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In this article, Kirill Nazarenko talks about how you could become a millionaire in the Caribbean.
Hello! Today I will tell you about how to become a millionaire in the Caribbean.
Becoming a millionaire at all times was not easy, and you and I know, at least from the Black Sails series, that treasure hunting was a very dangerous business. Let's first look at how ordinary people lived, not pirates, and how it was possible to earn a living without going to sea and not engaging in sea robbery.
The series "Black Sails"
Speaking about the Caribbean, first of all, it was necessary to understand how you would get into this region. First of all, it was necessary to overcome a long way from Europe to America. If now you can look at the schedule of planes and buy a ticket, and be sure that in a few hours you will find yourself at the airport on the other side of the globe, in the 17th or 18th century you had to overcome a long sea route.
To give you an idea of how long the trip to America might have been, I'll give you the figures for the return trip. The statistics were accurately summed up in Spain when the Silver Fleet traveled from the Caribbean to the Iberian Peninsula: the shortest and fastest way to reach Europe is 40 days, and the longest voyage was about 160 days, that is, more than 5 months on the road.
Back in approximately the same range, the speed could vary, it depended on weather conditions and, above all, on the wind. To some extent, it depended on the skill of the captain, because the captain could leave the corridor where favorable winds blow, or the storm could take the ship out of this corridor, and then you would find yourself in an extremely difficult situation, hovering in a calm zone.
Similarly, it was difficult to go around Cape Horn. Cape Horn could be rounded in a couple of weeks, or it was possible to try to round it for half a year. Therefore, even modern sailors get very nervous when passengers ask them the question “When will we go to some port?” The sailors say that we will pass into it, but when this happens it is better not to speak out loud.
So, even to move from Europe to America 300 years ago, you would have had to live on board a ship for quite a long time, all this time you had to eat something, you had to pay for the fare. And if you think that it was possible to travel from Europe to America in a comfortable cabin, then you are most likely mistaken.
The series "Black Sails"
To ride in a comfortable cabin, you had to be a very rich person, because the ships of that time did not have a pronounced specificity, there were no passenger or cargo ships, they were universal. And, say, if it was a cargo ship and you were a very rich person, then the captain could give you the only cabin, which was located in the aft part of the ship on the upper deck. Then at your disposal were 15-20 square meters of space about two meters high, where you could be located.
Of course, you would have several servants traveling with you if you were a very rich person, so all the same, these 15-20 meters would have to be shared with several people. But you would be able to put up, say, a curtain and divide this cabin into a bedroom and an office, let's say, fence off some corner for servants. You could use the captain's latrine in the aft gallery. In a word, your journey would be relatively comfortable. Although you would not be able to wash yourself during this trip. Servants would prepare your meals and, if you weren't seasick, you would eat more or less normally.
If you didn’t have a lot of money, then you would have to huddle on the main deck. If it were a small merchant ship, then it would be a cockpit, that is, a deck located at the level of the waterline, in which there were no portholes. You would have been fenced off in a small corner of the cockpit, where you could spend the night in complete darkness, but spend the daylight hours somewhere on the deck.
If it was a large ship built like a frigate or a battleship, then there could be cabins on the artillery deck where there were no guns. They could be fenced off with boards and then you would have a cannon port at your disposal, which you could open and admire the seascapes (in good weather, of course). In bad weather, the port would have to be closed, and then you would be in complete darkness.
If you had very little money, then the only way to get to the other side of the world, if you are a man, would be to hire on a ship as an assistant for food in order to do various dirty work. For that, you would get food and a place to sleep. The custom of sleeping in berths was only in its infancy, and not every sailor slept in a berth. Very often they slept simply on the deck, putting some kind of rag under themselves or simply on bare boards. And in this case, you, apparently, would not have to undress during the entire sea voyage, not to mention washing.
And if you were a woman or a child, then you would still have to pay either in money or, as they say, with your body for traveling, and in any case, it would be a difficult test.
There was another possibility to get to the Caribbean: you could enlist as a slave. That is, some rich person paid for your trip, and in the minimum comfortable version, after which you would have to work for this person for free for food for 3 to 7 years. That is how the famous Captain Henry Morgan got to the Caribbean. He worked as an apprentice cutler for several years. But here everything depended on which master you would end up with: more or less good, or bad. Because it was still necessary to survive these 3 or 7 years of work.
Pirate Captain Henry Morgan
In principle, you could end up in America at the expense of some benefactors, especially if you belonged to some religious sect, say, among the Quakers. Wealthy Quakers could sponsor the move of their fellow believers to America. But then you would rather be somewhere in the territory of the modern United States, and not in the Caribbean. Well, it was assumed that further you would be engaged in agriculture and live in the community of these Quakers.
Of course, you could also be exiled to America. Sabatini's "The Adventures of Captain Blood" — we all read this book and we know that the court could sentence instead of imprisonment to be sold into slavery in the Caribbean region. But this slavery was temporary. Legally, it did not last for life, it lasted a certain number of years, which was determined by the court. But here it was still necessary to live to wait for the end of your sentence.
It was possible to get to the Caribbean as a clerk of a rich merchant, or, even better, the son of this merchant, sent to trade. Or as a person who made capital in Europe and came to the Caribbean to invest it in a plantation economy. However, we are considering the case of how to become a millionaire from the bottom.
I recall an anecdote about an American millionaire of the 20th century who came to the United States with one dollar in his pocket, bought a kilogram of dirty apples, washed them right in the Hudson, and sold them for $2. Then he bought 2 kilos of dirty apples, washed them in the Hudson, and sold them for $4. Well, then the journalist interviewing this millionaire asks: “Did you earn your million like that?”, And he says: “No, after that I received an inheritance.” This is to the point that making a million from scratch is almost impossible. Of course, there are such cases, but, in my opinion, it is easier to win the lottery.
Let's further analyze our capabilities in the Caribbean at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century.
Further, once in the Caribbean, we needed to live somehow and we could get a job. It all depends on your skills. If you were a craftsman trained in Europe, you could get a job as an apprentice craftsman of the appropriate profile and in a few years save up enough money to acquire your own tool and open your own workshop. This was probably the most typical path of a person who came with a craft in his hands to the Caribbean.
If you were a sailor, then, of course, you could be hired on voyages there. Well, a person who was an experienced sailor, of course, would be welcome on any pirate ship, your skills would be useful here.
If you had some education, say, in maritime affairs, if you had some knowledge in navigation, then your career path would be completely secured. You could become a skipper's assistant, then rise to the rank of skipper. Let me remind you that captains of merchant ships, who were quite low on the social ladder and who usually began their careers as sailors, were called skippers. But, being literate, they could pick up knowledge from some other skipper or his assistant, and learn to determine the place of the ship by observing the stars and planets.
Let me remind you that it was very difficult to determine the place of the ship, the chronometer was invented only in the second half of the 18th century and therefore it was impossible to determine the point at which we are with you between London and, for example, Barbados, before the invention of the chronometer. They were definitely somewhere in between. Chronometers in the navy began to be widely used in the 80s of the 18th century, and chronometers got into the merchant fleet only in the 19th century, because they were very expensive and shipowners preferred to do without them, especially since quite a lot of skills were needed to handle chronometer. It had to be checked regularly and it was all very difficult.
It was much easier to determine our place relative to the equator, between the equator and the pole, by observing the highest point of sunrise, and measuring the angle between the sun, the highest point, and the horizon. It was easier, and almost everyone could do it. With the most primitive instruments, it was possible to roughly determine this position, so it was possible to get on a course parallel to the equator, leading you to the Caribbean Sea or vice versa to Europe. Then just wait for the lookout to scream "soil".
By the way, since I started talking about navigation, the barometer was a rare thing, only at the turn of the 18th–19th centuries the barometer entered the arsenal of sailors, and even in the early years of the 19th century, sailors who learned how to use the barometer were considered great people, because they could predict the weather. A drop in the barometer meant there would be a storm for about a day, and a rise in the mercury column meant the storm would soon end. The mass use of the barometer in the merchant fleet begins only in the middle of the 19th century.
Before this, skippers relied on intuition and experience, which really replaced a lot of knowledge. If you had gained experience, if you were elementary literate, if you could measure the height of the sun at noon with some primitive hailstone, if you could understand maps easily, then you had many skills that would allow you to feel quite comfortable as the skipper of a merchant ship, and you would, of course, quickly break out of ordinary sailors.
Well, in a pirate team, you would quickly take up a position, say, a navigator or a quartermaster, who, among other things, was responsible for the division of booty. So, especially if you were a brave person and relatively strong, then your life was secured. But if literacy was not among your strengths, then everything was much more complicated here.
If you have not yet had a craft for your soul, then here your corridor of opportunities was relatively narrow. You would have to be hired as an apprentice to some craftsman, but if you were already at the age of, say, under 20 or over 20, then it was difficult to be hired as an apprentice, because the apprentices were usually boys who were chased both in the tail and in a mane, who cleaned the house, and received a herring in the face, like Chekhov in the famous story about Vanka Zhukov, and of course, a young man of about 20 years old could hit back with such treatment. Well, if he hit back, then he would quickly fly out of the students, so everything here was not easy.
It was possible to get a job as a day laborer, but a day laborer is a very bottom, this is an unskilled hired worker who received very little pay. Let's say, in a month, for example, in France in the 18th century, a laborer in agriculture received 4-5 piastres or thalers.
It would seem that this is not a small amount, because the piastre is a silver coin that contained 27.2 grams of pure silver. Since, in addition to silver, it also contained a ligature, it weighed 30 small grams. At the modern rate of silver, it turns out to be an insignificant amount, about 70 American cents, but if you take 70 cents per gram of silver, you get $19 at the rate of modern silver one piastres, $19 is not a large amount, of course. But it is impossible to recalculate the value of the piastre at the rate of silver, you need to recalculate it at the rate of gold, because the ratio of silver and gold in the 18th century was not at all the same as it is now, now it is about 1:80, while in the 18th century it is 1:15, and in the 16th century, in the beginning, it was even 1:10.
Therefore, if we recalculate at the rate of gold, it turns out that the piaster of the end of the 17th century is about 2 grams of gold, and now it will be somewhere around 110-120 dollars, that is, a fairly normal amount. I think that it is this way of converting piastres into modern money that will be relatively correct. Although we must understand that any transfer of money from the 18th century to modern ones is not very correct, because it was impossible to buy, excuse me, an electric light bulb, a smartphone or a washing machine in the 18th century, because they did not exist.
On the other hand, the same fabrics that were made in the 18th century cost relatively more than modern ones, but at the same time, things sewn from these fabrics were worn much longer. For example, a cloth caftan could serve its owner for several years, and this was considered completely normal, it was repaired, it was cleaned, and in the end, it could be turned over, that is, torn, turned inside out, and sewn inside out, while the clasp must, of course, be rearranged, suffer a little. Still, in any case, this thing could be worn if you were a poor person, for five, seven, and even ten years. If you wore it carefully. But now any clothes, if you wear them for several years, then you will most likely have to throw them away.
I mean wear it every day, because the people of the 17th-18th centuries did not have as many clothes as our contemporaries, and there was no variety of clothes. We can now have sportswear, dress clothes, casual clothes, and work clothes, but in the 18th century, everyone had one piece of clothing of the same cut.
But it’s another matter that a rich person could have ten velvet coats, and a poor man could have one coarse cloth coat, but they were structurally the same. This means that the fabric of the 18th century was more reliable, more durable, and more expensive, relative to the labor and materials invested in it, than the modern one. Not to mention the fact that any fabric at that time was made by hand on a machine and required much more man-hours of work per meter of its length.
Captans and other men's clothing of the 18th century
To imagine what a laborer's salary of 4-5 thalers a month is, you need to understand that one meter of cloth with a width of one and a half meters (I translate into modern units to make it easier) will cost, even if it is cheap soldier's cloth, somewhere around 0.7 piastres per meter, maybe up to one piastre. That is, for a monthly salary of a laborer, one could buy fabrics to sew a jacket and trousers for oneself. It is clear that you still needed to eat something and live somewhere, and these 4-5 piastres meant without food and housing, that is, you had to pay for all this. And if a laborer worked with food and housing, then his salary was less.
Again, the laborer could receive some cast-offs from the owners as a salary, but it is clear that you could not afford more than such a salary, more than one set of clothes a year. And if you wear it every day and work at the same time, then it will wear out pretty quickly and turn into rags in a year. And some modest food can be afforded with this money.
To give you an idea of how these mechanisms worked, you can look at the prices of various products in Europe. First of all, those products on which, in fact, the Caribbean economy has risen — these are sugar, coffee, dyes, maybe tobacco, and rice to some extent.
In Amsterdam at the beginning of the 18th century, one piastre could buy from three to seven pounds of coffee, that is, between one and two kilograms, depending on the quality of this coffee. Arabian coffee, which was delivered by the Turks, was considered to be of the highest quality, while coffee from the Caribbean was considered to be of lower quality — it cost less. Piastre is 1-2 kilograms of coffee in Europe, and in the Caribbean, these 1-2 kilograms of coffee cost ten times cheaper. The main thing was to plant coffee trees, and then they bore fruit and it was necessary to keep a certain number of slaves for harvesting.
Slaves were cheap: an African slave in the Caribbean cost only 12 thalers (12 piastres), that is, a person in the Caribbean was worth the same as 12 to 24 kilograms of coffee on the exchange in Amsterdam. It is quite clear that the labor costs for the production of coffee were not great.
For example, sugar, raw sugar (sugar in the form in which it was supplied to Europe from America) could be purchased for one thaler in the amount of 8 kilograms. Translating into the cost of a slave, it turns out 100 kilograms of raw sugar — this is the cost of one slave, that is, people were cheap. Accordingly, refined sugar cost 2.5-3 times more.
African slaves work on sugar plantations
Refining sugar was a complex procedure. It was passed through a filter, which was made from ground burnt bone, and thanks to this, the sugar acquired a light color — either light yellow or even close to white — and got rid of various impurities. But as a rule, sugar refining was already carried out in Europe, it was a profitable production, and raw sugar was exported from the Caribbean.
If we take rice, then somewhere around 15 kilograms of rice can be bought for the same thaler in Europe, and much more in the Caribbean.
To be clear about other prices, say, a bottle of champagne in the 18th-century cost about 2/3 piastres, that is, 2 piastres could buy 3 bottles of champagne, it was a very expensive wine. On the other hand, a monkey in Europe could cost about 25 thalers. That is, a monkey in Europe was sold for twice as much as a slave in the Caribbean, to the question of the relative price of different things.
Parmesan cheese, which Bill Gum loved so much, for a small piece that went over to the side of the heroes of Treasure Island, cost about 2/3 piastres per kilogram. Parmesan cost about the same as a bottle of champagne. Only wealthy people could drink champagne and parmesan. Simple cheese, that is, Dutch cheese, for example, cost 3-4 times cheaper than parmesan.
Speaking of weapons, weapons, by the way, were inexpensive, for example, a sword blade without a handle and without a scabbard cost about one thaler. At the same time, it was of high quality, not to say that it was some kind of Damascus steel, of course, but it was a quite high-quality average product with which one could go pirating. Another thing is that for the handle and the scabbard, you would pay about one more piastre. That is, a ready-to-use sword would cost about two piastres in Europe. In the Caribbean, it would cost a little more, but I don’t think it’s a lot, somewhere around 3-4 piastres. That is, it was cheaper to buy a sword than to buy, for example, even a cheap slave.
Here the question arises, if we talk about how to become a millionaire, how can you still break out of the position of a day laborer or an artisan apprentice and accumulate some kind of start-up capital? Of course, there were no recipes even at that time (and I won’t tell you about them), but you could borrow some amount and successfully start trading on it. There was an important question — who will lend to a ragamuffin if you are one?
First, you had to get decent clothes, then you had to convince some relatively rich person to lend you money. It is clear that the population of the Caribbean was small, and on every island, everyone knew everyone, and it was not at all difficult to make inquiries about your identity. If the acquaintances of this rich man were to say that he was some ragamuffin from Europe who obtained decent clothes by accident or cunning, then you would hardly have received any amount of loan. In addition, few people believed in the word in those days, so you would have been required to provide some kind of deposit for this amount.
We return to where to get this valuable deposit. Then you can enter the company to some merchant who sends goods from the Caribbean to Europe. If you were lucky and your ship would be bypassed by storms and pirates, then within a few voyages you could put together a relatively decent capital, hire a ship yourself, continue to save, continue to invest in your business, and, you see after a while build your own small ship. It made sense to order it somewhere in the English or Dutch shipyards, in the 17th century rather than in the Dutch ones, because Holland was the center of commercial shipbuilding, and they built it quickly and cheaply. In England, they built more slowly and more expensively, in the 17th century you could get some kind of two-masted ship, say a brig, and already trade in the Caribbean on your own.
Let me remind you that trade was usually carried out from Europe to the Caribbean along the triangle: a ship from Europe went to North Africa, where it took a load of slaves, selling Africans some things they needed, but these were by no means glass beads. Glass beads might have been there, but they were a small part of the trade. These were mainly gunpowder, muskets, edged weapons, iron ingots, more precisely in bars, if we talk about the form in which it was produced in the 18th century, because the coastal African tribes were armed very well and knew perfectly well what European goods were worth and deliberately hunted other Africans in the interior of the African continent, selling them as slaves to Europeans.
Further with a load of slaves you get to the Caribbean, where you sell slaves, after that, you buy sugar, coffee, dyes, rice, and tobacco and take it to Europe.
By the way, about other goods, tobacco was the most valuable, and one pound of tobacco (pounds were different in different countries, from 400 to 500 grams) could cost one thaler, even one and a half thalers. That is when in a well-known story about Peter the Great's arap they said that Peter bought an arap, that is, a boy for a pound of tobacco — it was real, because if a slave in the Caribbean cost 12 piastres, then a pound of tobacco cost 1-1.5 piastres. Well, they could well have given such a sum for a boy, because this boy could not work yet, he still had to grow up, and while he grows up, he will still have time to die. Therefore, in principle, if 8 pounds of tobacco could be given for an adult slave, then 1-2 pounds for a boy. Smoking was an expensive pleasure, and in the 18th century, it was perhaps more expensive than it is now.
The spread of smoking was due precisely to the fact that this habit made it possible to demonstrate to others that you are a rich person, you can waste money, in the truest sense of the word. One pound of tobacco cost as much as a sword without a handle, or as much as a bottle of champagne. And one pound would be enough for you somewhere for 800 cigarettes, maybe a thousand. For a month or so you would have enough of them, but the pipe probably takes more tobacco, somewhere in a month you would, of course, have smoked this pound. Probably, it was fairly high-quality tobacco, without any special impurities.
By the way, I must say that the desire to smoke was strong, and there was not so much money, so in Europe tobacco was falsified, and a variety of herbs were added to tobacco leaves. In Holland, for example, a custom arose to add hemp to tobacco leaves, so when the Dutch of the 17th century smoked, they smoked not quite pure tobacco but smoked something like a drug and got into a rather intoxicated state, which is clearly seen in Dutch genre paintings, where smokers, drinkers are clearly in a difficult situation.
In the same Holland, there was a custom to add vodka to beer. Therefore, smoking pure good tobacco was an expensive pleasure, and besides smoking tobacco, there was such entertainment as sniffing tobacco, it was a noble habit. Tobacco was ground into a fine powder and after that, it was put into the nostrils and sneezed, and even famous people indulged in this. For example, Catherine the Second sniffed tobacco, and she always took tobacco with her left hand from a snuffbox so that the right hand, which she gave to the courtiers for a kiss, did not smell tobacco. At the same time, it is interesting that smoking was an exclusively male habit, ladies, if they smoked, then secretly. It was believed that ladies should not smoke. Ladies could sniff tobacco.
Finally, if you and I could get a little rich in trading, we could buy a plantation in the Caribbean, buy or have slaves on our ship, and start producing sugar or coffee, or growing rice, or tobacco, or producing dyes of some kind. In this way, one could become a very wealthy person. But as for the word "millionaire", of course, it would hardly have been possible to collect a million in the currency of that time, because a million piastres is a huge amount.
For comparison: the annual budget of such a developed country as Great Britain or France at the beginning of the 18th century was 35-40 million thalers. Of course, a million thalers in private ownership were almost impossible anywhere, even if you had 100 thousand piastres, you would be an extremely rich person by the standards of that time.
Then the question arose, what to do with this wealth? Let's say, in Great Britain by this time it was already possible to be just a rich person, just a rich merchant because the class boundaries were pretty much destroyed.
In France, if you acquired great wealth, then most likely you would have to invest it in a title. You would have to achieve nobility, or better yet, buy some kind of title, in order to legalize yourself as a rich man, because just a rich merchant in France was ridiculed. Let us recall Moliere's tradesman in the nobility — he was a comic figure, that is, only a nobleman had the right to live really luxuriously, a titled nobleman to be clear. There were opportunities for this.
In Italy, already in the 17th century, titles were traded quite widely and you could simply bring some amount to the close associates of the Pope and you were given a title, you could buy a title from its owners, this was considered in Italy as a legal transaction.
In France, this is more difficult, of course, because France was a more centralized, more organized state than Italy, and here you would have to somehow approach the royal entourage with bribes, but there was nothing super complicated in this either, and if you had money, you could get a title. Of course, all real aristocrats would know that this title is bought, and that you do not have any noble ancestors, but in any case, this would allow you to legalize your wealth and live luxuriously in Paris or somewhere in the French province.
In Spain, the problem was more difficult because there was fewer business opportunity and there was more order in the Spanish colonies. It is clear that it is possible to get rich quickly where taxes are collected little or poorly, and where taxes are collected well, it is very difficult to get rich quickly, so there was less such quick wealth in the Spanish colonies. But in general, it was still possible for a few to get rich, especially those who had some kind of start-up capital either in money or in skills. That is, literacy already allowed you to get a job, for example, as an assistant manager, then become a manager on some plantation, and this already raised you socially. But ignorance of reading and writing, and lack of mastery of the craft put you at the very bottom of the social ladder. Although, of course, it must be said that it was still not the very bottom.
Even lower were the peasants, who were in most European countries at that time, depending on the nobles, and landowners, and even if there was no formal serfdom somewhere, serfdom legally existed throughout Eastern Europe. Not only in Russia, but also the Commonwealth, Hungary, the eastern regions of Germany, and in the Czech Republic.
Slavery in Eastern Europe
Still, even where it did not formally exist, say, in France, Italy, or Spain, the dependence of the peasants on the feudal lords was still very strong. First of all, judicial dependence, because judicial power was in the hands of the feudal lords, various forms of land dependence, and a peasant, French or Spanish, could not even get to the Caribbean, simply because no one would let him go from the village where he lived and where he was to die. Here it was also necessary to flee, breaking these legal ties, which added to the difficulties.
Of course, there have always been adventurers and lucky people, and only a few managed to make a fortune. But these were extremely rare cases. And the bulk of the people who got to the Caribbean led the life of artisans, ordinary sailors there. Maybe in the best case, an overseer on some plantation, since it was extremely difficult to break out into millionaires in those days.
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