There are several factors that triggered the emergence of triangular slave trade. The expanding European Empire had a shortage of labor force and this compelled them to look for alternatives outside their continent and this included capturing of slaves in Africa for them to improve their labor force. Apart from shortage of labor force, the indigenous people could not be relied on for they were affected by the climate which consequently led to health deterioration and suffering from tropical diseases. Most of them were reported to die from the diseases brought over from Europe. The issue of slave trade nowadays is not prevalent although in France the former slaves are regarded and work as contract laborers. “For a period of two hundred years, between 1440 and 1640 Portugal had a monopoly on the export of slaves from Africa.
It is also notable that that they were the last European country to abolish the institution.” (Morgan K.1993). However, the statistics shows that during the nineteenth century, Britain was the worst transgressor having ferried almost three million African slaves. This fact is not remembered because Britain played a very vital role in the fight against slave trade but in the real sense it was in forefront in transporting millions of staggering slave Africans. From time immemorial, the triangular slave trade is taken to refer to a situation whereby trade exists between three regions or ports. However, in some cases it may refer to a variety of other trades.
For instance, it may be referred to as a trade that involved the exchange of raw materials and agricultural products from British American colonies which were meant to feed slaves and planters in the West Indies. It was meant to bridge the gap of trade imbalance whereby two or more traders were willing to exchange goods. For it to evolve between the regions, both must have the desirable goods that one of them is willing and able to exchange with one another.
The most recognized triangular slave trade route in history is between Europe, West Africa, West Indies and part of North American colonies. The manufactured goods like cloth, copper, slave beads, guns and ammunition we ferried from Europe to Africa where the African slaves were shipped and taken to the West Indies and sold there to work on plantations. The slaves were exchanged with the cargo and they were tightly packed as many as possible to maximize the profits. The reason why the Africans were targeted as slaves was that “they were excellent workers, they often had experience of practicing agriculture and keeping cattle, they were used to a tropical climate, resistant to tropical diseases, and they could be ‘worked very hard’ on plantations or in mines.” (Paul E, 2000).
The African kings and merchants were the one responsible for the capturing of the slaves along the West coast of Africa with the aim of getting various trade goods like textiles, beads, cowrie shells brandy, horses and guns which were used to obtain more slaves. The same ship on the way back to Britain was used to carry tobacco, rum, cotton, molasses or sugar. The most famous ports that were normally used in Britain include Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow and London.
The British involved themselves in the triangular trade immediately with the colonization of America and the West Indies, apparently the Dutch and the Portuguese took control of the trade in late 17th century but they were also threatened by the Swedish, Denmark and France when they engaged themselves in trade. “The trade represented a profitable enterprise for merchants. The business was risky, competitive and severe, but enslaved Africans fetched a high price at auctions, making the trade in human cargo to be lucrative business.” (Morgan K.1993). The number of the slaves who were transported and especially from Africa were over twelve million between the year 1650 and 1850 and majority were died on the way as they were transported to be sold. Majority of the slaves were headed to the British West Indies and a few to the British North America. Torture, harassment and mistreatment of the slaves on board ship were the order of the day. “Slaves often tried to commit suicide by jumping overboard and in some occasion Captain Collingwood had slaves who were dying of an epidemic thrown overboard from the slave ship so that the insurance for them could be collected at the end of the voyage.” (William W.1998).
The slave trade was beneficial to the traders as well as planters and this contributed to huge wealth which helped in improving the standard of living of Europeans who were selling West Indian sugar. However, with all the benefits some merchants decided not to join the slave trade and as a result this led to the banning of the Atlantic Slave trade by Denmark, United States of America and the British Empire in 1792, 1794 and 1807 respectively. The only illegal activity that was left was smuggling for slave trade was declared illegal by congress in 1808. Also the ban was supported by British navy and other countries and the result was that there was a dramatic economic changes.
According to William B. (1998), many merchants from New England were also engaged in trade and this made New England to benefit. The merchants concentrated in making rum from the molasses and Caribbean sugar which they then exported to Africa and other parts of the world. Despite involvement in trade, there are no known England traders who have kept a record of completing a full sequential of the triangular slave trade route. “New England shipping records, could not find a single instance of a ship completing the full triangle as described.” (Paul E, 2000). The triangular slave trade led to massive exodus of Africans whereby five times as many Africans were reported to be taken to America than Europeans.
To summarize, the triangular slave trade had a negative consequence to Africans in that the population remained stagnant while in Europe and America the population increased tremendously. America and Europe utilized the profits derived from slavery to develop technology as well as fund economic growth. The African economy was adversely affected by the ongoing trade but also it had some benefits especially to the kings who were reaping benefits of selling slaves to European slave-traders.
The continued poverty in Africa is as a result of slave trade and also the exodus of people to Europe and America had been a demographic disaster not only to the affected countries but also to the Africa continent as a whole. There was need to suppress the slave trade and reforms in the society if at all the interests of Africans were respected by the Europeans and Americans. British were the first to end their slave trade and they were compelled to influence other countries to do the same. African leaders were not spared either especially those who refused to cooperate with the British treaties to abolish slave trade.
- Eric Eustace Williams,” Effects of triangular slave trade” Capitalism and Slavery 7.2 (1994) 23-31.
- Morgan K, Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
- Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- William W, Triangular trade. Purdue University Lab. Web.
- A Smith, The Triangular slave trade. Michigan University. 2001.