Triangular Trade

English Ships at Bristol

English Ships at Bristol
The main Triangular Trade ports in Britain were Liverpool, London and Bristol.

This article on Triangular Trade of Colonial America provides facts and information about:

  • The Triangular Trade
  • The Triangular Trade Routes
  • The exchange of goods
  • Goods sent from the colonies
  • Goods brought into the colonies
  • The Slave Trade
  • An overview of the Triangular Trade with facts, information and a map of the Triangular Trade routes
American Colonies Index
Colonization, Trade & Colonialism
MercantilismSalutary Neglect

History of trade, plantations, colonialism and colonization in the 13 Colonies

Triangular Trades: Colonialism, Triangular Trade, Mercantilism, Trade, Industries and Plantations

Definition of the Triangular Trade
The Meaning and Definition the Triangular Trade: The 'Triangular Trade' was so-called because it was three-sided, involving voyages from:

  • England to Africa
  • Africa to the Americas
  • The Americas back to England

The Triangular Trade is a term used to describe the trade occurring between England, Africa, and the Americas. The trade fell into the three categories:

  • The raw materials and natural resources such as sugar, tobacco, rice and cotton that were found in the 13 colonies - also refer to Colonialism
  • Manufactured products from England and Europe such as guns, cloth, beads
  • Slaves from West Africa, many of whom toiled in the Slave Plantations

Triangular Trade Route Map

Triangular Trade Route Map

Triangular Trade - A Journey with various Destinations
The Transatlantic Triangular Trade involved three journeys each with the promise of a large profit and a full cargo.  In reality, the journey was more complicated with ships travelling from all over Europe carrying manufactured goods to different ports along the African coast to trade for slaves. The ships from Africa then sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Americas to trade the slaves for raw materials. Finally the ships from America returned back to Europe with raw materials such as sugar, tobacco, rice and cotton.

Definition of Imports and Exports
Definition of Exports and Imports: Exports are goods sent for sale outside a colony or country. Exported goods earn money. Imports are goods brought into a colony or country. Imported goods cost money. The system of Triangular Trade allowed for goods to be traded for other goods, rather than being bought or sold.

Triangular Trade - Trade is the Word
The triangular trade routes were pivotal to the practise of Mercantilism by England by which colonies had one main purpose: to enrich the parent country (England). The premise of Trade was that the different regions would trade goods that they had in abundance in exchange for those goods which were needed but lacking in their own region. Money did not change hands.

John Hawkins Slave Ship

John Hawkins Slave Ship

Triangular Trade - The Slave Trade
Slavery had existed in Africa since ancient times. Enslaved Africans became part of the international trade network of the period used extensively by the Spanish and the Portuguese in the Americas. The English became involved with the Slave Trade and the pattern of Triangular Trade across the Atlantic was formed. Sir John Hawkins is often considered to be the pioneer of the British slave trade, because he was the first to run the Triangular trade route across the Atlantic, making a profit at every stop.

  • Leg 1: Ships from England would go to Africa carrying iron products, cloth, trinkets and beads, guns and ammunition. The ships traded these goods for slaves, gold and spices (pepper)
  • Leg 2: Ships from Africa would go to the American Colonies via the route known as the 'Middle Passage'. The slaves were exchanged for goods from the Americas, destined for the Slave Plantations
  • Leg 3: Ships from the Americas would then take raw materials back to England. The English would use the raw materials to make 'finished goods'
  • And the same process would start all over again...

Slave Trade starting in Africa

The Slave Trade starting in Africa

Triangular Trade - Goods from England
The goods that needed to be brought into the colonies from England included manufactured products such as guns, cloth, furniture and tools. Other items such as tea and spices were also sent to the colonies.

Triangular Trade - Goods to Africa
The goods that needed to be brought from England to Africa included iron products, cloth, trinkets and beads, copper, guns and ammunition.

Triangular Trade - Goods from Africa
Slaves were the most important 'commodity' sent from Africa. Other goods were exported from Africa including spices, gold, ivory and feathers - but these items were destined for Europe via other trade routes.

Triangular Trade - Goods to England
The goods that needed to be brought into England from the colonies consisted of raw materials from natural resources found in the New World such as timber, fur, iron, fish, whale oil, sugar, tobacco, rice and cotton. Rum was one of the few 'finished goods' that were sent to England.

Triangular Trade - The Trade Routes
Triangular trade is a term that describes the Atlantic trade routes between three different destinations, or countries, in Colonial Times. The Triangular Trade routes, covered England, Europe, Africa, the Americas and the West Indies. The West Indies supplied slaves, sugar, molasses and fruits to the American colonies. The Triangular Trade Routes included the following:

  • Trade Route 1:  England to Africa to the Americas
  • Trade Route 2:  England to Africa to the West Indies
  • Trade Route 3:  Europe to the West Indies to the Americas
  • Trade Route 4: Americas to the West Indies to Europe

Triangular Trade - Goods traded by the 13 Colonies
Triangular Trade was made possible by the establishment of the 13 Colonies in Colonial America and their surplus of raw materials. The following chart indicates the natural resources and raw materials, together with goods that were manufactured in the colonies, that were used for trading purposes with England. These goods included  timber, sugar fur, cotton, flour, iron ore products, tobacco, rice, indigo dye, fish, guns, ammunition. wool and rum. The following chart shows the main trade goods from each of the 13 Colonies for comprehensive facts and info refer to Colonial Times.

Chart showing Goods traded by the 13 Colonies

New England Colonies   Middle Colonies   Southern Colonies 
Name of Colony
or Settlement
RegionTrade and Economic Activity
Virginia ColonySouthernCorn, Flax, Tobacco & Sugar
New York ColonyMiddleFur Trade, Flour, Timber, Iron ore products
Massachusetts ColonyNew
Ship building, Rum exports, Fish, Whale products, Fur, Wool
Maryland ColonySouthernFish, Timber, Fur, Tobacco & Sugar
Rhode Island ColonyNew
Ship building, Rum exports, Timber, Corn
Connecticut ColonyNew
Ship building, Flour, Fish, Rum
New Hampshire ColonyNew
Ship building, Rum exports
Delaware ColonyMiddleFur, timber, Iron ore products
North Carolina ColonySouthernRice, Indigo, Tobacco & Sugar
South Carolina ColonySouthernIndigo, Rice, Tobacco & Sugar
New Jersey ColonyMiddleAgriculture, Iron ore products
Pennsylvania ColonyMiddleAgriculture, Iron ore products
Georgia ColonySouthernTobacco, Cotton & Sugar
Name of ColonyRegionTrade, Economic Activity

Chart showing Goods traded by the 13 Colonies

Triangular Trade - Navigation Acts
The Navigation Acts stated that Colonial exports had to be transported in English ships and that all Colonial imports had to first pass through English ports - whether the goods were for England or another country in Europe. The English policy of Salutary Neglect initially allowed the colonists to flout, or violate, the laws associated with trade. But after the French Indian Wars Britain needed to clear her massive war debts so trade laws were enforced and new taxes on goods were imposed on the American colonies.

Triangular Trade - A Favorable Balance of Trade
Triangular Trade, coupled with the policy of Mercantilism, provided a “favorable balance of trade” so that gold and silver would not flow out of England to purchase raw materials and food from the colonies. Neither would gold and silver flow out of the colonies for much needed manufactured goods. However, Colonists brought in much more than they sent out so, the balance of trade was in England's favor. England also prospered because the raw materials from the colonies were used to make different products in England - finished goods have a higher value than raw materials. Add to this the duties (taxes) collected by England on goods imposed by the Navigation Acts, the Sugar Act, the Townshend Acts and the Tea Act it becomes clear why the American Revolution was inevitable.

The End of the Triangular Trade in the Colonies
The Triangular Trade ended in the 1800's. The reasons the Triangular Trade ended were:

  • The introduction of steam powered ships which meant Atlantic trade was not dependent on the trade winds
  • The American Revolution
  • The Abolition of Slavery

Triangular Trade

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