Trade routes and the slave trade

By the end of the 17th century Parliament, with Royal support and backing, had supervised the development of a large and growing African population throughout English colonial possessions in the Americas.

The tentative efforts under Elizabeth I to break into the foreign monopolies on lucrative overseas trade whetted the appetite for more.

But it was the military and political turmoil in Europe in the early 17th century which allowed the English to establish their own trading systems to Africa and the Americas.

Above all, it was the pull of exotic commodities and riches which proved irresistible.

At first, Europeans were not drawn to Africa for slaves, although they did occasionally acquire them. The continent was more attractive to the early pioneering settlers for its valuable commodities - especially gold. The early trading companies focused on  gold, dyes, timbers, ivory and hides.

What transformed everything was the development of colonies in the Americas.

The settlement of these and the Caribbean islands was to transform Europe's dealings with Africa. The introduction of plantations, especially those growing sugar, led to the extensive use of African slave labour. In time some 70 per cent of all enslaved Africans shipped across the Atlantic were destined to work in the sugar fields.

Pioneered by the Spaniards and perfected by the Dutch, sugar plantations were eagerly adopted by the English from the 1620s. Sugar though was not the only crop. In the North American colonies the development of the tobacco industry - a crop acquired from local Indians - also led to the use of enslaved African labour.

Biographies

You can access biographies from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Related information

Access details of millions of records from both Houses and other historical material relating to Parliament.