The sixteenth century marked a period of unprecedented European colonialism that brought devastation to the peoples and lands of Africa, South America, North America, and the Caribbean Islands. After the initial wave of European settler invasion of North and South America and the Caribbean, the Atlantic Slave Trade/Atlantic Triangle Trade took off. In this, goods from Europe were traded on the West Coast of Africa, whereby African people were enslaved by the millions and shipped to the lands being colonized by Europeans, where they were forced to labor for the gains of wealthy European individuals and nations. Through this trade system, agricultural products produced by enslaved African people were then shipped back to Europe for the benefit of European consumers and markets. This period marked massive enslavement and genocide, as ninety percent of the indigenous population of South and North America and the Caribbeans were completely decimated through European diseases, massacres, genocide, enslavement, death from forced labor, and suicide.
This period also marked a massive increase in consumerism throughout Europe as markets imported goods produced through slavery. Merchants across Europe became more wealthy, and a middle class began to emerge and flourish as a direct result of exploitation and genocide. This middle class eventually challenged the traditional power structures of the ruling monarchs and aristocracies across Western Europe, such as was the case in eighteenth-century France. As traditional feudalism and commonly held land began to be replaced by capitalism and enclosure, the foundations were laid for modernization and, eventually, the industrial revolution.