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Molasses Act Of 1733: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:01 Definition of the Molasses Act
  • 0:33 The Importance of Molasses
  • 1:25 The Triangle Trade
  • 2:16 The Impact of the Molasses Act
  • 3:07 The End of the Molasses Act
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Lively

Amy has an M.A. in American History. She has taught history at all levels, from university to middle school.

This lesson discusses the Molasses Act of 1733. Learn more about the definition of the act and its intended impact on Colonial America, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of the Molasses Act

The Molasses Act of 1733 raised the tax on molasses that was imported by American colonies from anywhere other than Great Britain. The tax on non-British molasses was raised from three pence per pound to six pence per pound. The purpose of the Molasses Act was to make more money for Great Britain by controlling trade among its colonies. The British government wanted to force the American colonists to only buy molasses from the British West Indies rather than the French West Indies.

The Importance of Molasses

The importance of molasses to American colonies can be summed up in one word: rum. This was especially true in New England, which was considered one of the world's leading rum producers in the 1700s. Molasses is made from sugar cane. Along with water and yeast, it is one of the primary ingredients in rum. Since sugar cane does not grow in the New England climate, colonists looked to the Caribbean for its molasses.

One of New England's favorite trading partners was the French West Indies, which had plenty of molasses but not enough of things such as lumber, cheese, or flour. Many of the goods that the people of the French West Indies needed were major colonial exports. This led to a strong business relationship between the colonists and the French West Indies, especially since the French West Indies were willing to sell its molasses at a much lower price than other colonies.

The Triangle Trade

Molasses and the rum it made were also tied to other industries across the Atlantic Ocean. Africa was a part of a triangle system with the West Indies and New England. Africa's export was slaves. New England colonists sent rum to Africa for slaves. The slaves were then transported, usually in horrific conditions, to the West Indies. When they arrived in the West Indies, slaves were sold or traded for molasses and then put to work on sugar plantations. The molasses that the slaves made went back to New England to make more rum, and the whole triangle trade system would start all over again.

The Atlantic slave trade was closely tied to the need for molasses and generated a large profit for many New England colonists. That profit was then often used to import refined goods from England, such as cloth or furniture.

The Impact of the Molasses Act

If the Molasses Act had been enforced, it could have ruined the economy in the American colonies. The obvious problem was that the cost of making rum would have skyrocketed. The tax would have eliminated the source of cheap molasses, which was key to the rum industry. Most rum distillers also thought that the French West Indies made a better product, too.

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