Triangular Trade Essay Question


A Guided History by Felipe Chamon


With New World exploration becoming more prominent, it had to be more profitable. When Europeans discovered that tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton could easily be transported across the Atlantic, Europeans realized that they could market these goods, especially because these products were difficult to get in Europe. This led to the need for more slaves, as these crops were very physically demanding to produce, which prompted to the creation of the transatlantic slave trade. The slave trade provided to be very successful for Europe, specifically France and England, as their profits from the New World skyrocketed and helped with starvation.

The current research on this topic includes discussions on the transatlantic slave trade, the benefits Europe received from the slave trade, the triangular trade, the impact the trading would have on slavery in the future, the harsh conditions the slaves faced during their journeys and in the New World, and the transportation itself. The sources below include primary sources, secondary sources, maps, vignettes, and definitions. It was the most difficult to locate primary sources, especially in comparison to secondary sources.


Jeimer Vos. “Voyages and Applied History.” Database. Voyages, 2007.

In this source, the author explains the importance of the database it is found on, which is devoted to providing resources on the transatlantic slave trade. The author also says that knowing more about this subject is important as well. In it, the author discusses that through a study directed by LaSalle Bank Corporation, historians were able to trace a connection between African slavery in America to the ancestors of modern Dutch banks. Through this discovery, historians were able to find more information about the transatlantic slave trade in general. This source is not very in depth, so it would not be best to focus on it much, but it could be used to explain the importance of studying the transatlantic slave trade.


“Slave Trade.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed April 25, 2017.

This source provides background information on slave trading in general. It discusses early instances of slave trading, such as with the Iranians, before citing a few noteworthy historical examples of slave trading. The last section discusses the transatlantic slave trade and how slaves were traded in the Caribbean for the rum that would be traded to get more slaves in Africa. This source also briefly touches on sex slavery. This source is a great place to start, but it should not be referenced multiple times, as there is not much information.

“Transatlantic Slave Trade | Slavery.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed April 25, 2017.

This source gives a broad explanation of the transatlantic slave trade, hitting many key points. It discusses the origins, stating that it was created for a triangular trade, in which Europe gave Africa textiles so that Africa could give the New World slaves so that in turn, the slaves could provide the sugar and other products that were very labor-intensive to get for the Europeans. It then touches on the brutality in which the slaves were treated during the trading, and even cites a revolt. It ends by discussing the future of slavery in both American and British history. This source is an excellent source, especially as one begins to do research. However, it does not include many specific examples, so it should be used as only a starting point.


Wesley, John. Thoughts Upon Slavery: By John Wesley, A.M. W. Whitestone, 1775

This writer is writing about his viewpoints on the treatment of slaves throughout history, but especially the slaves from Africa, as the transatlantic slave trade was occurring during his lifetime. He first begins by describing the history of slavery, and then he discusses the African people of the Gold Coast and the Slave Coast. He describes how they live their daily lives peacefully, doing no harm to anyone. He then discusses how they are just people, and it is unfair for them to be treated so horribly for having a different skin color. He cites religious beliefs, and asks if this is really what God wanted. Throughout this essay, the writer is arguing that slavery should not happen as it is inhumane. This is a really great primary source to use, as it captures the viewpoint of someone who is against slavery and knows the treatment of slaves while it was happening, such as the branding.

Mitford, John, ed. “THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, &c. 2 Vols.” The Gentleman’s Magazine: And Historical Review, July 1856-May 1868; London, September 1840, 227-41.    4279PQ/1.

This source is an interesting primary source. The writer is providing evidence of different letters he received trying to sway his decision on a vote for a reform regarding slavery. This vote was critical, and there were subtle threats of a war depending on his vote. While it is a fascinating read, it seems to be only a portion of a larger document that is not completely included in this correspondence, thus, it is a bit ambiguous. While there are interesting quotes throughout the correspondence, it is not the best resource available.


Daniel Domingues da Silva. “Catherine Zimmermann-Mulgrave: A Slave Odyssey.” Database. Voyages, August 2007.

This article tells the story of Catherine Zimmermann-Mulgrave. It tells of how she was captured on the way to school with some friends in 1833, led to the “Heroína,” and eventually shipwrecked. However, she eventually made it back to Africa as a teacher and a wife to a missionary. This article is a good resource to get a clear picture of the story of one slave, but it is not narrow enough that it should be cited often. However, there is a description of how a slave was beaten for attempting suicide, which is not referenced in the other sources.

Daniel Domingues da Silva. “Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Slavery in the Atlantic World.” Database. Voyages, July 2007.

This article tells the story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo. It explains how he was making a trade for slaves in return for cows in Africa, only to be captured and sold as a slave to the same people who gave him the cow while returning home from that trade. He later went on to become educated when he met Thomas Bluett when trying to escape slavery in Maryland. Eventually, he made it back to Africa. This is a good resource to get an understanding of one slave’s perspective, but it does not really discuss the slave trade on a macro level.×199.jpg


Reinsch, Paul S. “The Negro Race and European Civilization.” American Journal of Sociology 11.2 (1905): 145-167. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.

This essay describes different race based civilizations, specifically civilizations populated by marginalized others. It specifically looks at the impact that these civilizations had on European civilizations, but also looks at slave culture in North and South America. It looks specifically at how physical features of white people, black people, and mixed race people impact the perception of others. While this essay is very interesting and touches on sociological and physiological factors that came into play when Europeans and Africans came into contact, it does not really touch on the slave trade itself and any of the commercialism that came with it.

Eltis, David and David Richardson. Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. United States: Yale University Press, 2008.

This book is one of the best sources about this topic. The first few pages include maps which illustrate the transatlantic slave trade, and the first chapter describes it in depth. It is then broken up into three sections, and the first and third are incredibly extensive about the transatlantic slave trade that took place in Africa and the New World. However, the most relevant section is the second, which discusses the impact the slave trade had on Europe, specifically with the French, the Dutch, and the Germans. This book would be the best place to begin researching about this topic, as it has a plethora of information about it.

Strickrodt, Silke. Afro-European Trade in the Atlantic World: The Western Slave Coast, C. 1550-C. 1885. Western Africa Studies. Boydell & Brewer, 2015.

This book is about the relations between Western Africans and Europeans from around 1550 until 1885. This area of Western Africa was called the Slave Coast, as it produced a lot of slaves that went off into the New World. This book provides a really interesting perspective on the slave trade from the insight of the African civilizations at the time. While this book has some interesting information about the slave trade, it is not as Eurocentric as other sources, so it would be best to focus on those as opposed to this one.

Eltis, David. “A Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” Database. Voyages, 2009.  

This essay is really insightful into the full history of the transatlantic slave trade. It focuses on both the viewpoints of Africans and Europeans, and it brings up discussions on the middle passage and resistance. This source is excellent in terms of providing a discussion on a subject that was not very prominent in other sources: race. After giving an overarching historical documentation on the transatlantic slave trade, it explains how slavery affected the concept of racial identity. The essay closes out by examining the abolition that would eventually come to happen. This source is really insightful, and would be a great source to begin with, as it is narrow enough to give a good understanding but still broad enough that one would need to do more research.

Stephen D. Behrendt. “Seasonality in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” Database. Voyages, 2008.

In this essay, the author is discussing the seasonal patterns of slave voyages, as there were patterns of embarkation and disembarkation that intrigued this author. After doing some research, the author discovered that slaves would embark from Africa around the harvest time, as the farmers did not need much intensive labor, so it would give the slaves enough time to get to the New World if they embarked during harvest season. This author also examines elements that pertain to agriculture, such as rainfall and the labor inputs for each crop. While this is an interesting essay, there is not much information that can be obtained, as it relates more to Africa and the New World and does not discuss Europe as much.

Oscar Grandio Moraguez. “Dobo: A Liberated African in Nineteenth-Century Havana.” Database. Voyages, n.d.

In this essay, the author tells the story of Dobo, who entered Cuba as an enslaved ten-year-old boy. Through the help of the database, the author was able to reconstruct Dobo’s story, and it is an account of his life, from slavery to emancipation to being enslaved once again to death. Dobo’s story is an interesting story to read in the sense that it can provide a more detailed view of slavery from one specific slave, as opposed to a broad scope. While this story can definitely be used in some capacity, one should not focus so much on this, as it is very narrow.

Richard B. Allen. European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500-1850. Indian Ocean Studies. Ohio University Press, 2014.

As a precursor to British Imperialism, the author reminds the reader that there was also excessive slave trading in the Indian Ocean, which is often forgotten when compared to the transatlantic slave trade. He explains that Europeans were trading slaves in the Indian Ocean as early as 1500. The author structures this book somewhat chronologically, with the first section starting with 1500, and the last one starting with 1774. However, it is also structured thematically, as some sections overlap. While this source does not discuss the transatlantic slave trade in depth, it still discusses Europe’s impact on slave trading in general, and would be useful to look into. However, one should not prioritize this book over some other sources.

Blackwood, John, ed. “Agriculture, Commerce, and Manufactures:” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine; Edinburgh 67, no. 413 (March 1850): 347-76.   F70PQ/1.

While this article touches upon agriculture and commerce, as the title would suggest, it does not focus much on the connection these subjects have with the transatlantic slave trade. This source may be useful to get an understanding of the legislature that went into agriculture, but it would not be very useful otherwise.


“Introductory Maps.” Database. Voyages, n.d.

These maps provide an interesting insight into different aspects of the slave trade. Not only do they showcase the scope of the trade, but this collection also includes maps indicating wind patterns and ports involved in the slave trade. Maps 6, 7, and 8 also include statistics in regards to where slaves embarked and disembarked. There is not a lot of great information to take from these maps, but they can be used as a supplemental resource to visually understand the trade.


“African Names Database.” Database. Voyages, n.d.

While this source does not provide much information about the impact of the slave trade, it does show some interesting statistics about the number of slaves transported across the Atlantic during the height of the slave trade. This database also allows the user to search by aspects such as gender, height, age, and time frame, which can allow for more information to be discovered. While this may be an interesting source to look at, it does not have the most useful information, but does provide important statistics.

The triangular trade is a system of trade most closely associated with the transatlantic slave trade in the 16th through 19th century. Triangular trade involves one trader exchanging commodities for a second commodity he can in turn trade with a second partner. Triangular trade APUSH questions will require you to know the three partners involved in the transatlantic slave trade, the route of trade, the commodities traded, and the consequences of the trade.

What is the Triangular Trade?

Map by SimonP

Triangular trade, when referring to the transatlantic slave trade, was a trade route originating in Europe that was used to supply colonies in the New World with slave labor. European colonial powers would ship manufactured goods such as textiles, rum, and guns, to West Africa, where they would exchange them for slaves. The slaves would be taken to the Americas on the Middle Passage. Most slaves were taken to the Caribbean and South America. Only a small percentage of slaves were taken directly to North America. Once in the New World, slaves would be traded for raw materials harvested on plantations, such as sugar, cotton, tobacco, and wood. These raw materials would be taken back to Europe, where they would be used to manufacture goods, thus beginning the cycle of trade again.

Important years to note for the Triangular Trade:

  • 1526: The Portuguese import the first slaves from Africa to the New World
  • 1636: North America enters the slave trade with the launching of the slave ship Desire to the West Indies
  • 1808: A law banning the importation of slaves takes effect in the United States

Why is the Triangular Trade so important?

The triangular trade model allowed for the swift spread of slavery into the New World. Twelve million Africans were captured in Africa with the intent to enter them into the slave trade. As slave labor was in high demand in the colonies, the triangular trade was lucrative for Europe, which allowed the trade to remain robust for centuries. The slave labor supplied to the colonies allowed for the proliferation of plantations, which in turn helped with the growth and prosperity of the New World.

The triangular trade brought new crops and goods to Africa. African leaders took advantage of the economic benefits offered by the trade and willingly sold captives and prisoners of war to European traders. In general, though, historians believe that the slave trade irreparably harmed Africa. The trade caused a decline in the population, particularly the population of young men, which led to economic fragility. The continent fell far behind the growth of the developing world, opening it up to European colonization in the 19th century.

What are some historical people related to the Triangular Trade?

Sir John Hawkins: An officer of the Royal Navy considered to be the first European trade to profit from triangular trade

What example question about Triangular Trade might come up on the APUSH exam?

-“The gradual abolition off the slave trade or leaving of sugar by degrees” by Isaac Cruikshank, 1792 (Source)

What role did sugar have in triangular trade?
A) Traders in West Africa traded sugar in exchange for slaves.
B) Traders in the Caribbean traded sugar in exchange for slaves.
C) North American colonists traded slaves in exchange for sugar.
D) Europeans traded manufactured goods in exchange for sugar.


The correct answer is (B). Triangular trade began in West Africa, were traders exchanged manufactured goods for slaves. In the Caribbean, traders exchanged sugar for slaves. The sugar was sent to Europe, where it was bought for consumption or used to manufacture commodities, such as rum. A sugar boycott spread across Britain in the 1790s among those who wanted to see England exit the slave trade.

About Sarah Bradstreet

Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.

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