Slavery has been present and center stage for most of history, yet not to the immense scale that was experienced in the North Atlantic slave trade. To assist in explaining such a radial economic and social system, commodity chain analysis can map this massive movement of humans from Africa, in return for labor to produce green gold: tobacco. From the early seventeenth century to 1780’s, the “production”, distribution, and consumption of slaves and tobacco, focusing mainly on the Chesapeake region’s tobacco slaves yet extending across the Atlantic, created a variety of winners and losers. From the gains of the North American and British merchant class and the North American tobacco plantation owners, to the losses of the African slaves themselves, to the conflicted results experienced by African leadership and the Western working class, the winners and losers of the trade over time created led to a long lasting effect on the future: the introduction of a racial hierarchy.
Firstly, it must be understood that the Atlantic slave trade, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay region, was far more complex than simply the movement of slaves for labor for tobacco plantations, the product to be traded back to England. Rather, historians have explained it as a sort of Triangular Trade, where goods and slaves were exchanged by British merchants from Britain to Africa to the Americas in a triangular circuit, involving a variety of groups. Although this is somewhat simplifying the matter as well, it provides ample means to describe just why the demand for slaves was so great. The triangular pattern started with mainly British merchant ships (in the time period we are concerned with) carrying rum, textiles, and other goods to Africa to trade with African leaders to trade for slaves. After loading the same ships up with slaves, they set sail towards the Americas, where these slaves would be sold to plantation owners to produce key crops... [continues]
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