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The triangular trade

From the earliest days, rum and other forms of alcohol had an enthusiastic following in the New World. Early Americans could drink most modern people under the table. The infamous triangular trade was the shipping of New England rum to Africa in exchange for slaves, who were sold in the West Indies for money and molasses, which was taken back to New England to make more rum. This three-legged voyage was hugely profitable but made up only a minority of New England trade. Most Yankee traders exchanged food and lumber for manufactured goods, which they sold in the colonies.


The colonies made more money per person on average than anyplace else in the world. Long before they knew it, the colonies were on a collision course with the interests of their mother country due to England's policy of mercantilism. Under this policy, the colonies were supposed to

supply England raw materials and buy expensive manufactured stuff only from the mother country. If the colonists wanted to sell anything to another country, the trade was supposed to go through England. England controlled trade, got the markups, and treated the colonists like cows. After the colonists got organized, they couldn't afford to let this practice continue.

Trade tension

America was growing fast; Britain was growing slowly. Pretty soon, the British had all the American food and other stuff they needed, and Americans wanted European finery that Britain didn't produce. Yankee businessmen wanted to trade with other countries, especially the rich French West Indies. This situation produced the beginning of trade tension between the colonies and their mother country — tension that would eventually become one of the leading causes of revolt.

Beginning in 1650, the English passed a series of Navigation Acts to support mercantilism. The Navigation Acts (1650) tried to regulate trade with the colonies to make more money for England. As part of the program, Parliament passed the Molasses Act (1733), which imposed a tax of sixpence per gallon on molasses (about $1 in modern money) to make English products cheaper than those from the French West Indies. Colonists largely opposed the tax and rarely paid it; smuggling to avoid it was a huge business. The growing corruption of local officials and disrespect for British law caused by this act and others helped lead to the American Revolution in 1776.

American tobacco filled the pipes of Europe, but the smoking trade was less troublesome; most of the leaf was shipped through England, giving British merchants a nice little profit.

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