Life on a Cuban Coffee Plantation

The operation of the DeWolfs’ coffee plantation, Arc de Noe, in which Gloucester merchant David Low had a stake, is described in a day-to-day account kept by its manager, Joseph Goodwin.30Goodwin, Joseph, 1820–1827 Diary, while employed on plantations Buena Esperanza and Arc de Noe, Near Matanzas, Cuba. New York Historical Society.
Goodwin’s account describes the process of coffee production and the organization of labor and touches on the lives of enslaved workers. Cuban coffee and sugar plantations used a so-called gang system of labor, in which slaves were divided up into gangs led by a slave foreman and assigned to specific jobs. Jobs included field clearing, for example, and planting, weeding, picking, drying, or storing. Coffee beans or sugar cane were processed in the batey—a central open plaza surrounded by all the plantation’s buil buildings. These included mills, a coffee dryer or sugar refinery, warehouses, gardens, a pigeon house, a hospital, cook house, tool sheds, horse stable, and separate accommodations for sheep, fowl, and other animals.31Singleton, Theresa A. Landscape, Archaeology and Memory of Cuban Coffee Plantations: 1800-1860. International Association forCaribbean Archaeology 66: 657-658:
The batey was the center of life and work on Cuban plantations, which functioned as self-sufficient settlements run almost entirely by enslaved persons. Slaves were free to establish their own communities and status hierarchies, build their own houses, have families, and enjoy their own celebrations and recreational activities. The batey way of life was very different from plantation life on the tobacco, rice, and cotton plantations of Carolina and Bermuda, where slaves were more subject to heavy supervision and restriction and more at risk for punishment and abuse.