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Colonial America – Triangle Trade Route

August 26, 2011


Thank you for letting me use this map from American’s History by James Henretta.

It’s hard to imagine not being able to purchase items you need at the local Kmarts, but the colonist didn’t have that option.  Completing the map with the trade route helps children visualize and comprehend what and why things were traded.  Be sure to have your child:

  • make a key to label the routes (using different colors for the routes is helpful – especially for the visual learner!)
  • neatly color the map
  • Label the –  13 colonies, Atlantic Ocean, England and Africa

You’ll want a discussion about imports and exports and the laws in effect in the early 1700’s.

England held a number of colonies around the world.  It was a belief of the time that to have power depended on being wealth.  Having colonies provided a constant source of raw materials in order for England to produce items to sell to other countries.  In 1651 England established the Navigation Laws.  The laws were designed to control the trade.  The colonies could only trade with England and everything had to be shipped on English ships.  If you needed something, the colonists couldn’t make it, they had to purchase it from England.  The colonist were not allowed to sell or buy items from Spain, France or Denmark or even their neighbor!

England continued to make laws to restrict trade which made the colonist angry.  While England was busy with the French and Indian War, they didn’t enforce the laws and the colonist found ways around the laws. Smuggling goods from other countries and piracy became big business.

Trading was the only way to purchase items since there was no money like we have now.  Early settlers used wampum (shell beads) to trade with the Native People.  The wampum was made from mussel shells pierced and hung on a string of hide.

England restricted money in the form of paper so the colonist couldn’t trade with each other. The coins used were English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese but every country had it’s own value so they could only be used to buy from that country. One coin became very popular – the pieces of eight. They were Spanish silver dollars that could be divided into 8 pieces called “reals” or “bits”.  That is where the saying “two bits” comes from – 2 bits of a piece of eight would be about 12 1/2 cents or 25¢.

"Pieces of Eight" (reproduction)

Items that England and European countries exported or sent to the American colonies:

  • furniture
  • clothes
  • barrels
  • tools
  • paper

Items that the Caribbean Island exported to America:

  • sugar
  • molasses

Items that America exported to England and Africa:

  • beaver skins
  • tobacco
  • musket balls
  • nails
  • rum
  • guns

Houghton Mifflin has a great interactive map that your child can add the routes.

Here is a map you can have the children you work with label and color.  It’s too small to note all of the colonies by state but they can get  a general idea of where they are in relation to the other countries.  They can make an approximation of where they think the colonies are on the map and show what was trade in each country.

Colonial America - Triangle Trade Route (8.3 MiB)


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