In the 16th and 17th centuries the rise of puritanism led the vogue for garments devoid of colour. To be truly pious one should wear black. The problem is that there were no true black dyes.
This changed when the Spaniards brought logwood, or ‘campeachy’ (from Campeche Bay in Mexico), in some of the rst ships arriving back from the New World.
As a genuine black fabric dye, logwood was of great economic importance from the 17th century onwards.
Hundreds of tonnes of logwood were exported and the ships carrying it were a constant target for British privateers. With the peace treaty of 1667, the Spanish Crown granted trading rights in return for the British suppression of piracy.
The privateers, in need of income, turned to logging. The country of Belize grew from English logging camps exporting logwood.
The best trees were the old ones, because they had less sap, and were easier to cut. ‘The sap is white and the heart red. The heart is used much for dyeing; therefore we chip off all the white sap till we come to the heart… After it has been chip’d a little while, it turns black, and if it lyes in the water it dyes it like ink’.
With the introduction of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, logwood’s central role in dyeing disappeard.