The most famous triangular trade in human history was the 18th century trade between West Africa, the West Indies, and Europe (alternatively: West Africa, the West Indies, and northern colonies in British North America). Of these, the sea lane west from Africa was the notorious Middle Passage; its cargo, abducted or recently purchased African slaves.
The trade represented a profitable enterprise for merchants. The business was risky, competitive, and severe, but enslaved Africans fetched a high price at auctions, making the trade in human cargo a lucrative business.
The first leg of the triangle was from a European port, where supplies such as copper, cloth, trinkets,slave beads, guns and ammunition would be shipped to a port in Africa. When the slave ship arrived, its cargo would be sold in exchange for slaves, who were often tightly-packed like any other cargo to maximize profits. The ship would then make the journey along the Middle Passage to the New World. Once the slave ship reached the New World, the survivors would be sold for a good profit. The ships were then prepared to get them thoroughly cleaned, drained, and loaded for a return voyage to their home port. From the West Indies the main cargo was sugar, rum, and molasses; from Virginia, it was tobacco and hemp. The ship then returned to Europe to complete the triangle.
Alternatively, New England also benefited from the trade, as many merchants were from New England, especially Rhode Island, replacing the role of Europe in the triangle. New England also made rum from the Caribbean sugar and molasses, which it shipped to Africa as well as within the New World. Yet, the 'triangle trade' as considered in relation to New England was a piecemeal operation. No New England traders are known to have completed a full sequential circuit of the triangle - historian Clifford Shipton, after years of sifting through New England shipping records, could not find a single instance of a ship completing the full triangle as described The concept of the New England triangle trade was first suggested, inconclusively, in an 1866 book by George H. Moore, was picked up in 1872 by historian George C. Mason, and reached full consideration from a lecture in 1887 by American businessman and historian William B. Weeden.