The Forgotten “White” Slaves That Time Forgot
By John Martin
Courtesy of Global Research
January 27, 2013
“They came as slaves; vast human cargo transported on tall 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. They 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 II and Charles I also led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s famed Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanizing one’s next door neighbor.
The Irish slave trade began when James II 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 2,000 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 Pounds Sterling). Irish slaves came cheap (no more than 5 Sterling). If a planter whipped or 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 moms, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their kids and remain in servitude.
In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women– in many cases, girls as young as 12–to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls 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 that the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is, also, very 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 it’s 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 nightmarish 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, where are our public and private schools? Where are the history books? Why is it so seldom discussed? Do the memories of hundreds of thousands of Irish victims merit more than a mention from an unknown writer?
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.
* * * * * * * * *
We were curious about this subject and looked into it a bit more.
Indeed, according to James Cavanaugh, author of Irish Slaves of the Caribbean, the English sold more Irish slaves between 1600 and 1699 than they did African slaves.
Cavanaugh notes the extent of the Irish slave trade:
“The Proclamation of 1625 ordered that Irish political prisoners be transported overseas and sold as laborers to English planters, who were settling the islands of the West Indies, officially establishing a policy that was to continue for two centuries. In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies.
But there were not enough political prisoners to supply the demand, so every petty infraction carried a sentence of transporting, and slaver gangs combed the country sides to kidnap enough people to fill out their quotas.”
Cavanaugh tells of shiploads of Irish children who were shipped off. The numbers are staggering. He
writes as follows:
“In 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland and attacked Drogheda, slaughtering some 30,000 Irish living in the city. Cromwell reported: ‘I do not think 30 of their whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did are in safe custody in the Barbados.’
A few months later, in 1650, 25,000 Irish were sold to planters in St. Kitt.
During the 1650s decade of Cromwell’s Reign of Terror, over 100,000 Irish children were taken from Catholic parents and sold as slaves in the New Americas.
In fact, more Irish were sold as slaves to the American colonies and plantations from 1651 to 1660 than the total existing free population of the Americas.”
We found urchins were swept up from London’s streets to labor in the tobacco fields where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide “breeders” for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants, unaware they would become personal property who could be bought, sold, and even gambled away. Transported convicts were paraded for sale like livestock.
Contrary to popular belief, the Irish were anything but lucky. No wonder we like good whiskey.
The original article above by John Martin appeared in the issue of Global Research.
It was based on the book, “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America“ by authors Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.
Hat tip to Bruce Anderson of the AVA, and to Mary O’Reilly of Trinidad.
Posted by Skippy Massey