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 African 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

British ports

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

From 1761 to 1807, traders based in British ports made £60 million from the slave trade.

The Royal Africa Company

In 1672 the Royal Africa Company was formed by Charles II and London merchants.

It delivered enslaved African people for the sugar plantations of the West Indies. The gold they provided was named the guinea.

In 1689 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.