The Atkins Family in Cuba: A Photograph Exhibit
Exploring the photographs of one of the most prominent families in the U.S.-Cuban sugar trade
by Megan K. Friedel, MHS Photograph Cataloger
In the late 19th century, Boston merchant Edwin F. Atkins was a dominant force in the U.S.-Cuban sugar market. His firm, E. Atkins & Co., established sugarcane plantations along the southern coast of Cuba near the cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad. From the 1840s through the 1920s, the Atkins family successfully operated their sugar business on the island, safely seeing it through the abolition of slavery, Cuba's fight for independence from Spain, and the changing agricultural and industrial practices of sugar production.
The photographs in this online exhibition are a sample of 419 photographs at the Massachusetts Historical Society that were taken and collected by members of the Atkins family in Cuba between 1884 and 1958. This collection, the Atkins Family Photographs, is a unique visual record of life and work on sugar plantations in Cuba during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, these photographs also capture the changing face of Cuba before and after the Spanish-American War.
The Massachusetts Historical Society also holds the Atkins Family Papers, an extensive collection of records and papers that detail the activities of the Atkins family and the E. Atkins & Co. sugar interest in Cuba from 1854-1950.
Rebekah E. Pite's essay on food production and provisioning at the Atkins plantation, "The Force of Food: Life on the Atkins Family Sugar Plantation in Cienfuegos, Cuba, 1884-1900," appears in Volume 5 (2003) of the Massachusetts Historical Review.