Transatlantic Slave Trade: Development and Effects

Words: 1382
Topic: History


The transatlantic triangular trade resulted in the forced migration of more than fifteen million people from Africa to the Western Hemisphere from the 15th century to the 19th century. In the 18th century, almost all European countries were involved in the trade. However, Britain later became a leader in the slave trade (Eltis 14). The British ships transported approximately three million Africans in the 18th century. Europe formed a trading system that ensured an efficient flow of goods. The triangular trade was the name given to the trading system. It consisted of three parties, namely, Africa, England, and the New World or America as we know it today.

Drawing from a study by Tibbles (13), millions of Africans were enslaved and moved across the Atlantic by Europeans in order to provide the labor force needed to provide services in large American ranches. The allegation is supported by Inikori and Engerman (209), who argued that slavery provided a way through which England and American were able their labor demands. Apparently, the slaves were acquired through wars and raids organized by greedy African chiefs who only cared about their own selfish interests. The wars and raids increased with time as the demand for slaves went up.

Ostensibly, the slave trade initiative was an idea developed by Europeans in order to cheap labor for American colonies (Täuschel 1). Close to 12 million people from different parts of Africa were transported to Europe and the United States to offer services to slave masters. However, the number of people forced to become slaves varied from one century to another. This essay will discuss the development of transatlantic trade.

The Trade Legs

The trade consisted of three routes, which the scholars commonly refer to as the three major areas or three legs. To a large extent, however, the main emphasis of the transatlantic trade was Africa and British dominated (Shumway 55). The first leg included merchants from Europe who brought polished goods and materials to Africa and took slaves in return. African leaders and chiefs traded the slaves, as there were no trading restrictions. The second leg involved the transportation of slaves to the West Indies. The route was terrible for slaves, and more than 50 percent of them died on the way as a result of brutal mistreatment and diseases. Hundreds of children, men, and women were crowded in one room, unable to walk (Findlay 19).

In the third leg, slaves were exchanged with molasses and sugar by the traders. In the West Indies, any willing buyer was free to buy slaves. When the process ended, it repeated itself again from the begging (Findlay 20). The trade was complicated as some of the ships involved in the transportation of goods and slaves would take more than a year to arrive at their destinations. The trade allowed American colonists to obtain manufactured goods without spending hard currency. It brought profit to the countries involved and helped to improve the economy in a number of ways. Slave owners, for example, benefitted from the cheap labor provided by the trade to work in big ranches. Through salutary policy, merchants had a right to buy any slave they wanted. While the trade had a huge impact on economic development, it further contributed to the rise of the African American population in the United States.

However, it is not correct to generally assume that the trading system was always triangular. As noted by Tibbles (13), bilateral relations also existed between some of the countries involved. Apparently, this became pronounced after the abolition of the trade in the 19th century. In addition, the interaction that existed between Europe and American colonies between the 17th and 18th centuries also relied on the slave trade.

How the Trade Worked

In 1619, the first slaves from Africa arrived in the colonies. The slaves came from Africa to the New World using a Dutch ship. Ships from North America participated in the slave trade as early as the 1640s (Green 36). Almost all ships were from New England. The weather in England was not suitable for large-scale commercial farming, and the only method to find food was to travel overseas. The journey in search of livelihood is what led to the development of the triangular trade. These ships transported molasses and sugar to New England for distilling purposes. One had to produce rum as an exchange for slaves. Regardless of the approach taken to enslave Africans, every single slave was marched to the coastal region and forced into the ships by the Europeans in preparation for the journey to Europe and the United States (Tibbles 25).

In general, the slaves worked in the sugar plantation to produce more sugar. However, not all the slaves worked on sugar plantations. Some of them worked in New England because it was too expensive to have a paid employee. In England, purchasing enslaved Africans was cheaper than having paid employees.

By 1755, more than thirteen thousand slaves lived in New England. The first ever-recorded ship carrying slaves sailed from Boston in 1644 (Morgan 51). From that year, traders from Massachusetts were transporting more slaves from Africa to the Caribbean. Around 1700, Rhode Islanders became part of the trade. It is alleged that these traders controlled more than twenty ships from Africa every year. After a few years, Rhode Island traders controlled more than 50 percent of all the ships involved in the trade. Arguably, these traders were quite modest compared to all other transatlantic traders (Paquette 19). Historians estimate that they shipped more than one hundred thousand slaves in total.

Transatlantic trade created many job opportunities. The trade brought wealth and power to the merchants. Many people got employment in industries that made ropes and iron forging. It also created employment in carpentry and candle manufacturing industries. The best beneficiary of the trade was the distilling industry. By the 1760s, Rhode Island became the largest manufacturer of rum (Paquette 67). Prolonged resistance and protest from millions of people brought the trade to an end (Ronald 25). The resistance began in Africa and resulted in an advanced French colony of Haiti in 1791. Although Britain ended the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, it continued in some countries. For example, in Brazil, the slave trade ended in 1888.

At the height of the trade, it was noted that with the right mixture of trade goods, slave traders could fish out slaves from almost anywhere in Africa. This is because most African chiefs out to enrich themselves were ready to do anything in order to succeed in their wicked schemes. They thus collaborated with the slave masters and ensured that slaves were available to be transported to the countries involved in the trade. According to Rawley and Behrendt (4), the transatlantic trade made a significant contribution to the industrialization of Britain and Europe but also benefited West Africa.

While West Africa supplied the labor force needed to work in British and European agricultural farms, they, in turn, received merchandise from these countries. Among the items shipped to West Africa by the Europeans included knives, gun powder, axes, firearms, and cotton materials. On reaching West Africa, these goods would be exchanged for slaves who were later taken to America and other countries that were involved in the slave trade.


The transatlantic slave trade was a historical phenomenon. It lasted for more than two centuries. Drought conditions in New England led to the development of the trade-in search of new livelihoods. Many Africans transported to the New World worked as slaves on the sugar plantations. The negative impact of trade in Africa was immense. Many slaves were separated from their families. It also led to the deaths of many slaves during transportation and on the sugar plantations. People and countries involved in the trade became wealthy. Before the onset of the slave trade, the economic difference between Africa and Europe was negligible. Slave trade thus enriched Europe and America at the expense of Africa. Without a doubt, seamen also benefited from the activities of the transatlantic trade. As a result of prolonged resistance, the trade finally ended in 1807 after Britain had abolished it. The slave trade led to an increase in the number of African people in America, while some returned to Africa.

Works Cited

Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

Findlay, Ronald. The “triangular Trade” and the Atlantic Economy of the Eighteenth Century. Princeton University, 2009. Print.

Green, Claude A. What We Dragged Out of Slavery with Us. West Conshohocken: Infinity Pub, 2006. Print.

Inikori, Joseph and Stanley Engerman. The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992. Print.

Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Paquette, Robert L. The Lesser Antilles in the Age of European Expansion. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1996. Print.

Rawley, James and Stephen Behrendt. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Print.

Shumway, Rebecca. The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Rochester, NY: University Rochester Press, 2011. Print.

Täuschel, Alexander. The Transatlantic Slave Trade. Santa Cruz, CA: GRIN Verlag, 2008. Print.

Tibbles, Anthony. Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005. Print.