The Columbian Exchange, named for the explorer Christopher Columbus, describes the transmission of plants, animals, goods, and slaves between Europe, the Americas, and Africa. While it had numerous positive benefits for the Europeans, who established farming properties and gained access to lucrative raw materials, the Columbian Exchange also opened the door to the enslavement of indigenous people, who were forced to work on newly-created plantations and farms. The Columbian Exchange also brought new diseases to the Americas, decimating the indigenous populations. This prompted a rise in the slave trade from Africa, as African slaves had immunities to the diseases that killed so many indigenous people.
Among the most lucrative goods transmitted in the Columbian Exchange were sugar, corn, and tea. Columbus himself is credited with bringing sugar to Hispaniola, setting up sugar cane plantations after Spanish miners had exhausted the gold stores there. Sugar quickly became the primary good traded in the Columbian Exchange, and the rapid increase in plantations led to a increase in the slave trade as more and more people were needed to produce sugar cane.
Unlike sugar cane, corn was native to the New World. Not only did corn play a major role in the diets of indigenous Americans, but it was valued for its cultural worth as well, appearing in many myths and legends. Columbus is credited with bringing corn back from the New World to Europe, where it quickly became a staple in the European diet. Corn could be grown in many climates and provided significant nutrition, making it a particularly useful crop. Eventually, corn was grown and consumed in the Americas, Europe, and even China, where it often was planted to replace flooded rice fields.
Tea was introduced to Europe thanks to trade routes through Asia. Though initially considered a curiosity, tea quickly became popular among Europeans in part due to its reported medicinal values. Eventually, tea was brought to the New World by Jesuit missionaries. Because tea couldn't be grown in Europe, the tea trade through Asia expanded enormously. As its cache grew, so too did the desire for sugar, which was used to sweeten tea. The tea trade and the sugar trade, then, increased in relation to one another.
The Columbian Exchange, however, was not limited to the trade of goods and products. It also was a vessel for diseases, like smallpox. While Europeans weren't entirely immune to smallpox, its widespread presence in the Old World led many Europeans to develop immunity. In the New World, however, indigenous people lacked immunity, leading millions of people to contract smallpox and die. While it's unclear whether Europeans understood the spread of disease, most scholars agree that they were likely surprised by the high death toll of European diseases in the New World. High death tolls of indigenous people also increased the need for African slaves who had more immunities, boosting the trade of slaves in the Columbian Exchange.