Role of the slave trade in British industry

The slave trade stimulated British manufacturing and industry through the demand for goods such as plantation utensils and clothing needed for enslaved people and estates.

The Nigerian historian Joseph Inikori suggested that it was the slave trade which allowed the Industrial Revolution to happen.

British industry benefited by supplying factory-made goods in exchange for enslaved people. Profits made in the slave trade provided money for investment in British industry. Banks and insurance companies which offered services to slave merchants expanded and made cities such as London very wealthy.

However although the slave trade had an important role in Britain’s industrial development, changes in agriculture and advances in technology also contributed to Britain's wealth.

Wealth of ports and merchants

The involvement of British ports

The work of enslaved people on the plantations generated huge profits and wealth for the merchants and ports involved, in both Britain and the Caribbean.

The main British ports involved in the slave trade all experienced periods of rapid growth and increasing wealth during the 18th century.

From 1761 to 1807, traders based in British ports hauled 1,428,000 captive African people across the Atlantic and pocketed £60 million - perhaps £8 billion in today's money - from the sale of enslaved people.

The Royal Africa Company

In 1672 the Royal Africa Company was formed by Charles II and London merchants to provide enslaved African people for the West Indies.

The company transported around 100,000 African people into slavery in the Caribbean between 1672 and 1689. The gold it supplied to the Royal Mint was named the guinea, after the West African country from which the gold was taken.

In 1689 the Royal Africa Company (based in London) lost its monopoly on the slave trade. Bristol and Liverpool merchants began to get more involved in the trade. By 1760, Glasgow had overtaken London as the main importer of tobacco.

West-Indian plantation owners

For much of the 18th century, the British colony of Barbados was the richest of all the European colonies in the Caribbean region because of the profits from its sugar plantations.

The West India Interest was formed in the 1740s when British merchants joined with West Indian sugar planters. This was the first sugar trading organisation to have a significant voice in Parliament. For example, in 1789 an assembly of planters from Jamaica visited Parliament to lobby MPs in support of the slave trade.