Racial Knowledge in the Making of a Greater Caribbean Railroad Industry
This chapter tells the story of Tredegar Ironworks, a slave-exploiting Richmond firm that facilitated the modernization of Cuba’s sugar economy by providing railroad hardware, machinery, and expertise to companies on the island. Tredegar substantially transformed its own factories to meet the needs of Cuban railroad companies, thus providing another instance of “technological entanglement” within the Greater Caribbean. Southern engineers who traveled to the island to install the hardware played up the experience they had gained in coercing slaves on Virginia railroads. Slaves performed key jobs on both ends of the commodity chain: enslaved railroad operatives in Cuba provided daily information on the condition of the hardware; in Richmond, skilled ironworkers helped engineer new products and processes especially suited for the “tropical” railroad market, which was really only Cuba and Brazil at the time. In each locale, whites’ discomfort with enslaved knowledge was outweighed by firms’ need for black workers’ skills.
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