The Triangle of Trade

Beginning in the 16th century and lasting until the earlier years of the 19th century, a relationship based upon trade formed across the Atlantic Ocean, prompted mainly by the slave trade. The parties involved were Africa, America, and Europe, and just like during the Columbian Exchange, there was a diffusion not only of cultural elements and goods, but of disease and suffering. Africa was the continent most negatively impacted by the Triangle of Trade, as it came to be known due to the trade routes that formed a triangle in the ocean. America and Europe, however, saw more positive outcomes as a result of this triangular relationship. 

What each continent received was a bit different depending on the source of the goods. Europe sent manufactured goods, textiles, and luxuries such as rum to Africa. In Africa, men, women, and children were kidnapped and sold into slavery.

These enslaved people then forced to endure a brutal three-month journey to America on what is now known as the Middle Passage. America sent raw materials such as sugar, cotton, lumber, furs, and tobacco to Europe, and on and on the cycle continued. 

Though each continent had something to gain in these transactions - either through goods or through property in the form of slaves - there were also undeniably important impacts of engaging in these trade agreements. Millions of Africans were captured and sent not only to America, but to different locations around the world as slaves. Wars also tended to break out on the continent between groups of people, and it became especially contentious when various African groups began conducting raids to capture and sell people for a profit. 

In America, the price of this trade relationship was paid by the Native Americans, as diseases spread throughout their tribes. With the influx of foreign peoples to the country, different bacteria were brought in, much of which the Native Americans’ bodies could not fight off. The plantation economy also developed as a result of the institution of slavery. Furthermore, a strict social hierarchy went into effect, pitting races and groups of people against one another. Europeans, mixed people, natives, and the enslaved all suddenly pertained to a specific rank in society. 

Europe derived great wealth from the Triangle of Trade, and saw a diffusion of not only European cultural customs, but of people as well. They were known to have spread weapons across the regions, especially to their trade partners on the African continent.


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