In 1878, the Pact of Zanjon brought to a close the Ten Year's War, Cuba's fight for independence from Spain. Under the treaty, Spain promised to enact reforms, including the abolition of slavery from the island by 1886. The end of slavery forced many changes in the methods and business of sugar production. New machinery was developed to offset the loss of slave labor, a new labor force of free contract laborers appeared, many of whom were Spanish and, at Soledad, Chinese immigrants, and the old sugar estates across Cuba began to lease small pieces of land to tenant farmers to compensate for the loss in profits. For E. Atkins & Co., the war and its aftermath provided an opportunity to expand their own business efforts. The company bought and leased many neighboring sugar estates that had suffered losses during the war, slowly adding land to their own holdings at Soledad.
This photograph depicts employees of E. Atkins & Co. standing under the old slave bell at the Soledad estate. It was taken circa 1895, during the start of Cuba's renewed war for independence from Spain (which would soon become known as the Spanish-American War). At the time, the Santa Clara province was the scene of much fighting, and E. Atkins & Co. worked hard to protect the Soledad estate and its employees from rebel attacks and activity. For this reason, many of the men in the photograph are wearing pistols, and the guards in the background carry rifles.