Depiction of the classical model of the Triangular trade.
, or Triangle
, is a historical term indicating trade
among three ports or regions. Triangular trade
usually evolves when a region has export
commodities that are not required in the region from which its
come. Triangular trade thus
provides a mechanism for rectifying trade imbalances between these
best-known triangular trading system is the Transatlantic
Triangular Trade, that operated during the 17th, 18th and early
19th centuries, carrying slaves, cash crops, and manufactured goods
between West Africa, the Caribbean or America colonies and the
European colonial powers, with the northern
colonies of British North
America, especially New England, sometimes taking over the role of
Atlantic triangular trade
The use of African slaves was fundamental to growing colonial
, which were exported to Europe.
European goods, in turn, were used to purchase African slaves,
which were then brought on the sea lane
west from Africa to the Americas, the so called middle passage
A classic example would be the trade of sugar
(often in its liquid form, molasses
the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into
rum, some of which was then used to purchase new slaves in West
Diagram illustrating the stowage of
African slaves on a British slave ship.
The trade represented a profitable enterprise for merchants and
investors. The business was risky, competitive and severe, but
fetched a high price at
auctions, making the trade in human cargo a lucrative business
The first leg of the triangle was from a European port to Africa,
in which ships carried supplies for sale and trade, such as
. When the slave ship
arrived, its cargo would be sold or bartered for slaves, who were
tightly packed like any other cargo to maximize profits.
On the second leg, ships made the journey of the Middle Passage
from Africa to the New World
. Once the slave
reached the New World, enslaved survivors were sold in the
Caribbean or the Americas.
The ships were then prepared to get them thoroughly cleaned,
drained, and loaded with export goods for a return voyage, the
third leg, to their home port. From the West Indies the main export cargoes
were sugar, rum, and molasses; from Virginia, commodities
were tobacco and hemp.
The ship then returned to Europe
to complete the triangle.
However, because of several disadvantages that slave ships faced
compared to other trade ships, they often returned to their home
port carrying whatever goods were readily available in the Americas
and filled up a large part or all of their capacity with ballast.
Other disadvantages include the different form of the ships (to
carry as many humans as possible, but not ideal to carry a maximum
amount of produce) and the variations in the duration of a slave
voyage, making it practically impossible to pre-schedule
appointments in the Americas, which meant that slave ships often
arrived in the Americas out-of-season. Instead, the cash crops were
transported mainly by a separate fleet which only sailed from
Europe to the Americas and back. The Triangular trade is a trade
model, not an exact description of the ship's route.
New England also benefited from the trade, as many merchants
were from New England, especially Rhode Island, replacing the role of Europe
in the triangle. New England also made rum
from the Caribbean sugar and molasses, which it shipped to Africa as well as
within the New World.
'triangle trade' as considered in relation to New England was a
piecemeal operation. No New England traders are known to have
completed a full sequential circuit of the triangle, which took a
calendar year on average, according to historian Clifford Shipton
who, after years of
sifting through New England shipping records, could not find a
single instance of a ship completing the full triangle as described
The concept of the New England Triangular trade was first
suggested, inconclusively, in an 1866 book by George H. Moore, was
picked up in 1872 by historian George C. Mason, and reached full
consideration from a lecture in 1887 by American businessman and
historian William B. Weeden. Although the Slave Trade was banned in
1807 American involvement in the clandestine trade to Cuba and
Brazil was continued up to the time of the American Civil
Other triangular trades
The term "triangular trade" also refers to a variety of other
- About.com: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Accessed 6 November 2007.
- National Maritime Museum - Triangular Trade.
Accessed 26 March 2007.
- Scotland and the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
Accessed 28 March 2007.
- A. P. Middleton, Tobacco Coast.
- Emmer, P.C.: The Dutch in the Atlantic Economy, 1580-1880.
Trade, Slavery and Emancipation. Variorum Collected Studies Series
Island Slavery History. Accessed 15 December 2007.
- Curtis, Wayne. and a Bottle of Rum. New York: Three
Rivers Press, 2006-2007. ISBN 978-0-307-33862-4. page 117.
- Curtis, Wayne. and a Bottle of Rum. New York: Three
Rivers Press, 2006-2007. ISBN 978-0-307-33862-4. page 119.
- Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed
the World. New York: Walker, 1997. ISBN 0-8027-1326-2.
- Morgan, Kenneth. Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the
Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1993. ISBN 0521330173. Pages 64–77.
- Chris Evans and Göran Rydén, Baltic Iron in the Atlantic
World in the Eighteenth Century : Brill, 2007 ISBN