There were many opportunities for males employed by the sugar plantations. They could work in any capacity within the system. The plantation opened up a world of opportunity that did not exist for many immigrants back home. Your ethnicity determined how far you could advice, though. Let’s take a look at how this system worked.
The Labor Categories On A Sugar Plantation
All management, skilled, and unskilled jobs were open to the male working class. There was a certain structure on the plantation. The hierarchy looked something like this:
1. Plantation Manager
2. Plantation Head Overseer
3. Foreman or Field Boss
How Ethnicity Affected Advancement
A male worker could rise to many levels provided they were of the right ethnicity. White American natives could occupy any level of the management structure.
Their European counterparts were afforded many of the same opportunities, but it matter which country a man haled from. Hawaiians were employed in many positions, but the management positions beyond overseer were somewhat unobtainable.
Asians were the lowest in this system. For many years, were not allowed any opportunities beyond skilled and unskilled workers.
What About Portuguese Men?
How did the Portuguese men fall into the scheme of things? Although the Azorean, Madeiran, and Portuguese men were of European descent, on the whole they were not seen as White.
Their complexions were much darker than their European brethren and were thus discriminated against. While the Portuguese could work in some jobs that Asians were not allowed in, they couldn’t rise very high within the plantation system.
Up until the 1920s, Portuguese men were not employed in positions higher than Overseer. They really did not gain “Caucasian” status until the 1940 census when the ethnic descriptions were revised. Because of this the career track of the early Portuguese men on sugar plantations was limited.
Some of the Jobs Males Worked In On A Sugar Plantation
What jobs were available to males on the plantation? Pretty much all plantation jobs were open to males. Here is a listing of some of them based on where they were within the system:
- In the Field: foreman, overseer, seed planting, cane cutting, weeding, ploughing, hoeing, stripping dry leaves (“hole hole work”), cane loading, ditching, watering
- In the Mill: engineer, technician, sugar boiler, press operator, furnace operator, mill engineer, mill laborer, sugar bagging
- In the Plantation Store: manager, salesman, clerk
- In the Office: manager, bookkeeper, clerical worker
- On the Railway: locomotive engineer, helper
Some other jobs on the plantation: carpenter, blacksmith, cowboy (paniolo, if they were Portuguese), company policeman, and mason.
While there were some limitations to men of different ethnic groups on the plantation, there was still more opportunity for many than back in their home country. Over the decades, those barriers would begin to crumble. As workers proved themselves, some of the biases fell away.