In the same manner that mid-eighteenth century New England merchants produced many notions and rum to trade for West African slaves, Liverpool merchants supplied trade goods used for barter in Africa. They provided “beads, textiles, ironmongery, brass bars, cheap rifles, liquor, and so on – and generally fitted out the ships for each new venture.”
British Slave Merchants
“British merchant shippers had been transporting Negro slaves from Africa to the West Indies since the end of the 16th century. What began as a modest venture, operated by a chartered company, gradually became an extensive and highly competitive trade. By 1775, when the British West Indies had reached the peak of their prosperity, and when non-British territories were rapidly expanding, merchants from London, Liverpool and Bristol carried nearly 60,000 slaves a year across the Atlantic.
[After disruption by American privateers during the war, by] 1787 British traders still had not regained their former level of human exports. In that year some 137 ships sailed from British ports to trade for slaves on the African coast. They carried British goods . . . part of [which] were delivered to private black dealers for slaves. Paying goods worth about 15 [pounds] for adult male slaves in good health, less for females and children, the merchants collected 38,000 to 42,000 Negroes.
With them the ships began the difficult eight-week journey across the Atlantic [and] because of the frightful conditions on board, perhaps only 34,000 remained alive when they reached the West Indies. There they were sold for an average 35 [pounds] each to English, French, Dutch, Danish and Spanish proprietors, either directly or through agents.
The organization of the British slave trade centered in Liverpool and Bristol. Aggressiveness, specialization and proximity to the manufacturers of African slave trade goods had helped the former town overcome the lead of the latter in the first half of the century.
In 1787 Liverpool sent 78 ships totaling 13,700 tons [of goods] to Africa, whereas Bristol sent only 31 ships totaling 4,236 tons. A few ships cleared from London, Lancaster and Poole. Liverpool slave merchants often engaged in other kinds of shipping, as well as banking and insurance. Some of them traded to North America and Europe . . . Few, if any, depended solely on slaves for a livelihood.”
(The Abolition of the Slave Trade in England, 1784-1807, Dale H. Porter, Archon Books, 1970, excerpts pp. 1-3)