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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Michael Camhe

History 286D

Skopyk and Welland

November 13th, 2018

The Impact of the British Slave Trade

During the seventeen hundreds, the British were emerging as one of the top empires worldwide. Like all great empires, the British had a strong centralized government and leadership while expanding westward and having a strong economy. There are many reasons for Britain's success during this time but, do not overlook the impact the slave trade had on not only the British Empire but also newly added Jamaica and the Barbados. These two territories were the first two places the British gained in the caribbean. Jamaica was at first claimed by the Spanish empire in 1494 during Columbus’ exploration. In 1655 the Spanish ceded Jamaica to the British empire which gave the British land flat and fertile land with the proper land to grow important cash crops for the British. (Luscombe 1). Like Jamaica, when the British gained the Barbados in 1627, the land the Barbados provided was flat, fertile land that helped grow and produce many of the British’ cash crops which helped fuel the British economy. That is where slaves came in. Slaves were brought in to work the fields and produce commodities such as sugar to help the economy of Britain thrive. Without the slave trade, the British empire would not have thrived during the 1700’s because the economy wouldn’t be as strong, the goods and services that came along with the slave trade wouldn’t be as easy to access and weakened labor force. With the high number in slaves that came over from Africa as part of the triangular slave trade, thousands of wretched slaves were added to the labor force that helped build up the British economy. (Cooper 2).

Without the slave trade, the British empire would not have thrived during the 1700’s because the British economy wouldn’t have flourished the way it did. Once the British settled in the caribbean, they immediately went to work and made use of the land that was presented to them which was flat, fertile land with the proper climate to grow cash crops. Plantations were put in place to produce these goods such as tobacco, cotton sugar and more. With all this land and all of these commodities in place, people were needed to work these fields and that is where slaves came in. This is where the triangle trade came into place. With the triangle trade, the three sides which were Africa, the British colony in the caribbean and the metropole, Great Britain all benefited.(Klein 25).

For the British colony in the caribbean, they received slaves from Africa to work the large plantations. Many slaves were taken to work for Britain from Africa but not everyone makes it to the West Indies by way of the Middle Passage which is the route of the triangular trade. Out of approximately 100,000 slaves that come over from Africa, around 20,000 die on the journey. (Cooper 3). And other 20,000 are prisoners of war or fight for Britain and die. Then the final 60,000 others work for the plantations or continue to fight for Britain. (Cooper 3). This is an additional amount of people working for the British government that gives them even more of an advantage compared to other empires economically where they make profit off slaves who work the plantations to export commodities like sugar which was a high demand in the 1700s. (Cooper 4). Once the British colonies in the caribbean received slaves, they would then export goods and services that slaves would work on to the metropole, Great Britain. What would be sent from Jamaica and the Barbados were commodities like cotton, tobacco and sugar which were all high in demand in Europe since they could not grow these items themselves due to Britain’s geographics. The reasoning behind the demands for such commodities, especially sugar in the 1700s was due to the increase in the standard of living in Britain. In Britain, sugar was needed since citizens would want sugar in what were considered “luxury drinks” like coffee and tea that people would have regularly. (Watson 1). This helps the british economy since these imports from the caribbean will be used to sell in Britain and since the demand was rising, the more the good/commodity will be purchased and received. After the British received goods from the caribbean, they would then give Africa manufactured goods. These manufactured goods included guns, cloth, tobacco, and other metal goods that Africa couldn’t access before.

Before Britain settled in the Barbados, the Barbados were discovered first by the Portuguese by an explorer named Pedro A Campos. (Watson 1). The Barbados got its name because one of the first observations  Campos noticed about the native people of the Barbados were that the men had long beards and the barbados translated to the bearded people. (Watson 1). Once the Spanish empire also found the Barbados many slave missions have begun. Frequent missions to capture the native people lead to a decline of the native people of the Barbados. Many people of the Barbados were either captured or fled to nearby islands for protection. The raids slowly were coming to an end by the Spanish empire since many thought the island became inhabited but in reality, many fled for protection. (Watson 1). Around the year of 1627, the British took control over the agricultural land of the Barbados. The British were gifted with fertile and flat land with great climate temperatures to grow their cash crops. The first cash crop, tobacco, enabled the British to make profit quickly. (Watson 1). The profit made off of growing tobacco lead to the British strengthening their economy and also leading to the transition of the new cash crop, sugar which was an up and coming commodity that was rising in demand.(Watson 1). Overtime plantations were put in place which demanded labor that came into the island at an increasing rate. The Barbados went from being mostly populated by white british men to being mainly black due to the surplus of slaves coming in from Africa. From 1629 to 1786 the population went from being 97% white to 21% white. (Watson 1). With the amount of slaves coming in as part of the triangle trade apart of the middle passage, the percentage of black people in the Barbados went from .03% to 79% by 1786. (Watson 1). The sugar crop was the main crop produced on plantations in the Caribbean during the 18th century. These plantations produced 80–90% of the sugar consumed in western europe as a whole. (Watson 1). Both the Barbados and Jamaica were covered with sugar plantations for growing and producing the sugar crop/plant. Until the abolition of slavery, the main source of labor was through African slaves. Between the years of 1700 and 1709 the sugar trade increased due to the popularity of sugar rising to add to luxury drinks like coffee in western Europe. (Watson 1). The popularity of sugar increased due to an increase in the standard of living where only before only the extremely wealthy could afford commodities such as sugar. (Watson 1). Even though sugar was the most important crop in the caribbean at the time, other crops were also grown their like tobacco. (Watson 1). Overall, the Barbados were crucial for Britain's success due to their great flat and fertile land with the proper climate to grow cash crops like tobacco and sugar that helped boost Britain's economy and provide wealth as well.

Like the Barbados, Jamaica wasn’t discovered and claimed immediately by the British empire. Jamaica was discovered in 1494 by Christopher Columbus during the age of exploration. When Columbus settled in Jamaica, he immediately found potential in the native people in Jamaica as slaves to bring back to Spain. Later on, as war between the British and Spanish broke out over the land in Jamaica. At this time, Britain had control of the Barbados. Eventually, the Spanish surrendered to the British as they fled to present day Cuba. Once the British took over Jamaica, they realized that like the Barbados, Jamaica's land was also flat, fertile and had the proper climate to grow cash crops such as sugar and tobacco. During the British reign in Jamaica, they turned Jamaica from a substance agrarian economy to becoming one of the largest plantation crop regimes worldwide. ( Klein 25). Also, Jamaica and the Barbados respectively become the two most dominating sugar plantation centers by 1720. ( Klein 25). With all of the success of these plantations, the British economy thrived during the 1700s. But, with all of the success that came with these plantations during this period, an increasing number of indentured servants were needed to work these plantations. Instead, thousands of slaves were shipped over from Africa to the West Indies to help work the plantations for Britain. The slaves were needed in bunches to produce sugar, arguably the top commodity during this period of time and because of the high number of slaves that came over, more sugar was able to be produced which lead to Britain overall making more money/profit. In 1746, economist Malachi Postlethwaite stated that, "If we have no Negroes (slaves), we can have no sugar, tobacco, rum etc. Consequently the public revenue, arising from the importation of plantation produce, will be wiped out. And hundreds of thousands of Britons making goods for the triangular trade will lose their jobs and go a begging.”(Klein 39). In other words, Postlewaite understands the necessity of slaves during the 1700s working on these plantations in the caribbean and understood the true value slaves brought to the British empire. When slavery was abolished in the 1800s, the production of such commodities decreased dramatically. Both the Barbados and Jamaica serving as two British colonies in the caribbean carried true value in regards to helping the British economy thrive during the 1700s.

With all the success coming to the British empire in the 1700s, many people excelled but who exactly profited from all of this success in the caribbean? For starters, the plantation owners in the caribbean made profit. Since they didn’t have to pay slaves, profit was made off slaves producing these valuable cash crops for them. Many of these plantation owners would save their money to either go back and retire in the motherland, Britain or invest and profits into more factories and help fund for the Industrial Revolution which was the transition from handling production by hand to the manufacturing process starting around 1760 into the 1800s. ( Musson 252).  By the mid 1800’s, Britain became the leading commercial nation worldwide with their main product of textiles took over the manufacturing industry during the 1800s. (Musson 255). Other crucial inventions were made during this period. The steam engine was invented in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen and although this was prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution, this idea of steam to power boats would be made and improved late on around the year 1769 by James Watt. The spinning jenny was invented in 1764 James Hargreaves who was a british carpenter and weaver. The spinning jenny was a device that helped speed up the production of cloth by spinning more yarn at a time. In 1794 Eli Whitney created the cotton gin which was a machine that made it easier and quicker to separate the seeds from cotton and also shortens the time it takes to clean cotton. There were many other great inventions that occurred during the Industrial Revolution including inventions like the Telegraph but in the 1700s, those major inventions helped the British economy to continue to thrive. It is believed that many of these inventions couldn’t be made without the profit made off of these plantations. These profits of course trace back to the slave trade and the impact slaves had on the British economy as a whole.

The slave trade helped the British economy in many ways. The slave trade helped supply the British with quick profit and helped fund the Industrial Revolution which helped the British continue to have economic success. The slave trade also created wealth all around the British empire. For example, the British slave ship owners made up to 50% profit off each voyage that transported either slaves to the New World, goods to the motherland or bringing manufactured goods like guns to Africa alone. Also the British slave traders who did the exchange of buying and selling slaves made profit and were also considered to be some of the richest and wealthiest of all british citizens. (Blackburn 1).

In Britain, Liverpool and Bristol held the two major ports which shipped out slave ships and brought in cargo from the New World which held goods and commodities like tobacco and the sugar cash crop. Those two crops were high in demand in Britain during the 1700s due to the price of living increasing and the want to add commodities like sugar to their “luxurious drinks.” The factory owners in Britain also received great profit during this time period. Since the factory owners were producing manufactured goods like guns and textiles and exporting them to Africa as part of the Triangular Trade, they made profit off the African leaders who purchased these goods. Of course, with all of these voyages there was money needed to lent to complete these voyages which is where the banks and the banking system came in. Banks became rich from lending money to complete these voyages along the middle passage and collected all of the fees and interest that came along with these journeys. Even the ordinary, regular citizens of Great Britain profited off the slave trade. The slave trade opened up many jobs in general because of everything that needed a labor force. For example, the factory owners couldn’t work these factories all alone so, this is where the ordinary people of Great Britain came in. Hundreds and thousands of people were needed to produce and manufacture goods like guns that would later be exported to Africa who would then send slaves over to the New World as part of the triangular trade. While many worked in factories that manufactured goods like guns, others worked in making the imports like sugar more affordable to the average person whereas before, only the select wealthy of Great Britain could afford it. While all of this was going on in Great Britain, Africa had to do their share of this equation as well. In Africa, their leaders would go into villages and take/capture native people and sell them to Britain as slaves all in part of the triangular trade. Overall the slave trade benefited the British empire as a whole but in particular, this benefitted the plantation owners who didn’t have to pay slaves for all the work they did but still received profit off their work, slave ship owners who received profit off all voyages whether it was transporting slaves from Africa to the New World, sending cash crops like sugar to Europe or sending manufactured goods from Britain to Africa. Slave traders also made profit off each exchange along with factory owners who made valuable manufactured goods like guns and textiles and shipped them to Africa and of course the ordinary civilians of Britain who had to work in these factories made money for all of this work. Finally, the African leaders/rulers who had to go into villages and capture their civilians and sell them off as slaves made profit. Due to the success of the triangular trade, Britain, the colonies in the caribbean that Britain owned and Africa all made profit off the slave trade.

Although the slave trade was beneficial for the British empire as a whole, like in most cases in life, people were opposed to the slave trade. In J Carters Remarkable extracts and observations on the slave trade, Carter discuss’ how “inhumane” and “iniquite” the slave trade truly was. (Carter 1). Carter in this journal discuss’ how the slave trade and slavery in general is wrong and throughout this journal goes against the slave trade. According to this journal, Carter claims that the slave trade and slavery was universally known to be wrong and inhumane throughout Britain but the issue was that no one would speak out and support their stance but support the stance against the slave trade anonymously. Slaves during this time were either prisoners of war, fought for Britain, worked for the British on plantations as “Beasts of Labour (Carter 5),” or died during or on the way to all three of those options. (Carter 2). Carter also got the chance to visit plantations to see what and how life was like on the plantations for the slaves. Carter’s immediate reactions were that his heart “ached” from watching what the slaves went through on these plantations. (Carter 6). They were whipped senseless as their punishment and when they (slaves) were done being punished, it was expected that they resume work like nothing happened. (Carter 6). Carter asks, “why is the slave trade carried on” and “why are islands cultivated, to furnish the inhabitants with sugar?” (Carter 8). Carter also on page eight finishes those questions by saying that the civilians are the main source of the slave trade. If it wasn’t for the people in Britain wanting such commodities as sugar for example, the the slaves wouldn’t be as needed since the slaves wouldn't have to go on the plantations and produce sugar. (Carter 8). With that logic, Carter does have a point. From what I have gathered from this reading the issue seems clear. The real reason why nobody spoke up and defended their stance was because overall, everyone was profiting but the slaves so many looked over the fact that this was inhumane and just soaked in the rewards like instant wealth that came from the slave trade and slavery as a whole. It would take until around 1833 to have the slavery and the slave trade abolished but around 1838 to have it fully implemented. Later in the 1700s, rules and laws regarding the slave trade would lead to the British receiving less slaves to work these plantations.

In the seventeen hundreds, the British were emerging as one of the top empires worldwide. Like all great empires, the British had a strong centralized government and leadership while also expanding westward and having a strong economy. There are many reasons for Britain's success during this time but, do not overlook the impact the slave trade had on not only the British Empire but also newly added Jamaica and the Barbados. Without the slave trade, the British empire would not have thrived during the 1700’s because the economy wouldn’t be as strong with the triangular, the goods and services that came along with the slave trade which includes commodities like sugar being brought over to Britain from the New World and weakened labor force. The slave trade benefited close to everybody involved whether it were the plantation owners profiting off their land and not having to pay the slaves who worked on them, slave traders, banks who profited off voyages and loans that were given out, african leaders who went into villages and took citizens and used them as slaves to trade and benefited many others all due to the trading of slaves. Although the slave trade and slaves benefited many of the British, there are people who were against this. J Carter noted in his journal how his heart “ached” watching slaves working on these plantations. (Carter 6). Overall, whether one was for the slave trade or against the slave trade, one cannot doubt the impact this truly had on the British empire. Without the great fertile and flat land with proper climates that the Barbados and Jamaica offered for the British, many popular commodities like sugar and tobacco could not be grown which would lead to the British empire not being where it was at during this time period. Without the slave trade, the profit made off of it would not be their for the British to use which lead to the British becoming one of the stronger empires in the 1700s. One could say without the slave trade, would the British empire have thrived during not only the 1700s but, where would they be today?

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