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By the 1490s Madeira had overtaken Cyprus as a producer of sugar." Sugarcane production was the primary engine of the island's economy, increasing the demand for labour.
Slaves were used during portions of the island's history to cultivate sugar cane, and the proportion of imported slaves reached 10% of the total population of Madeira by the 16th century.
The following year, an organised expedition, under the captaincy of Zarco and Vaz Teixeira, was sent to this new land, and along with captain Bartolomeu Perestrello, to take possession of the island on behalf of the Portuguese crown.
From a portolan dating to 1351, and preserved in Florence, Italy, it would appear that the islands of Madeira had been discovered long before Portuguese vessels rediscovered them.
In Libro del Conocimiento (1348–1349), a Castilian monk also identified the location of the islands in its present location, with the names Leiname (modern Italian legname, cognate of Portuguese madeira, "wood"), Diserta and Puerto Santo.
The accessibility of Madeira attracted Genoese and Flemish traders who were keen to bypass Venetian monopolies.
"By 1480 Antwerp had some seventy ships engaged in the Madeira sugar trade, with the refining and distribution concentrated in Antwerp.
Plutarch (Sertorius, 75 AD) referring to the military commander Quintus Sertorius (d.