How Significant Was Slave Trade in the Growth of the British Empire in the Years C.1680-1763

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Mahfuz Chowdhury

How Significant Was Slave Trade in the Growth of the British Empire in the Years c.1680-1763? I agree to some extent that slavery played a significant role in the growth of the British Empire in the years 1680-1763. This is because slavery allowed the British to import a high amount of goods that were in demand such as sugar and tobacco which generated profits for plantation owners especially as slave labour was cheap. The slave trade was mainly involved in two key aspects: the growth of the sea trade and maintenance of existing settlements. Even though slavery was considered of great importance, there were other key factors involved with the expansion of the British Empire .Trading companies traded slaves and goods produced by slaves. The tax collected helped to fund the navy which protected trade and played an important role in war. So along with the trading companies; the Government; Royal Navy and War, were all factors that played an important part in the growth of the empire.

Trade was one of the main key factors that allowed the British Empire to increase and grow steadily. This trading routine was the beginning of the Empire and from all the joint stock companies formed, Britain allowed its Empire to grow in profits and increase in size. The slave trade played a major role in the growth of seaborne commerce mainly across the Atlantic seas. The use of slavery helped the British a vast amount by bringing in increased profits and goods that were on demand such as cotton, tobacco and sugar. There was a triangular trade where a three point voyage took place. This helped Britain gain prosperity and wealth and also a monopoly on the Atlantic. By 1720, they had ‘transported 100,000 Africans, exported £1.5 million worth of goods and imported 30,000 tons of sugar’.1 The growth of the British Empire was focused on seaborne trade. Therefore, they concentrated on the Atlantic trade. Britain would trade goods with African colonies for slaves. The slaves were then traded in the Caribbean and North America to work on plantations. The goods produced were returned to Britain. As a result, slavery played an important role in helping trade and the growth of the British Empire.

Slave trade and trading companies are linked. Joint stock companies such as the Royal African Company and the East India Company were mainly the most dominant companies in trade. The Royal African Company was the biggest British slave trade company. It began in 1672 after the failure of The Royal Adventurers of Africa due to interlopers and not rising up to its expected standards. It was created with the intention of making a huge profit from slave trade. The demand for slaves was high because it was considered that African slaves were used to the conditions of plantations in the Caribbean. Furthermore, because of high death rates and infant mortality, ‘the supply of slaves…needed regular replenishment’.2 Also slave labour was seen as the best form of labour as it didn’t require the workers to be paid which meant larger profits for plantation owners. In addition slave owners were able to force them to work long hours in harsh conditions. As mentioned earlier, slave trade was highly profitable because by 1720, they had ‘transported 100,000 Africans, exported £1.5 million worth of goods and imported 30,000 tons of sugar’.3 The Royal African Company became a monopoly and its profits and fortunes rose immensely from the other goods (like sugar) they imported too. However, just like The Royal Adventurers, the company’s

1 James Walvin, Black Ivory: Slavery in the British Empire, Blackwell Publishing, 2001, pg 31 2 Kenneth Morgan, Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy 1660-1800, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pg 10

3 James Walvin, Black Ivory: Slavery in the British Empire, Blackwell Publishing, 2001, pg 31

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Mahfuz Ahmad Chowdhury

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