What was the triangular slave trade?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The Triangular Trade system was a pattern of trade set up between Europe, Africa's 'gold coast,' and the 'West Indies' (the New World).  If you draw lines connecting these three locations, the pattern looks like a triangle.  First, ships would depart from European countries, like Great Britain, with cargo holds full of guns, ammunition, and textiles. 

Then the ships would make port along the western coast of Africa, nicknamed the 'gold coast;' there, slavers would trade slaves for the manufactured goods.  Usually the slaves were captives from other tribes, people taken prisoner after being stolen from their homes that were more inland. 

The next leg of the Triangular Trade System was known as the Middle Passage.  The Middle Passage stretched from the gold coast of Africa all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.  Destinations included stops in South America, islands in the Caribbean, and the southern colonies in North America; all of these places grew cash crops like tobacco, coffee, and sugar cane.  The Middle Passage was incredibly difficult for the slaves who were packed tightly into cramped cargo holds.  Upon reaching the colonies in the new world, the slave ships traded the slaves in exchange for goods and produce from the colonies.  Rum and molasses were highly sought after goods from the Caribbean because not only were the goods in demand, but they also traveled well on the return voyage home. 

The Slave Trade did not fully get stamped out until 1794, because the slave trade and exchange of goods was an incredibly lucrative business.  Investors, manufacturers, buyers, and sellers were all making an enormous profit from the system, not to mention the exchange of goods benefited the colonies, who needed to trade their goods and acquire more slaves to work on their plantations. 

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etotheeyepi | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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I forgot to say that the Triangular Trade is the name given to a three sided trade route from New England to Africa, and then to the Caribbean.

Traders took New England goods to Africa, for example rum or glass beads. Slave ships have been found sunk in the Atlantic Ocean with cargos of glass beads and iron shackles to bind slaves.

See The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade by Robert Harms, which is about a French slave ship, but the idea is the same.

In Africa, the ships traded their goods for slaves.

In the Caribbean, the ships traded their slaves for molasses.

They took to molasses to England to make into rum.

Seems to me, this trade lasted because of the demand for slaves like I said in the previous post.

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etotheeyepi | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The simple answer to this must be that the demand in Europe for sugar, tobacco, indigo, rice, corn, wheat, various kinds of dye, and I suppose also rum generated a demand for labor in the Caribbean, the southern British colonies in what is now the United States and in Brazil. The African slave traders, who had been supplying labor to Arabia and North Africa for hundreds of years, wanted to fill the demand.

The treatment of slaves in the Americas appears to me to have been exceedingly brutal. For example, children of slaves in Africa were not always slaves themselves. Also, slavery was a dying custom in Europe, so people had less experience with it.

Probably the first reason that British colonists began to consider abolishing slavery had to do with the fact that old slaves had to be cared for or set free in a process called manumission. Also most colonists had not experienced slave rebellions like the one in New York in 1712.

My guess is that the growing population of manumitted slaves, the fear of slave rebellion, and a growing awareness of the brutality of slavery led people to consider abolishing slavery.

Also, people must have begun to realize that slaves don’t provide efficient labor.  When Abigail Adams lived in the White House, she saw how paid laborers in Massachusetts performed better than slaves in Washington, DC.

One by one the Northern British Colonies abandoned slavery, although it maybe did not become official until after the American Revolution.  Kentucky voted to abolish slavery just before the Civil War.  The tobacco growing counties voted to abolish slavery probably because tobacco is labor intensive only sometimes  The cotton growing counties voted to keep it probably because cotton is labor intensive all the time.  Keeping slavery won by a narrow margin.

This last fact about Kentucky suggests to me that people did not abandon slavery sooner because they had not yet recognized its cost.

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