Slave Trade & the Industrial Revolution

Britain experienced a huge industrial development from 1750 onwards. This development led to Britain being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The changes and development happened at the same period of time that the slave trade was at its peak and Britain was one of the countries most heavily involved. Britain also played the biggest role in the trade out of any other European country.

Is this merely coincidence or is there a connection between these two? Was the slave trade causing Britain’s growth in economy and industrial development? Seeing as the ports, such as the ports in Bristol and Liverpool became wealthy, more jobs were created, and individuals who became wealthy from the slave trade invested their money into the development of industries, it is safe to say that the Atlantic slave trade played the main role in the industrial revolution.

By the end of the 17th century an enormous amount of slaves were being transported by the British, twice as many slaves as their closest competitors, the Dutch. In the 18th century about 1 100 ships were fitted out in England for the slave trade. There are also estimates that about 3 million people were transported into slavery in the 18th century. Because of this, the economy benefited hugely and from the profits made, Britain was able to afford the development in the industry.

In the triangular trade, things were beginning to be on demand from the British, such as glassware, copper and guns. The products sold to the people were sold at a about three times their original price meaning a huge profit was being made. The profits brought in had a very positive effect on the economy growth. This therefore leads us to belief that the triangular trade played an important role in the rise of Britain’s economy.

Many of the ports, such as Liverpool, became very wealthy during the slave trade. This was mainly because of the tax price on goods that were brought in and out of these ports. London and Bristol were the most important slave trading cities but were soon overtaken by Liverpool, which meant that Liverpool was making amazing profits from the trade.

Liverpool soon becamethe largest slave trading port in the Atlantic slave trade system. From this, Liverpool gained a lot of money from taxes on imports and exports which was hugely beneficial to the economy. The government gained about 5% of their income from the taxes paid on these ports which meant that the slave trade was accumulating significant amounts if money. Many jobs were also created by the trade as dockworkers, sailmakers, sailors and ship reporters were needed. Because of the job increase, the economy grew because of taxes and there were fewer unemployed people.

From all the money that was being accumulated from the slave trade, Britain was able to finance a lot of new technology, such as the steam engine. This proves that the slave trade was highly involved in the industrial revolution. Huge profits were being made by investors, merchants and plantation owners and they were investing these profits into banking, insurance and the development of industries which allowed Britain to develop and advance in technology.

New machines and techniques also came with the revolution and it also had a revolutionary effect on farming and manufacturing goods. New factories were developed and the manufacture of cotton became very important and a lot of the cotton being supplied by Britain was produced by slave labour.

The invention of the steam engine soon followed the development in factories. It is one of the most famous inventions of the industrial revolution which was invented by James Watt. It was a new way to obtain energy and could be put to work in almost every industry. This invention was financed by the money made from the slave trade.

It has been argued among many historians that the slave trade did not play a significant role in the Industrial revolution but as we study the evidence we are given it becomes clearer that it did in fact play a huge role. In the book by Eric William, Capitalism and Slavery, we understand this by a quote:

“The settlement of the new world by Europeans depended on the enslavement of millions of black people, who accumulated the money that brought about the industrial revolution”. This statement proves the argument. It describes to us that the industrial revolution was built on and made possible by the money made because of the slave trade.

British people are also coming to acknowledge that the slave trade did play a vital role in their development. An example of this is in Liverpool, a gallery is set up to commemorate their connection with the slave trade. This also indicates that the slave trade had a significant role in the development in the economy of Liverpool.

If we study the evidence and sources it is transparent enough for us to see what effect the slave trade have on Britain. It not only created huge positive change in the economy but on the development if industries and inventions. It is therefore made clear that it was a key driving force in the industrial revolution.