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Triangular Trade, Its Legs and Mechanism


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. Triangular trade is the name given to the system. It consisted of three parties, namely Africa, England, and the New World. This essay will discuss the development of transatlantic trade.

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The Trade Legs

The trade consisted of three routes, which the scholars commonly refer to as the three major areas or three legs. 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. The trade brought profit to the countries involved. 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 African Americans.

How the Trade Worked

In 1619, the first slaves from Africa arrived at 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. The only method to find food was to travel overseas. The journey in search of livelihood 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. 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. 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. These traders were quite modest compared to all other transatlantic traders (Paquette 19). Historians estimate that they shipped more than one hundred thousand slaves.

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 the 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).

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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. In 1807, Britain ended the transatlantic slave trade. However, it continued in some countries. For example, in Brazil, it ended in 1888.


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. However, because of prolonged resistance, the trade 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.

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.

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