Sunday, October 12, 2014

You never hear this story these days...

They came as slaves: human cargo transported on British ships bound for the Americas. They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children.
Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways. Slave owners would hang their human property by their hands and set their hands or feet on fire as one form of punishment. Some were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.
We don’t really need to go through all of the gory details, do we? We know all too well the atrocities of the African slave trade.
But are we talking about African slavery? King James VI and Charles I also led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanizing one’s next door neighbour.
The Irish slave trade began when James VI sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies.
By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.
Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.
From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade.
Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.
During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia.
Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.
Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: Slaves. They’ll come up with terms like “Indentured Servants” to describe what occurred to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle.
As an example, the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period. It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.
African slaves were very expensive during the late 1600s (£50 Sterling). Irish slaves came cheap (no more than £5 Sterling). If a planter whipped, branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. A death was a monetary setback, but far cheaper than killing a more expensive African.
The English masters quickly began breeding the Irish women for both their own personal pleasure and for greater profit. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master’s free workforce.
Even if an Irish woman somehow obtained her freedom, her kids would remain slaves of her master. Thus, Irish mothers, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their children and would remain in servitude.
In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls (many as young as 12) with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new “mulatto” slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves.
This practice of interbreeding Irish females with African men went on for several decades and was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.
England continued to ship tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. Records state that, after the 1798 Irish Rebellion, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia. There were horrible abuses of both African and Irish captives. One British ship even dumped 1,302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean so that the crew would have plenty of food to eat.
There is little question the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more, in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is also little question that those brown, tanned faces you witness in your travels to the West Indies are very likely a combination of African and Irish ancestry.
In 1839, Britain finally decided on it’s own to end its participation in Satan’s highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded this chapter of Irish misery.
But, if anyone, black or white, believes that slavery was only an African experience, then they’ve got it completely wrong. Irish slavery is a subject worth remembering, not erasing from our memories.
But, why is it so seldom discussed? Do the memories of hundreds of thousands of Irish victims not merit more than a mention from an unknown writer?
Or is their story to be the one that their English masters intended: To completely disappear as if it never happened.
None of the Irish victims ever made it back to their homeland to describe their ordeal. These are the lost slaves; the ones that time and biased history books conveniently forgot.


Old NFO said...

Excellent post and no, I HADN'T!!!

Daddy Hawk said...

Ditto what Old NFO said. As a person with a history degree, I can say I had been spoon fed the "indentured servitude" line as well. History is universally written by the winners. The English have no desire to call attention to their own evils, but this does explain why the IRA had no trouble finding willing supporters.

NotClauswitz said...

I have heard about the Irish slave-trade to the West Indies in local writer Guy Nixon's book - Slavery in the West - and that the males were unable to cope with Malaria so the traders sought malaria-resistant line and wound up in Africa. Apparently (or supposedly) female DNA research (mitochondrial) shows that most Jamacians have DNA going back to Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Every human on earth has both slaves AND slave-owners in their ancestry. To believe otherwise is willful ignorance. People need to get the hell over their childish racial grievances. But, they won't.

Without someone else to blame, my shortcomings might be MY fault.

Firehand said...

I've read a bit about this, but hadn't heard of the crossbreeding. By any chance have any book titles or links on this? Know some people who'd be fascinated

Anonymous said...

Your dates are somewhat out. Britain banned the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic in 1807. William Wilberforce was the author of the act, some of my ancestors(Welsh Evangelists) were his financial backers. The Slavery Abolition act passed in 1833, banning slavery Empire wide. At that point anyone enslaving, transporting or engaged in the buying or selling of slaves within the Empire could be imprisoned and forfeit their assets, many did. The Royal Navy were ruthless in its enforcement. Around the Caribbean and in Destructions Bay in Sierra Leone lie the remains of Slave ships cut in half by the RN to ensure they could never be used again. Many incidentally were American ships. You were complicit in transporting slaves from all over the world. The RN had that policy from 1807 and unofficially 15 years before that.
Some 50 odd years later you had a little war over deciding the same thing yet even then indentured service remained and of course the US treatment of Africans is notable as being second only to South Africa though the irish seemed to fair little better.

Firehand said...

In 1794 the US passed the Slave Trade Act restricting the trade, including
build, fit, equip, load or otherwise prepare any ship or vessel, within any port or place of said United States, nor shall cause any ship or vessel to sail from any port or place within same, for the purpose of carrying on any trade or traffic in slaves, to any foreign country; or for the purpose of procuring, from any foreign kingdom, place or country, the inhabitants of such kingdom, place or country, to be transported to any foreign country, port, or place whatever, to be sold or disposed of, as slaves:

In 1807 a law was passed banning the import of slaves.

Take your 'You were complicit' and shove it; there were still British as well as American ships illegally carrying slaves for years after.

Anonymous said...


Miss M said...

Thank you for this post on the Irish slaves! I have Irish ancestry, and had tried to find information on this, but couldn't.

It's my understanding that Irish slaves were also used as "canaries" in the mines. The Irish were expendable, so they'd send them ahead of the much more valuable African slaves. If the Irish died, they knew to pull the Africans out.

At any rate, do you have any references I could look into?

Just so you know, I'm not interested in nurturing a victim mentality. I'm sick of victim mentalities, which is precisely why I want to look into this. I don't use the enslavement of my ancestors as an excuse.

Will Brown said...

In a masters-level display of my Google-fu (not), I entered the search string: "irish slave trade" and hit "Enter". The following results (from the first page only) seemed pertinent:

As ever, the wikipedia entry is valuable more for its links to original sources than for the content itself (though that too is often surprisingly useful).

This all goes some way in providing a context for the often brutal treatment handed out to Irish immigrants to the US during the early-to-mid 18th century, I think.

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