Talk:Triangular trade

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Interesting...I have found references to this trade (not always by name, but always refering to traders that commenced each venture in Europe, and finished it where they had started) in 7 separate books here - and no doubt will find more if I keep looking - from respected historians as disparate as G. M. Trevelyan, A. J. Parry, A. L. Rouse, and two encyclopedias, a specialist book on the slave trade, a history of pre-colonial Africa, a biography of, that's 8. Old Sir John Hawkins, for instance, started in Plymouth; so it was England, Africa, the Caribbean, and back to England. He didn't capture the slaves himself, so he would have had to barter something he brought with him. If I can see one decent reference to that not happening I will start rethinking it.

You, yourself believed it until very recently. What changed your mind? AlanE 23:27, 26 August 2008 (EDT)


Where are they? Jirby 15:50, 27 August 2008 (EDT)

Pages 187-192 "West Africa before the Colonial Era" - Basil Davidson. It discusses the pre-existing trade between Europe and West Africa (which goes against Andy's premise that there was no Euro/African leg.

Try which is the British National Maritime Museum. Perhaps someone a little closer than I am can actually have a look...I'm 12,000 miles away or thereabouts.

Check out the journal of John Newton - yes, he who wrote "Amazing Grace" - published by Spurrell, London 1962.

Andy's premise is that that the Europe-Africa leg "doesn't make sense because at the time Africa was not a significant market for finished goods." Why then were there numerous European forts and "factories" built along the West African coast - starting fom as far back as the mid-15th century when the Portuguese started bringing slaves into Europe - if not for trade? As soon as the enormous market in the Caribbean, Brazil etc. was created then the trade was expanded to across the Atlantic. And who were the traders? Not Brazilians or the Spanish colonists. Europeans. Based in Europe, where they raised the capital or royal patronage, or both. The first leg of the three had been there a century before the "middle passage" became , well, the middle passage.

I am in no way denying that Americans - north south or middle - did not trade backwards and forwards across the Atlantic; and as the years passed and manufacturing industries grew in the New World this trade took over. But if we deny that the Europeans traded with West Africa because there was no market for finished goods, then (a) what did they buy the slaves bound for Europe/North Africa with before the triangular trade began? (Or is Andy denying that that existed too?)(b) what did the colonists use as tender for their slave purchases if it was a straight two-way trade? (If there was no market in Africa for European goods, why was there one for American items?) and (c)why were there so many European forts, factories (in its original sense of the word) and other trading sites from Senegal to Angola... the ruins of some of which are still there? Remember, these African territories were not invaded - these places were usually rented from the local ruler - some dating from before Columbus.

Gotta have breakfast. I'll see if I can get to my "local" little library today. But I do want to know on what basis Andy changed his mind. If it is mainly because the Europe/Africa leg doesn't make sense, then I am afraid that, um, doesn't make sense. AlanE 17:29, 27 August 2008 (EDT)

"It doesn't make sense because at the time Africa was not a significant market for finished goods."

Then what, pray tell, was being exchanged for slaves at forts such as Elmina and others of its ilk? AliceBG 19:40, 1 September 2008 (EDT)

Thank you Alice! I was beginning to think no one cared about this...

Andy...please see the CP articles on: Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, and every other West African nation you can think of. They are all copied and pasted from (I assume) the CIA factbook site, and their History sections all mention the setting up of trading posts by European nations. Also, please check out:

Please reconsider your is a complete reversion of what has been unquestioned non-ideological historical orthodoxy; and there is more evidence for very heavy Europe-Africa trade than you can poke a stick at. Ghana's Parliament actually sits in a castle built as a trading post. AlanE 21:17, 1 September 2008 (EDT)

It is unlikely that anything was being sold. These products would've been traded to Islamic tribes for slaves. As Islam moved out of the Middle East and into Africa they were enslaving the tribes they conquered. The conquered peoples were in turn the ones who ended up in the Caribbean. Much has been written about the fact that the Europeans used to simply wait at the shore and the slaves would be brought to them. There may have been some slave raids, but they would have been uncommon. Progressingamerica (talk) 14:18, 1 June 2019 (EDT)

Denial of the triangular trade

Alan, I think we have to consider what implications are generally drawn from the idea that there was a triangular trade based on Americans buying African slaves. I can think of two extremes, but I don't know enough to tell which is closer to the truth:

  1. White Americans are the worst people, because they bought slaves from Africa and exploited them terribly.
  2. Most Africans were enslaved by their own people or by Muslims, so the real villains are the uncivilized African tribes and the Islamic civilization.

Can you help me find the middle ground between these extreme views? --Ed Poor Talk 09:04, 1 December 2008 (EST)

Ed...I will do what I can, but give me a day to collect my thoughts...and bear in mind that I belong to a breed that is generally non-judgemental historically, so that if I say here, or on any other page or on any facet of pre-20th century history, that the Americans did that, or the Brits did this, or the Portuguese were this (or that) I am not laying blame, nor following any ideological path. I am not a scholar as such, just an extremely well-read person with a curious mind (though the memory for detail is starting to go.)
(I now have to get a bit of other history onto site. By the way, it's quarter to five in the morning here, and I am not yet fully functional.) AlanE 12:48, 1 December 2008 (EST)
Random thought...middle passage can mean the second leg of the three voyages making up the "triangular trade"...... Or .... Though I have never seen the term used in an Atlantic context, I have seen references to a "middle passage" in the Indian Ocean...where they stood out from the South African coast, passed well to the east of Madagascar and sailed more or less diagonally north east to India or Ceylon instead of the Portuguese route up the coast of Africa and across the Arabian Sea using the monsoon, or the Dutch way across to just shy of West Aust, using the "Roaring Forties" then up. So a middle passage in the slave trade context could be the middle passage from Africa to the Caribbean; not the north passage to North America, or the southern route to Brazil. I know I could be arguing against my own case but that's me. (I now have to leave for the morning or longer...Christmas shopping with wife...may not be back 'til after 4PM when I am locked out.) AlanE 16:50, 1 December 2008 (EST)

Ed...Sorry to be so long. Health ain’t what it used to be…. Re the two "extremes; think of the context.

(1) If white Americans are “the worst people” then they are in a dead heat for “worst” with most of the peoples of Western Europe. Right into the 19th century the large majority of ships carrying slaves across the Atlantic would have been owned by Europeans (increasingly English until about 1800), and whose home ports were Liverpool, Bristol, Nantes, L’Orient, Lisbon, Cadiz, Amsterdam, and other places as far north as the Baltic.

Until the “Enlightenment”, Christianity was never really a major force against the institution of slavery itself, more a moderator of its conditions. That the numbers of slaves fell in the Middle Ages is as much to do with their being replaced by serfs as anything. (A statistic that has stuck in my mind about the 1080s Domesday Book is that it recorded 25,000 slaves (servii) in England - about a quarter of the number of those listed as serfs (villeins)) - and one modern historian mentions 10% of the population, but he may have been including villeiny.) When Christianity reached the Scandinavians in the years around 1000 A.D. it made not a blind bit of difference to the frequency, and severity of their raids on England, nor to their slave trading up and down the rivers of eastern and central Europe. (The people there are still called “Slavs”.)

We look at things with modern sensibilities – the foundations of the Atlantic slave trade were built at a time when the criminal codes of most of the Christian nations allowed extreme torture as an instrument of both enquiry and punishment. (I’m not talking “waterboarding” here, but fire, and the crushing of bones.) The Inquisition and all that that implies was at its height. A relatively minor infraction in England could land you in Virginia (or later, in New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land) for seven years, or in France, seven years chained to an oar in the galleys. Both were a form of slavery. Man’s inhumanity to man was, in most places, a given.

The Americans were no better or no worse than most western Europeans. It has to be seen in the context of its time.

(2) It is true that nearly all African slaves that were shipped to the Americas were bought from other Africans. The Europeans very very rarely caught their own cargo. It is also true that many slaves were traded by Muslims. The likelihood of that increased the more north the transaction. When the trans-Atlantic slave trade began the southern-most extent of Islam was a wavy line across Africa from present day Guinea Bissau to above Ethiopia, before hurtling down the east coast. It never got much further except for various periods in various kingdoms in the hinterland of the Guinea coast. It rarely touched the coast. Naturally, Islam had nothing to do with slaves traded in what is now the Congo and Angola regions. When the Europeans arrived on these coasts (see Portuguese Exploration of West Africa during the second half of the 15th century, slaves were an intrigal and inevitable result of the almost non-stop inter-tribal, inter-ethnic warfare in the area. Slavery was a part of society like it had been in north-west Europe in the middle ages…prisoners of war became slaves (if allowed to live) and a slave raid was as good a venture as any other for a nice profit. (Remember, St Patrick went to Ireland as a slave.)

That’s about as much leaning forward as I can do this morning…I hope it gives you something to think about. Cheers AlanE 17:33, 6 December 2008 (EST)

Um, thanks, I think. You did give me something to think about, but all gloomy thoughts. :-( Mind if I copy some or all of your remarks to a History of slavery article? --Ed Poor Talk 18:01, 6 December 2008 (EST)
I didn't mean to make you gloomy, though the idea crossed my mind as I was reading the "Preview" that some of the comments may be thought of as anti-Christian. It is a sad fact of history unfortunately .... . It also crossed my mind that I should do a history of slavery article (or add to the current Slave Trade one. I think my remarks above would need some editing, or at least made a bit more formal. But be my guest. AlanE 18:22, 6 December 2008 (EST)
My mood stems only from the reflection that so many people have enslaved so many others. My gloom is lifted by the reflection that it was British Christians who abolished slavery first (around 1805?) and that American Christians could complete the abolitionist task a mere 6 or 7 decades later. Pretty good for a ragtag bunch of former colonists: we through off the yoke of foreign domination, fight a Civil War, and then free our slaves. For an encore, we win two world wars and defeat Communism. Oh, I'm not gloomy at all. What will we do next? I can hardly wait! --Ed Poor Talk 18:39, 6 December 2008 (EST)
I will be uncommonly diplomatic and not comment.:)AlanE 18:54, 6 December 2008 (EST)

Were there ever any 3-leg trips?

  1. Instead of being a simple three-legged route for any one vessel, then, the triangular path from England to Africa to America was in reality a general arrangement for the movement of goods, credits, and slaves around the Atlantic world, often with different ships running different legs of the route. [1]
  2. It should be said here that not all ships made this giant triangular trip. Many ships did no more than sail back and forth from America to Africa and vice versa or from England to Afria and vice versa. The description of the Triangluar Trade deals more with the goods as a whole. [2]

See above two quotes. --Ed Poor Talk 11:20, 12 August 2009 (EDT)


Triangular trade is not only historic; it still exists.

Secondly, you're map is incorrect and misleading. Most African slaves were shipped to Brazil - the shortest route. The inaccurate Anglo-centric map likely stems from the Frankfurt school and the "blame America crowd". RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 11:11, 14 May 2019 (EDT)

Yes, I believe only 5% of the slaves bought by the Europeans in Africa (they were originally enslaved by Africans of rival tribes) actually went to the Thirteen Colonies -- the rest went elsewhere, mainly Spanish and Portuguese holdings. --1990'sguy (talk) 11:14, 14 May 2019 (EDT)
Added a more accurate map from the National Archives. Also added statistics to show that it was the Monarchs who primarily conducted this trade. Progressingamerica (talk) 14:08, 1 June 2019 (EDT)
That National Archives map again totally disregards Brazil, which is the destination where the vast majority were sent. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in the 16th century the majority of the Western Hemisphere population were Native and African, with few whites. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 22:21, 1 June 2019 (EDT)
We will have to buy a licence for Photoshop, then, and create one. Progressingamerica (talk) 21:33, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
Watch this two minute interactive map from Slate magazine. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 21:41, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
I think that would be a copyright infringement to upload that to our pages. Progressingamerica (talk) 21:48, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
According to this map, 5 million went to Brazil, 4.5 million went to the West Indies, and 500,000 to North America. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 21:51, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
Yes, I already have similar information such as that (without a map) in the main article which shows basically the same thing. I think you and I are largely in agreement. I would say you should upload that map. But I think that too would be copyright. Progressingamerica (talk) 21:57, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
Done. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 22:09, 3 August 2019 (EDT)

It seems like we might be having two discussions here. One for the need of a better map. The other, about who is to blame. Yes, the concept of "triangular trade" has been weaponized for use against America. But the facts simply don't stand up to scrutiny. Was there a triangle trade? There sure was - by Europe. The guys we wanted to declare independence from cause they didn't treat us any better. It's a complete indictment of Europe's monarchs of the time that this triangle occurred. All we have to do is tell the truth about the matter. The article you provided from Slate and this other map once again proves this point. Progressingamerica (talk) 22:04, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
I wish it were that easy to finger "the bad guys". European governments sanctioned the trade by naval enforcement of trade routes and legal systems to settle commercial disputes; the actual trade was between far flung colonial merchants. The manufactured goods, produced by private entities in, say, Great Britain, were distributed and sold to European colonialists in Africa who facilitated the procurement of slaves (often under local, tribal law and customs); the slaves off-loaded in the Americas then were often sold for tobacco, rum, later cotton and other raw materials. Much of the tobacco and rum ended up back in Africa for purchase of more slaves. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 22:28, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
This article, the Rum Trade contrains a pretty simple straight forward explanation of Triangular Trade; however this article, the Molasses Trade, from the same source, contains a glaring error. It reads,
New England traders carried rum to Africa in exchange for slaves.
The first article reads,
The New England colonies soon came into conflict with Great Britain over the rum trade as traders found it more profitable to deal with the French, Dutch, and Spanish...
who did the actual transport of rum from New England to Africa, traded rum for slaves in Africa, and returned with slaves to the West Indies, from there transported molasses to new England.
The North America colonies did not have their own ocean-going ships that could run a British naval blockade in order to carry on blackmarket trade and violate British tax laws; the colonies were in fact still part of the British Empire. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 22:55, 3 August 2019 (EDT)
In sum, "triangular" describers North American involvement; it would however be a mistake to say 10 million plus were part of "triangular trade." Much of the trade was bilateral, particularly among the Portuguese, who sailed back and forth between Africa and Brazil, making no stops in the Caribbean or North America. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 23:36, 3 August 2019 (EDT)

So, the actual routes were...

  • Gold Coast to the West Indies carrying slaves;
  • West Indies carrying molasses to North America;
  • North America to Gold Coast carrying rum.
  • North America was never more than 5% of the global slave trade;
  • European manufactured goods (other than ships) played little or no part in Triangular Trade.
  • The bulk of north American rum was carried by Dutch and French traders.

As written, from the Intro on, the article needs an overhaul. It reads like a typical anti-American, anti-capitalist, Marxist screed right now. RobSDeep Six the Deep State! 01:18, 4 August 2019 (EDT)