The scale of New England trade to the West Indian sugar plantations was nothing short of astonishing, with nearly 80 percent of all overseas exports supporting slave-labor sugar production. By this time as well, the Narragansett region of Rhode Island and neighboring Connecticut both developed their own plantation systems employing African slaves as forced labor.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Slaves Doing the Business of New England
“At the same time that John Winthrop left England to establish his city on the hill, another group of Puritans left England for the Caribbean. While the New England colonists shipped beaver pelts, codfish, and timber back across the Atlantic, the West Indies group ended up on Providence Island raising tobacco and cotton, using slave labor.
Europeans . . . prized sugar [that was slave-produced in the West Indies]. The crop roared its way across the Atlantic like an agricultural hurricane. It denuded islands of their forests and siphoned hundreds of thousands of Africans into slavery to feed a boundless, addicted market.
Between 1640 and 1650, English ships delivered nearly 19,000 Africans to work the fields in Barbados. By 1700, the cumulative total had reached 134,000. The pattern was repeated on other islands. Jamaica, barely populated when the English invaded it in 1655, had absorbed 85,000 African slaves by 1700. The Leeward Islands, including Antigua, took 44,000.
That same year a Boston ship made one of the earliest known New England slave voyages to Africa, delivering its cargo to Barbados. The Puritans thought about using captive labor for themselves. In 1645, Emanuel Downing, John Winthrop’s brother-in-law, advised Winthrop: “I do not see how we can thrive until we get a stock of slaves sufficient to do all our business.”
Although residents of New England and Middle Atlantic States owned slaves and trafficked in slaves, they profited more from feeding the increasingly large numbers of Africans in the West Indies and providing the materials to operate the sugar plantations and mills.
The flow of commerce between America, Africa and the West Indies entered history as the Triangle Trade. In its classic shape, Northern colonies sent food, livestock, and wood (especially for barrels) to West Indian sugar plantations, where enslaved Africans harvested the cane that fed the refining mills.
Sugar, and its by-product molasses, was then shipped back North, usually in barrels made of New England wood and sometimes accompanied by slaves. Finally, scores of Northern distilleries turned the molasses into rum to trade in Africa for new slaves, who were, in turn, shipped to the sugar plantations.”
(Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, Profited from Slavery, Farrow, Lang, Frank, Ballantine Books, 2006, excerpts, pp. 46-49)