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Hacienda La Esperanza’s Capsule to Transport Back in Time

An Interpretation of History behind Nineteenth-Century Sugar Production
Publication of Discovery: April 8, 2017
Issue: April, 2017

Former sugarcane plantations are historical landmarks in Puerto Rico. In the 16th century, African slaves were brought to the island of Puerto Rico. The slaves became the main workforce of the commercial sugar industry in this Caribbean island.

A guided tour in the impressive Hacienda La Esperanza, located in the Municipality of Manatí, is a great place to learn more about the sugar mill’s process and African slaves’ contribution to Puerto Rico’s sugar industry. José Nevárez, Para La Naturaleza’s tour guide, transported us back in time to the period when sugarcane was cultivated to produce sugar in this hacienda.

According to José, Don Fernando Fernández established Hacienda La Esperanza by means of a land aggregation process that began in 1830. Prior to that, he established a sugarcane hacienda known as Hacienda Santa Ana in the Municipality of Bayamón, Puerto Rico. José stated that Don Fernando, initially a slaves’ merchant, decided to diversify and establish sugarcane haciendas in an era when Puerto Rico’s sugar industry was growing.

The first stop during our tour was a brick-ruins area in a huge green space. José informed that, pursuant to excavations and findings and an 1872 drawing of the hacienda, archeologists and historians believe that these brick-ruins were part of a rectangular structure known as barracón, where the slaves slept. The tour guide explained that a barracón was usually made of bricks or wood, and had one door and small openings that served as windows in order to limit the slaves’ entrance and exit and prevent their escape.

José emphasized that Hacienda La Esperanza met the necessary qualities for the growth of sugarcane as it is located on a plain with fertile soil mainly exposed to sunlight and 90° F temperature, and is nearby a navigable channel and the coast, facilitating goods transportation by ocean.

José Ramón Demetrio Fernández, Don Fernando’s eldest son, inherited Hacienda La Esperanza after his father’s death. Thanks to José Ramón’s avant-garde thinking and business goal to achieve volume sugar production, Hacienda La Esperanza’s sugar mill process was partially mechanized by means of a steam engine that powered the sugarcane crushing mill (“trapiche” in Spanish), according to the tour guide. He explained that such machinery crushed and squeezed sugarcane, and collected guarapo (sugarcane’s juice) and bagazo (sugarcane’s fibrous residue as a result of the squeezing). The resulting faster and more efficient sugar mill’s process contributed to more than double sugar yield, as stated by José.

The demonstration of the restored 1861-steam engine machinery powering the sugarcane crushing mill was impressive, and transported us back in time. While England’s industrial revolution contributed to the manufacture of the machinery that modernized the sugar mill’s process in Hacienda La Esperanza, African slaves arduously worked in the sugarcane fields and performed manual labor to execute other sugar production tasks.

José pointed a brick-ruins area where slave labor took place nearby the steam engine machinery. In this spot, guarapo was boiled until it was evaporated and condensed to the point of producing molasses. The guide stressed that slaves worked under intense heat conditions during long hours, and exhorted us to imagine the heat resulting from the boilers and the steam engine machinery while the slaves were doing all the work. We felt heat as we looked towards the slave-labor area through a clear-view glass wall.

Once molasses was produced, slaves executed the final steps to create sugar in a structure named “Casa de Purgas”, which has been restored into a beautiful yellow building. You may read the “delve!” subsection to learn about this process.

While at the location of the former “Casa de Purgas”, the tour guide showed us a trapiche de sangre. So, we saw the sugarcane crushing mill that was manually put in motion by slaves and oxen prior to using the steam engine machinery.

The final spot visited was an elegant building representing the Spanish colonial-style manor in Hacienda La Esperanza. The manor was partially restored as well as partially reconstructed, as clarified by José. Pictures of the manor’s interior are available in our photo gallery.

A collection of 100-year-old machetes caught our attention due to the wide variety of machetes displayed. A significant contrast was seen between the typical sword-like machete and a machete without a cutting edge. The latter was the one provided to slaves to perform their tasks in the sugarcane plantations, as stated by José.

Once we exited the manor, we visualized again the slaves cutting the sugarcane during the harvest season while others were performing hard labor to produce molasses, all under very hot weather conditions. The rich information provided by the tour guide lets you feel the bitter history behind the sweet sugar.

For those interested in scheduling this tour named as “From Slavery to Hope”, you may contact Para La Naturaleza. T.: 787-552-9515, 787-722-5882

Translated by N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo

tour provider: Para La Naturaleza
book here
where the crew ate: Costa Azul Restaurant
photograph by: N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo

Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all details with the pertinent businesses before planning your trip. Please be cautious. The company behind this publication assumes no responsibility for your safety when participating in the activities mentioned in this article. You are responsible for confirming whether you are capable of participating in any of these activities or tours, regardless of the effort level or any other information provided in this website.

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Michelle Rodríguez, San Juan, PR- “This tour is suitable for both parents and kids, considering the interesting history behind the hacienda, the steam engine machinery demonstration and the beautiful nature surroundings.”

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