How did the search for trade routes to the East lead to connections between the Americas, Europe, and West Africa?

Portuguese explorers, anxious to find new trade routes to the East over water, found a route around the southern tip of Africa. In an effort to compete, the Spanish sailed West across the Atlantic, hoping to land on the other side of Asia. Instead, they found the Americas, and the ensuing trade helped create a lucrative network known as the Atlantic Slave Trade, or the Triangular Trade.

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In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Seljuk Turks. A huge victory for the Turks, who later became the Ottomans, the city was renamed Istanbul and transitioned to a profitable and powerful Islamic city. This also marked a huge loss for Europe, who had not only lost a Christian city but had also lost an important trading port with the East.

To avoid trading through Istanbul and with the Ottoman merchants, Europeans set out over the open ocean to find another way to the East. Using newly acquired navigation technology like the magnetic compass, astrolabe, improved maps, and caravels equipped with lateen sails, the Portuguese set out south. Several explorers helped expand the search for a way around Africa, but Bartolomeo Dias was the first to find the Cape of Good Hope, the name he gave to the southern tip of Africa. It was later Vasco da Gama in 1498 who rounded the Cape of Good Hope, sailed along the coast to India, and opened up trade between the East and West over seas.

Not to be outdone by their neighbors, the Spanish were also anxious to start sailing and finding a new route to the East. When an Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus approached the king and queen of Spain with a plan to sail west over the ocean, they agreed; they gave him a small command of three ships with men. While Columbus intended on sailing west and approaching Asia from the opposite direction of the Portuguese, he instead sailed to the Americas, populated with an array of Indigenous people.

Once Europeans received word of the western route to land, more explorers came, eventually confirming that it was a new continent group, mapping it out, and building a trade network between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The initial exchange of goods between Afro-Eurasia (Africa, Europe, and Asia) and the Americas was known as the Columbian Exchange, where Afro-Eurasian crops, livestock, plants, and diseases were brought to the Americas, and vice versa. Europeans found out that some Afro-Eurasian crops, particularly cotton, tobacco, sugar, and coffee, grew exceptionally well in the stable climate of the Americas. The most profitable of these was sugar, which grew in the Caribbean and portions of Central and South America, most notably Brazil. As a result, a new highly profitable trade network was established: the Atlantic Slave Trade, sometimes referred to as Triangular Trade. Europeans purchased enslaved Africans to work on American plantations, all in the name of profit and mercantilism.

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The connection originally began with Christopher Columbus' plan to reach Asia by sailing West. Columbus used measurements indicating the Eurasian landmass to be much larger than it actually is; and also measurements indicating that the circumference of the earth was much smaller. Were his measurements correct, Tokyo, Japan would have been in the vicinity of Knoxville, Tennessee. Rather than Asia, he landed in the Caribbean. Whether he knew he was not in Asia is problematic; however he did claim the islands where he landed for Spain.

The Americas were not a wonderful new discovery to the people of Europe; in fact they were largely ignored. It was only much later that the Spanish began to explore in search of gold. Later they determined that the islands in the Caribbean were good for the cultivation of sugar cane, for which there was an insatiable market in Europe. At first, the Spanish enslaved Indians to work on their sugar cane plantations, but they proved poor workers and died frequently. The solution was the importation of slaves from West Africa. Hence was born the connection between the Americas, Africa and Europe, all as a result of Columbus' attempts to reach Asia.

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The search for trade routes to the Orient led to the "discovery" of the Americas and to European contact with West Africa.  That subsequently led to the horrific contact between Africa and the Americas in the form of the "middle passage" slave trade.

Beginning in 1420, Portuguese ships began exploring down the west coast of Africa.  This exploration culminated in Vasco Da Gama's rounding the tip of Africa and sailing to India in 1498.  The whole point of this was to allow Portugal to trade with the Orient, but it ended up creating contact between Europe and West Africa.

Of course, Columbus was searching for a way of getting to the Orient by sailing west when he "discovered" the New World.  This led to contact between Europe and the Americas.  By 1518, the first load of slaves was brought from West Africa directly to the Americas and contact was made between those two continents.

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