By the 1700s, British merchants, ship owners and sea captains were at the heart of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Their ships were transporting enslaved people to British, French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese-owned land, or colonies, in the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. The ships engaged in the slave trade followed a triangular route across the Atlantic Ocean which involved three journeys.
The triangular trade began in the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, London and Glasgow. Thousands of British ships set sail for West Africa laden with metal goods, cloth, alcohol and guns. This part of the voyage took about three months. On arrival the captain and his crew sailed along the West African coast exchanging their goods for captured Africans. They often visited several ports before their ship was full.
Chained together, the Africans were herded onto ships for the middle passage to the Caribbean Islands or the Americas. Hundreds were shackled together in the holds of ships, where conditions were cramped and humid. Illnesses spread quickly and ships that were delayed due to bad weather often ran out of food and clean water. The journey could take up to six months yet, despite the brutal conditions, between 80 and 90% of the Africans on board reached their destination alive.
Slave traders used the money from the sale of the Africans to buy slave-produced goods from the Caribbean Islands and the Americas. Sugar, rum, rice, cotton, coffee and tobacco were shipped back in the slave ships.