Africans had practiced slavery since ancient times. In most cases, the slaves had been captured in warfare and sold to Arab traders of northern Africa. Portugal and Spain became increasingly involved in the African slave trade during the early 1500's, after they had established colonies in the Americas. Portugal acquired African slaves to work on sugar plantations that its colonists developed in Brazil. Spain used slaves on its sugar plantations in the West Indies. During the early 1600's, the Netherlands, France, and England also began to use African slaves in the American colonies.
The Europeans obtained slaves from black Africans who continued to sell their war captives or trade them for rum, cloth, and other items, especially guns. The Africans needed the guns for use in their constant warfare with neighboring peoples. The slave trade took several triangular routes. Over one route, ships from Europe transported manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa.
There, traders exchanged the goods for slaves. Next, the slaves were carried across the Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies and sold for huge profits. This part of the route was called the Middle Passage. The traders used much of their earnings to buy sugar, coffee, and tobacco in the West Indies. The ships then took these products to Europe. The West India trade was in many ways respects the ideal colonial system. The trade with the West Indies consisted of simple exchange of cheap manufactured goods for African slaves. These goods had a high return of cash.
On another triangular route, ships from the New England Colonies carry rum and other products to Africa, where they were exchanged for slaves. The ships then transported the slaves to the West Indies to be sold. The slave traders used some of their profits to buy sugar and...