The Civil War in Rhode Island

Prior to industrialization, Rhode Island was heavily involved in the slave trade during the post-Revolution era. Slavery was extant in RI as early as the 1600s. By 1774, the slave population of RI was 6.3%, nearly twice as high as any other New England colony. In the late eighteenth century, several Rhode Island merchant families (most notably the Browns, for whom Brown University is named) began actively engaging in the triangle slave trade where Rhode Islanders distilled rum from molasses, sent the rum to Africa to trade for slaves, and then traded the slaves in the West Indies for more molasses. The 18th century Rhode Island's economy depended largely upon the triangle trade. Rhode Island merchants controlled between 60 and 90 percent of the American trade in African slaves.


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