What was the Triangular Trade?
Triangular trade is a historical term indicating trade between three ports or regions. Three sides of a triangle, so trade between three ports or regions. Triangular trade is a term that is often mentioned whenever discussing the economy of the North American colonies. Once England, France, and Spain started posting colonies in North America, then the Spanish Armada was defeated and France and England fought over them.
Then, England became the sole proprietor of the colonies of North America. At that point, there were several colonies that were well established and were ready to trade and had been trading for some time. A triangular trade route developed. From North America, from the colonies, they would send rum. They would send rum to Africa. In Africa, that rum was traded for gold or slaves. Then, the gold and slaves were taken to the West Indies.
Slaves were traded for sugar, molasses, or money in the West Indies. Those same traders traveled back to the North American colonies with sugar and molasses, which the colonists made into more rum. It was a triangular cycle they continued for several years. Sometimes slaves did make their way to North America. By 1619, slaves had started to arrive into the colonies to help farm the different plantations that were growing there.
Our primary export from the West Indies in this triangular trade route was the sugar and molasses, which made war rum, which could be traded to Africa. This triangular trade route went on for a good long while. This trade triangle violated the Molasses Act of 1733, which required the colonists to pay high duties, or taxes, to England for molasses acquired from other countries. If they had any molasses or sugar coming in, the colonists were supposed to pay a tax on that to England over here.
The colonists, they ignored these duties. They said, “England’s way over there. They have no part in this, so we’re not going to pay them taxes or duties on this sugar and molasses coming in. Why should we pay them for this molasses? They had no part in getting it here.” They had to pay for it or trade rum for more molasses, but they didn’t have to pay England even though there was a law, The Molasses Act of 1733 telling them they had to, there was no one there really to enforce it.
The British government did not enforce these duties. No one enforced them. It was like people were saying, “You have to do this,” but no one was there to enforce it. This was known as the policy of salutary neglect. Basically, England kept coming up with more and more rules, and telling the colonists, “You have to follow these rules. You have to follow these rules. We have declare you pay taxes on this and that,” and that colonists just kept saying, “Yeah, okay.
That’s great. I’m not going to do any of that, because you’re not here to enforce it,” until eventually with the American Revolution, Britain started trying to enforce some of these rules and taxes. After this solitary neglect, the colonists were used to not having to pay these taxes and just hearing about them. They didn’t like being enforced, which is what spurred on the American Revolution.
Back to triangular trade. It’s when you have three different ports or regions that are exchanging goods in a triangular fashion. You see the rum is not going straight to the West Indies. Rum is only going to Africa. Slaves are going here, to the West Indies, and then the sugar and molasses is coming to North America. Each region has a different thing to offer that’s going to the next place.
By trading at each port something that is- trading for something else that is needed, all three ports have their needs met. That is the point of triangular trade, is for each port or region to give something into that trade route that the other two cannot provide. And so by doing that all three ports or regions have their needs met.
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Last updated: 09/18/2018