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Slave Trade a Turning Point in the History of Business

Updated on January 31, 2012

History of business

What are the major points in history which changed the world of business to that which we see today? There are so many which I could have used but I am going to focus on the world events and how they effected business on a global scale. If you disagree or just want to add one which is worthy of adding then just leave a comment and we can discuss it and decide whether adding it would be appropriate.

This History of business is a complex one full of possible changes, I could have written about

  • 1650 Expansion of the slave trade
  • 1776/1789: US and French Revolutions
  • 1929 The great depression
  • Chandler and his effect on modern business

and many others, however I have decided to focus upon the slave trade and its affects on the global economy.

Slave Triangle trade route

Textiles, rum and manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, Slaves from Africa to Americas and luxury goods from Americas to Europe set up the triangle.
Textiles, rum and manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, Slaves from Africa to Americas and luxury goods from Americas to Europe set up the triangle. | Source

The Slavery Triangle: Changing the global Economy

The triangle was started as early as 1440 when African kings and merchants started trading enslaved people for goods imported from Europe. As time went on the numbers grew exponentially especially once manufactured goods started to be traded such as guns and ammunitions.

The slaves would then be transported on the second leg of the journey and would be exported on ships across the Atlantic to the Americas and the Caribbean. The final leg was the return of goods from the Americas and the Caribbean to Europe. The main goods included cototn, sugar, tobacco, rum and molasses.

Just as an aside Brazil, who were the main importer of slaves manufactured these goods in South America and traded directly with the African Kings and merchants so they were not part of the slave triangle trade.

Expansion of the Slave trade

The slave trade started around 1500, however it was from 1650 the slave trade really picked up and throughout the 17th Century it expanded very rapidly. It was one of the main factors which supported the growth of the Atlantic Economy both in the Americas and Europe. The map below shows the percentage of captives carried off by ports.The number of documented captives was 8,973,701, however it is expected that there were many more than that which remained undocumented.

Countries and regions in the Atlantic World where slave voyages were organized, by share of captives carried off from Africa
Countries and regions in the Atlantic World where slave voyages were organized, by share of captives carried off from Africa | Source

Slave Ships

Depiction of a Slave Ship being loaded in west Africa
Depiction of a Slave Ship being loaded in west Africa | Source

Vessels which left from the 7 major ports London, Nantes, Bristol, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Liverpool and Pernambuco carried off nearly three quarters of the just over 8 million slaves transported across the Atlantic. Over the course of the history it shifted from the Liberian peninsular moving northwards through Europe, then back south again. A similar thing happened in America from south to north then south again although this was much less pronounced.

But how did this effect global economy and business, well the slaves were utilised in a many ways which include but was not limited to: cheap labour soldiers and even teachers.

Using South America's plantation agriculture as an example. Trying to cultivate such labour intensive crops, such as tobacco, sugar and cotton, with your averagely paid workforce would have put these farms out of business. Slavery meant that the worlds demand for such luxury products was able to be met by slave drive supply.

Cotton Gin

Eli Whitney could not have predicted the effect his invention would have on the world.
Eli Whitney could not have predicted the effect his invention would have on the world. | Source

Slaves in Society

Slaves working in a cotton field
Slaves working in a cotton field | Source

Cotton: Driver of Slaves

Moving on through history the cotton trade had a massive impact on the economy and this was directly linked to slavery.

Cotton use to be produced in very limited amounts mainly due to the difficult and time intensive job of separating the seeds from the cotton fibres of the main plant variety which grew across the south/ However in 1794 Eli Whitney patented a machine called the Cotton Gin which meant the 23kg of cotton could be processed per machine per day. This had the effect of making the cotton industry extremely profitable.

Whitney died in 1825 and would never have guessed that this was one of the biggest reasons for such a massive increase in Slavery in the 19th Century America, by 1860 one in three southerners was a slave.

The expense of keeping a slave, clothed, housed and fed is estimated to be about half that which they produced and those who were 'prime field hands' being healthy and in there teens and early twenties were paid a lot more for but would produce 3 times the amount they cost, providing their masters with a great return on Investment. During the first half of the 19th century the cash crop prices rose and the cost of keeping the slaves remained constant. providing more and more incentive to get slave to work the fields. So much so that in some parts of the US slave population exceeded the american population by 70% see map below:

Slaves as a percentage of total population

1860 slaves as a % of total poplation as you can see many places on the east coast have  greater then 50% with many reaching over 70%.
1860 slaves as a % of total poplation as you can see many places on the east coast have greater then 50% with many reaching over 70%. | Source

This massive influx of cotton from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850 meant that the demand for textiles went through the roof, this forced development of textile machinery and better machine designs, which ultimately led to many of the nineteenth century machines. The cotton gin is also often cited as one of the main factors for starting the American Civil war, which also had a marked effect on the global economy and business.

African Merchants

Capt. William Bainbridge paying tribute to the Dey of Algiers. Gradually in the 18th century
Capt. William Bainbridge paying tribute to the Dey of Algiers. Gradually in the 18th century | Source

Effects of the slave trade on the African Economy

Firstly let me say there are many contrasting opinions on this and I am presenting the side which I think is most likely to be correct. The other side claim that the slave trade did not operate for a significant portion of Africa's history to have a marked effect on it's current economy. From the research I have done and reading some of the evidence available I believe it to have had a massive effect on the African economy.

Sadly for the African countries it could have been part of the cause of the lack of economic development, due to many factors including depopulation it is predicted that the population of Africa could be more than double it's current numbers due to the main export of slaves were males in the prime reproductive age. This would mean that the growth of the population would be slowed tremendously. We will never know how many were actually taken and there have been figures thrown around but it appears that minimum of 13 million would have been transported out of Africa.

Secondly most of the slaves were sold by African Kings and Merchants, who instead of demanding money often demanded goods, alcohol, weapons and ammunitions, this meant that instead of using the investment to build an economic country they lived a luxury lifestyle whilst the majority of the country were either traded as slaves to the Europeans, or to other Africans or they lived a very poverty ridden lifestyle.

This changed business by building world economy and trade routes, establishing a clear supply of luxury goods into Europe and America's and starting business owners (who were mainly land and mill owners at the time) to concentrate on finding cheap labour. It helped with the industrial revolution, by increasing demand and therefore the requirement for new machines, technology and manufacturing processes. It allowed Europe and America to invest heavily into building a large scale economic machine and aided in the advancement of these societies.

Below is a good three part video talking about the history of the slave trade.

African Economy stunted by slave trade?

Do you think the African Economic development was stunted by the Slave trade?

See results

History of Slave Trade Part 1

History of Slave Trade Part 2

History of Slave Trade part 3


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    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 

      5 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Why not cover modern slavery, from debt slavery in Pakistan to women trafficked as brides to China to Middle Eastern nations that hold construction workers and maids in slavery, confiscating papers and denying them pay?

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Thank you Saitam, glad you learnt something about the US side of Slavery.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • saitam profile image


      8 years ago from Lisbon

      Very good hub and complementary information about what I knew, since in Portugal we study the "triangle" of Portugal, Brazil and Africa, where the Portuguese where just traders and colonists.

      I did not know much about it in the US.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment. I agree that people will blame the opposite side. That is human nature.

      Slavery has been around since 1760BC ish so it's not a new thing, however that does not mean that it shouldn't be discussed, especially when it occurred for over 400 years. So in my opinion yes it is that important, it had a massive effect on the global economy and ramifications are still being felt today.

      Modern day slavery like any crime, if there is profit to be had it will continue and sadly people are just like any other resource to some people.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      8 years ago from Southern Clime

      People usually believe whatever version of anything they prefer. There have been so many stories told about the beginning of slavery in Europe and America. It seems that anyone wants to blame anyone as long as he is on the other side of the fence. Most of the negative things I have read about slavery involved treatment. It really does not matter at this late date. God knows it all. All of the ones involved are dead anyway.

      I am reminded of the bank robber who, when apprehended, pointed a finger at one of his partners and said, "He started it!" We know all about partners in crime and receiving stolen goods, and getting caught with hands in the cookie jar, and the whole nine yards. Everybody involved wants to prove their innocence. According to the media, slavery is still alive and well around us. One day this, too, will be a black mark against someone who will blame someone.

      If African kings and traders negotiated, their objects were slaves. So, we have a case of "Slaves vs. Slave traders, owners, and African kings." Some kings might have sold slaves, but all didn't. Everything written in print and researchable is not gospel, but some things are. Some documents are reliable, depending on sources, and some are unreliable.

      Some history has been deleted, omitted, and distorted so much that it might have earned a seat in the fiction genre.

      Many of our records are tainted, but God's are perfect. One day He will open the Books and read. I will be the one sitting in the corner, sweating and hoping that I get off with a pardon. :D My point is that we are all guilty of some terrible things.

      Some say that slaves did not provide wealth for America. If this is true, please tell me why slaves were hauled and sold across several centuries if not for riches? Those who promote this make people think of other sick reasons. (`_`)

      Seriously, does it matter now? Slavery of long ago was sick, but it is past time to heal, America! We need to focus on how to stop this modern-day slavery.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Healthy Pursuits thank you for your comment, indeed I think you may be correct there are a lot of children working for nothing or very very little.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Thanks for a very good hub. The tally of slaves being held today would be much higher if children were more carefully counted.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      It is indeed absolutely abhorable that people value the dollar over human worth. I mean it was inevitable that people and business would profit, I mean a commenter above was talking about how the captains of the ships would make two stops one with extra slaves to line their own pockets and then the official stops for the companies and states. It is sickening practice, however has happened throughout history and whilst we live in a capitalistic world will continue to occur.

      I agree they are sickening to look back on and I actually think it could be worse now, a lot of the slave trade sex and drug related and the people are taken without their consent force fed drugs to lower resistance and get them hooked then force them into the industry they have been forced into working be it prostitution, drug dealing or whatever.

      You are very welcome and I hope you enjoyed.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      It is just appalling how finding and (ab)using slave laborers has managed to create huge profits for the business world over our history. And that humans felt (feel) it is okay to place other humans under such strain for the sake of their own monetary well-being. When the dollar outweighs the worth of a human, something has gone seriously wrong. Slavery and genocide are a sickening thing to look upon, throughout history as well as in current times. Thanks for gathering so much information and placing it in one convenient location.



    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Indeed that is true the first written record is circa 1760BC and stated that death was prescribed for anyone who helped a slave to escape and was written in the code of Hammurabi. Slavery would not really have occurred in hunter gatherer populations as it is a sign of social stratification and because it requires a mass population and economic surplus to be viable.

      I don't think we'll ever completely abolish it, where there is money to be made people will do these things.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      To my knowledge in all recorded history there has been slavery and slave trade. The American Indians had slaves before the "white man" ever arrived. I do agree that in this enlightened age they still exist. Rome at one time was considered an enlightened age and slavery existed more so than today, so we are gaining on it.

      Thanks for SHARING

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Hi Simone, indeed it is sad, Indeed slavery is now outlawed in every country which is good, but estimates put the current number of people in slavery today somewhere between 12 and 27 million. A lot of these are in forced labour and human trafficking. It is a very sobering and sad thought of all those people suffering. Thank you :)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      It's sad to think how much slavery has been tied into the history of business. Heck, it's sad to think that there is STILL a lot of slavery in the world, though at least it is, for the most part, not legally condoned. Thanks for sharing your research- it was an interesting read!

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Hi wheelinallover thank you for taking the time to comment, indeed this is true which is why i stated the recorded figure and then said this will likely be much higher. I have read estimates of around 300million in some papers however, I went with the figures that were around at the time, my personal feeling is it will be more in the region of 30-40 million people.

      Indeed there were a lot of deaths and there were also a lot of people lining their own pockets which I also think has a nice simile with today's business and internet profiteering. It doesn't surprise me that the ships may have landed twice and from my reading the black market trade in slaves was very active.

      We will never know the exact number of people placed into slavery and I also think it would make foe a very sad figure.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Any time you remove a large amount of reproductive males from a population the birth rate will be reduced. The actual number of people removed from Africa would be higher than you estimated. The accounting practices of the day we not the best and many captains only accounted for the people delivered alive. Others would take more than they accounted for to line their own pockets.

      I don't know where my father got this information but know history was one of his passions. He wondered why the ship masters numbers and the American (North,Central,and South) population didn't match. When the deaths aboard ship were taken into account the number should have been much lower. He found information that ships would land twice in America, on the first landing they would off load the "extras" then go on to where they were to land with the correct number.

      He said in the end it wasn't unlike other times in history when slavery flourished. When people want cheap labor someone has always provided, and the numbers never matched.

    • dipless profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Manchester

      Alocsin, thank you for commenting, It wasn't necessarily the Africans who instigated it, it was started by the Europeans, but they appealed to the greed of the African Kings and Merchants, to shall we say ease the trade. The Africans did soon start following suit and enslave there own people too. Glad you enjoyed.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Interesting analysis of the slave trade. I did not know that it was the Africans themselves who initiated this slavery businesses, so that was an eye opener. Voting this Up and Interesting.


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