During the early 1700’s Liverpool began shipping goods back and forth from America. The trade in spice, sugar, tobacco and cotton made Liverpool an increasingly important place. It was helped by the fact that a series of canals from around England lead into Liverpool making the passage of goods to and from the docks even easier.
One aspect of this trade which brought great wealth to the town of Liverpool, but resulted in death and hardship for millions was the Slave Trade – capturing people from Africa and selling them in America to work.
The number of ships leaving for Africa grew from about 15 a year in 1730 to 130 a year in 1790. The ships sailed in what is commonly called a ‘slavery triangle’.
The Slave Trade 'Triangle':
Liverpool to West Africa - Traders carried textiles from Lancashire and firearms from the midlands to West Africa. These were exchanged for captured African people.
West Africa to America - The enslaved Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to America. The journey usually took six to eight weeks. Conditions onboard were terrible and many Africans died.
America to Liverpool - Once the ships reached America the captains sold them as slaves. The ships returned to Liverpool with goods such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton and tobacco.
The legacy of the slave trade can still be seen around Liverpool today, many streets are named after wealthy shipping merchants who made their money from slavery including Penny Lane – named after James Penny and made famous in the Beatles song. There are however a number of Liverpool streets named after people who were against the trade.
The town hall railings (built in 1754) have pineapples and elephants on them – reflecting the type of items that were brought into the area from overseas.
By the time the slave trade ended in 1807 Liverpool had established itself as one of the wealthiest and important places in the country, if not the world.
Read more about Liverpool's role in the Transatlantic Slave trade
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Up from Slavery – History of Slave Trade
BBC Local History – Liverpool’s slave trail
International Slavery Museum
Origins of Liverpool Street Names
BBC H2g2 Liverpool Slave Trade