Triangular Trade

One of the most notorious concepts in the history of the world, the Triangular Trade played an important role in the incessant spread of slavery in the New World.
Historyplex Staff
Did you know?
The name Triangular Trade or Triangle Trade was derived from the fact that its route roughly resembled a triangle on the map.
The term 'Triangular Trade' was used to refer to the slave trade which played a significant role in the American history. This trade, which was carried out between England, Africa, and North America, flourished throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Its astounding success can be attributed to the fact that merchants involved in it garnered huge profits at each of the three phases of the trade.
Trans-Atlantic Triangular Trade
In general, the term 'triangular trade' can be used to refer to any trade carried out between three points. In this case, the three points were Europe, Africa, and North America. The concept implies trading of commodities that are not required in the particular region, in lieu of the required commodities available in other regions. In the ancient world, wherein barter services were in practice and sea route was the only mode of transport, this concept had several benefits.
The 3 Phases
Basically, this trade had three phases: Europe to Africa, Africa to North America, and North America to Europe, with each of these phases having peculiar characteristics. Given below are the details of each of these three phases.
The First Phase: The first phase of the trade was the journey from Europe to Africa. In this phase, manufactured goods were loaded onto the ship at the European ports and taken to Africa, where they were exchanged for slaves. The goods in question included cloth, metal goods, spirit, cooking utensils, beads, etc. Of the various finished products, arms and ammunition were important, as they were used by salve traders for their territorial expansion, which, in turn, meant access to more slaves. All these goods were exchanged for slaves in Africa, and these slaves were put on the ships and taken to the American slave market.
The Second Phase: The journey of ships laden with slaves from Africa was the second phase of the Triangular Trade, known as the 'middle passage'. A single ship was packed with slaves beyond its capacity, as a result of which they were subjected to terrible conditions on board, with minimal food and water. The conditions were so harsh that approximately 13 percent slaves died in course of the journey. These slaves fetched a decent sum in the American market, so the merchants were not concerned about a few deaths that occurred during the journey. As the ships anchored on the American ports, these slaves were exchanged for raw goods, which were then taken to Europe.
The Third Phase: The third and the final phase of the Triangular Trade was the shipment of raw goods from the American plantations, where they were produced, to the European industries, where they were required to manufacture finished goods. These included cotton, sugar, molasses, tobacco, etc., which were used to produce finished goods. Molasses, for instance, was an important requirement for the European distilleries. As the ships docked at the ports in Europe, raw material was unloaded and finished goods were loaded. Thus started the cycle, all over again.
The plantation owners in the European colonies in America required slave laborers from Africa, the European industries needed raw material, which was produced in the New World colonies, and the African merchants wanted manufactured goods from Europe, which had a decent market share in Africa. The Trade ensured that all these requirements were met and helped maintain the balance.
Eventually, the role of Europe in the Triangular Trade was taken over by developing region of New England, as the merchants there started to produce finished goods from the raw material readily available in the New World. These goods were exported to Africa in lieu of slaves required at the plantations and also circulated within the New World itself.
Everything was going on in a smooth manner until the beginning of the 19th century, when Great Britain outlawed slave trade. The United States followed in the following year and thus, came to an end the age-old practice of slave trade. The British naval forces were ordered to monitor the Triangular Trade routes in order to curb this illegal practice.