After the British captured Jamaica from
Spain in 1655, they thought that cocoa
might bring the island untold wealth,
just as cane was already enriching Barbados.
They could have been right, for
the Spaniards had cultivated cocoa successfully
enough in South America.
The Spaniards had learned about the cocoa beans - Theobroma "food for the Gods," as it was named, after the Inca's term for it - when they slashed their way through South America in the early 16th Century. Having learned to improve the flavour of the drink by adding sugar, they kept the secret of the crop's cultivation for a century. Sir Dalby Thomas, the English historian, wrote in 1690 that the Conquistadors had prevented their black slaves from learning how to grow the bean:
"lest it might teach them to set up for themselves, by being able to produce a commodity of such excellent use for the support of man's life."
In fact, the spread of sugar simply made the crop uneconomical to grow until the late 19th Century. Although Caribbean cocoa was not produced in bulk, it was of a very high quality.