Triangular Trade

Triangular trade is the term used to describe the economic cycle in which Slavery formed a key role. It is so named as there are three centres in which trading took part: Western Europe; Western Africa and the Americas. Trade saw goods made in countries such as Great Britain taken to Africa for sale. In Africa slaves were bought. These were then transported across the Atlantic and sold to plantation owners. The ships then completed the triangle by returning to British ports with produce made by Plantations. A healthy profit was possible at each stage of the triangle and it spurred economic growth and consumerism in Britain. The conditions in the plantations and on the Atlantic crossing were often appalling and could prove deadly.

Triangular Trade

Triangular Trade in theory worked quite simply. With each location having goods, a trade seems likely. However, by the late 18th century this was not the case.

By the end of the third quarter of the century the sugar and
cotton trades had become so specialised that the old concept
of a Triangular Trade needs considerable qualification. Comparatively
few slave-ships returned to Liverpool fully laden
with West India goods. Profits were made on quick runs, not in
hanging about in search of cargo. Thus the slave-ships returned
with bills of exchange drawn on the London commission houses
who dealt in West India produce, plus some special orders.


This source is from a biographical essay on Liverpool and the Slave Trade. It is based on the records of the docks at Liverpool and the various Slave Trading Ports. It shows that Triangular Trade was far more complex than is often portrayed.

The British Empire – Making of the United Kingdom – Economic Consequences of the British Empire– How did the Empire affect Great Britain? – Society changes: Political Thought and the British Empire – Questions about the British Empire – British Empire Teaching Resources