Slavery and Servitude in the Colonies

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What is the significance or importance of the Atlantic Circuit? (Also known as the triangle trade)

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The Atlantic Circuit is also known as triangular trade. The American colonies shipped fish, furs, and other raw materials to England in exchange for manufactured products. Other participants in the pattern of trade were the Caribbean and Africa. The biggest losers in this commerce were the Africans who were sent...

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The Atlantic Circuit is also known as triangular trade. The American colonies shipped fish, furs, and other raw materials to England in exchange for manufactured products. Other participants in the pattern of trade were the Caribbean and Africa. The biggest losers in this commerce were the Africans who were sent into slavery in the New World. When illustrated on a map of the North Atlantic, this pattern of trade resembles a triangle.

In one version of this triangle, New England sent rum and other goods to Africa. In Africa, they acquired slaves and shipped them to the West Indies. Sugar was then shipped from the West Indies to New England.

Another example of this triangular commerce originated in England. England shipped guns, cloth, and beer to Africa in exchange for slaves. The slaves were transported to the West Indies in exchange for molasses, sugar, and wood, which were shipped back to England.

Sadly, the sale of slaves was an integral part of this system of trade. Millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic. About 20% of the Africans died during the passage, and the rest faced a life of slavery after arrival.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, England and the American colonies were at loggerheads because of trade disputes. The Americans believed England was exploiting them economically and this was a key reason for the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

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The term "Atlantic circuit" refers to the patterns of trade and exchange that are more commonly known as the "triangular trade."  In short, European nations traded weapons and other manufactured goods to African nations, which supplied labor for New World plantations in the form of slaves. The colonies in the New World produced cash crops and raw materials. While this model understates the complexity of interactions between societies in the Atlantic Basin (it does not, for instance, take the Indian slave trade in North America into account) it does broadly illustrate the flow of goods, money, and individuals between European nations and colonies from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century.

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