar byproducts including the molasses and low wine rum with lower alcohol content leftover from previous distillations. The mash then went through two distillation processes. The market for rum was always profitable and reliable.


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