The ships return to Bristol

The last leg of the triangular trade was the return back to Bristol, this is known as the ‘return passage’ . The slave ships would have left Bristol many months before for West Africa. Once there they traded for enslaved Africans, whom they then took across the Atlantic Ocean to the European-owned plantations in America and the Caribbean. Once they had sold their cargo of slaves, the ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean again on their journey back to Bristol. This time the ships’ holds were filled, not with human beings, but with barrels of sugar, rum or tobacco. These had been produced by the slaves on the plantations and were brought back to Bristol to be processed in factories and then sold in shops. Pictured here is the front page of an atlas from 1775. The illustration shows several barrels on a Caribbean beach waiting to be collected and loaded onto a ship going to Europe. The barrels would contain things such as sugar and rum.

The ships sailed back from different places in the Caribbean and America, where they would have bought other goods aside from the usual sugar, rum and tobacco. Depending where they sailed from, they might also be carrying rice, indigo dye, timber, pimento (a type of pepper), ginger, cocoa, coffee or bales of cotton. Sometimes a ship picked up other cargoes whilst in Africa, as well as enslaved Africans, and brought it all the way back to Bristol via the Caribbean. These were things such as wood, gold, palm oil and ivory, which all got a good price back at home.