The trade triangle

The transatlantic slave trade generally followed a triangular route:

  • Traders set out from European ports towards Africa's west coast. There they bought people in exchange for goods and loaded them into the ships.
  • The voyage across the Atlantic, known as the Middle Passage, generally took 6 to 8 weeks. Once in the Americas those Africans who had survived the journey were off-loaded for sale and put to work as slaves.
  • The ships then returned to Europe with goods such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, rice and later cotton, which had been produced by slave labour.

map showing the triangular route taken by slave traders
The trade triangle

The triangle, involving three continents, was complete. European capital, African labour and American land and resources combined to supply a European market.

The colonists in the Americas also made direct slaving voyages to Africa, which did not follow the triangular route. This trade increased after 1800, particularly from Brazil.

The story of the transatlantic slave trade is the story of people on all three continents, as well as the dreaded 'Middle Passage' voyage. Follow the links on this page to find out more.