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An infamous conveyor belt of money between The Americas, Africa, and Europe. English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch plantations in the Americas provided products that were in great demand in Europe -- sugar, molasses, rum, tobacco, indigo. However, cheap labor was needed to work these plantations, and Africa was already providing a ready, if unwilling, supply. Captains eventually worked out the most profitable trade routes. Many different triangles arose, but the most infamous was the principal engine of the slave trade:

  • First leg: Ships would leave European ports carrying cloth, weapons, hardware, beads, and rum, bound for West Africa.
  • Second leg, the "Middle Passage": Captains would trade their goods for human cargo, pack people in the holds of their ships, and transport them to the Americas. Conditions on slave ships were brutal, and 15-20% of the captives died en route.
  • Third leg: Arriving in Brazil, the West Indies, or along the east coast of North America, captains would sell the trip's survivors1 and take on the cash crops that Europeans craved.
This horrific system started in the 1600's, and made fortunes for many London factors, many ship's captains, and many New World planters. Unlike the Spanish Plate Fleet carrying the loot of Spanish America home to Spain, the forced labor of millions of captives generated real wealth, the wealth that made the Industrial Revolution possible. Despite later laws prohibiting the slave trade, the system of Triangular Trade lasted up until the last two countries abolished slavery, the United States in 1865 and Brazil in 1888.
1Or pen them up in "barracoons" until the market could bear a better price.

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