The Irish Slave Trade – The Forgotten “White” Slaves

The Slaves That Time Forgot

By John Martin

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? After all, 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 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 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 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 would 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? Or is their story to be one that their English pirates intended: To (unlike the African book) have the Irish story utterly and 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.

449 thoughts on “The Irish Slave Trade – The Forgotten “White” Slaves”

  1. I get so tired of hearing about these damn Edomites (ie the Irish) and how they have suffered. The Irish have, throughout history, been very cruel to African Americans and African slaves so let them, the many of them, wear the title of red neck like it is their badge of honor. They have suffered nothing but a lack of potatoes and cabbages. They should be and “should have been” more like the CAJUNS and they need to stop trying to corrupt the CAJUNS with their “bone head mentality”. The Cajuns need to run from these boneheads–these beasts!!!!! Marriages between the Cajuns and the Irish should be outlawed because all that the Irish are known to do is destroy (and get drunk) I can’t stand damn rednecks!!!!!! The Irish are ignorant beasts of the field!!!! I would claim nothing from their bloodline!!!!!

    1. I am an Irish descendant, and absolutely disagree with your description of our characteristics. I have been a survivor of domestic abuse, as well as an accomplished professional in three different technical fields. I am still working into my seventh decade. You should do a bit more research before you cast such accusations on any people. Of course opinions, you know.

      1. I am still working into my seventh decade, but history doesn’t disparage one family but brings us together as one nation, under the growing pains of ancestors that had their own fears an beliefs. I am American with Irish ancestry but not insulted by their tragedy an pain or their triumphs.

    2. That is of the most ignorant things I’ve ever read. The Irish were also a large force in the civil war for the north, Kennedy worked with civil rights leaders, as week as countless other examples.

    3. Louisiana Culture you have to be one of the most uneducated people I have ever come across, You know nothing about the Irish history, and if you did you would not be making such ignorant uneducated comments !!!!!!!!

    4. Cajuns are an ethnic group mainly living in the U.S. state of Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speakers from Acadia in what are now The Maritimes of Eastern Canada). Today, the Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana’s population and have exerted an enormous impact on the state’s culture.

      1. 1. Irish aren’t edomites. They’re basque stock.

        2. They were absolutely slaves. Go read White Cargo for all the documentation. The fact you don’t know this is part of the upper class fabrication of American history.

    5. You really do not have your facts correct. The Irish suffered much more than losing potatoes and cabbage. Children were separated from their parents, husbands from their wives, siblings from siblings, etc.. Do you honestly think that ONLY black skinned people have been slaves? There are slaves in America and around the World today. They are children and young adults both male and female. They are sex slaves. Get off this Africans were the only slaves. There have been slaves throughout history, but only the African slaves of the American South want an apology from people who were not even alive during slavery. Seems like you think African slave descendants are the only people who count. Many you get attitude from others because you act like everyone owes you instead of working and building your own future.

    6. First of all the Irish are not Edomites, in what was known as Galatia part of Turkey today were Gaelic tribes of which the Irish came. One of the biggest tribes that worked its way to Ireland were the Malesian as well as two other Gaelic tribes which became the Irish of Ireland. Second the persecution of the Irish by the English were severe. By this i mean the Irish could be hung or killed indiscriminately and property confiscated reletives forced into servitude against there will, which is by the way one of the definitions of slavery, even in our Constitution. These people the Irish eventually regained their personhood just as the African Slaves did after hundreds of thousands of American soldiers died in the civil war. However the didn’t gain this until after World War II just a tad longer. Do yourself a favor never rely on a single source for only ignorant amateur dose this.

    7. Wow, you have issues. That;s like an Irish referring to Blacks, as a group, being crackheads or something.

      I am Irish and my best friend is Black. You are part of the problem. The line of thinking you spouted is what leads to bondage of the body and the mind.

  2. Wow! I am 90% Irish descent and have 8% german and 2% indian. I always knew the Irish were enslaved. But I find it funny and stupid of someone that is not irish saying its false and have no real education. And I am not surprised of the people who think only blacks were enslaved and yet get pissed offand angry if anyone else claims there were white slaves! This this shows they thrive onand leech off of people who are compassionate and kind hearted. This means they need some therapy especially when someone reacts strongly.

  3. Always there are the ignorant and bigots that choose to re-write history, change facts and live in a corner filled with hate.
    My ancestors came to the New World as slaves from Ireland. My 4X great grandfather served as a Colonel in the Revolutionary War, along with his 5 sons. My father fought in WW I, my Mother was a pilot (WASP) in WW II; I am a Viet era vet; my son served in Gulf War I.
    Your privilege and freedom of speech, to spout lies and hatred, has been given you by Irish sacrifice.

    1. thank u for the sacrifices given. I am 50% Irish 50% Transylvanian. My father served as my son, son in law and nephew.

    2. Thank you and your family for your service and dedication to our sometimes flawed, but always great, nation.
      I truly believe that the greatness of America is owed to great Americans. On this 4th of July, I salute you and your family.

  4. The Irish and several other groups WERE indentured servants. Never meant to be slaves for LIFE. Most were very poor and used their work to pay for their passage. Their children and grandchildren FOREVER were not intended to be slaves in this country. We’ve all heard about President Obama’s Irish roots, and we know his father came from Kenya. But a research team from Ancestry, the world’s largest online family history resource, has also concluded that the nation’s 44th president is also the 11thgreat-grandson of John Punch, the first documented African enslaved FOR LIFE in American history.

    “And what’s more, the connection comes through President Obama’s Caucasian mother’s family.

    This discovery follow years of research by Ancestry genealogists who, using early Virginia records and DNA analysis, linked Obama to John Punch. Punch was an indentured servant in Colonial Virginia who fled to escape servitude in 1640. After he was caught, his punishment [was changed to} enslavement for life. {The two Irish slaves who ran with him received only an addition of 7 years to their indenture d servitude]. Punch’s is the first documented case of slavery for life in the colonies, occurring decades before slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.”

    Yes Slavery of any kind is horrible. But to say Irish slaves had it worse is patently false. Native Americans were slaves in American as well but never receive the level of mistreatment Africans did from every level of American society possible. In fact the degradation was so deep it still affects all Americans and race relations to this day.

    1. Neverbeensoconfused. has been so wrong for so long on peoples history it is a joke among genealogists. Everyone’s related to a slave that is black according to them, when in reality the chances are slim, as more then half the blacks in the U.S. are immigrants after the last slave was free. It is morons that whine about what they never experienced. Irish were slaves and suffered horribly. Catholics even more so. Only half survived 200,000 were killed horribly and beheaded in Barbadoes after an uprising. Their heads adorned all buildings and fences to remind others what would happen if they tried anything again. And some were killed because they would not renounce their faith.

      America was settled by Protestants and that was the major religion. As Irish slaves became so great in numbers we became a Catholic nation. They dwarfed the African slaves on Barbadoes and in the colonies were bought in higher numbers because they were cheaper.

      I have never heard and Irish person cry about their ancestors or act like a whiny two tear old saying they are owed something because they are too lazy to work for it. They were treated like garbage right up until the fifties and in some areas the sixties.
      Blacks in the Boston area were treated better then the Irish. It was not until the 70″s when they stopped the term Paddy wagon. So go whine somewhere else about shit you know nothing about. I lived in a house because when my grandfather moved in the neighbors moved out as we were Irish. You pukes make me sick ith your lying liberal know-nothing BS.

    2. Oh really? Wow. Where did you get your phenomenal history lesson? From the tribes of Natives that have been completely eradicated thanks to the white people?

  5. And even Indians and Africans had slaves… Slaves of their own race!
    I never had been taught or heard about the huge numbers of Irish slaves!

    1. “I never had been taught or heard about the huge numbers of Irish slaves!”

      Because you are not supposed to know. White slaves do not fit into the liberal agenda.

    2. That would make the English look bad. They have been trying to kill off the Irish for 1000 years. Can’t do it, because the are bloody slim.
      I speak of the Royalty and English Elite, who happen to be German stock. Not the everyday man and woman, most of the middle class, in any country, are the happiest.

  6. Where is your data to prove that any individual had worse treatment than another. It doesn’t matter does it? There were slaves other than just African Americans and Native American. However, the idea that any slaves may have been Caucasian doesn’t fit anyone’s “please feel sorry for me” narrative does it? I am sick of everyone degrading each other over things that happened long before any of us were born. We can’t forget it because it is history and we can’t let it repeat itself, but we really should move on already. Otherwise, we will continue to dwell on it, only leading to more animosity and frustration over something that none of us had any direct control or part of.

  7. If Lincoln freed the African slaves ,who freed the Irish slaves ??My mother’s family came from Belfast Ireland in 1925.there is no one left now. I can’t concur any of this now.

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