The Irish Slave Trade – The Forgotten “White” Slaves

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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.

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

  1. i’m sorry but indentured servitude where you strike a deal to get something in return for your labor is not slavery. but then if you would like you could post about all the statues currently erected of people who literally started a war to keep your people(irish) enslaved…. ill wait.

  2. Slavery was the last horrible vestige of feudalism, much like today’s underclass is the last horrible vestige of late-stage capitalism.

    But the proles are still being dividing among racial and ethnic lines. So if you are this well-versed in the history of the “Irish Slave” you can probably produce such a slave who paid off their debts and wound up owning African slaves of their own.

    You can fit the narrative any way you want, but if you want to be a historian, you’ll dig for this counterexample, too. The past is far more complex and nuanced than any one reading will suggest, and this is the proof.

    Find it before I, not a trained historian, find it first.

  3. I would sure like to meet any of my mothers relatives .I met one of my uncles sons in Toronto from Ancestry . ca ,he was born in 1942.

  4. This is a very important part of history that should be taught in all schools. This knowledge could help with the anger and racism all over. All colors have been mistreated and abused in so many ways. So against humanity and a loving God’s plan.

  5. The reason it’s not talked about that much is becuase, the blacks, African descent people still get mistreated despite slavery ending over a century ago. The Irish in America after the emacipation threw blacks under the bus and couldnt stand the competition. Thats when things got really ugly. Heck, the irish immigrants created blackface and were the reason politicians changed their tune during the reconstruction. They couldnt control the mobs. Other people around the world still carry negative attitudes towards African descent people. It’s the misplaced racism that was carried from previous generations that many blacks still endure and you should find a way to understand. May things outside the Americas was different but this is why.

    1. The reason the Irish were indentured servants and not called slaves was in the 1700s slavery was declared illegal in the UK by judge mansfield…go see the movie ‘Bell’…..So they got around by different means, calling them pows, convicts, rebels, and or indentured servants.

      The idea of white slavery does not fit with all the BS about the founding fathers…The gov of virginia had 2/3 black and 1/3 wite slaves for example and except for the Adam’s the founding fathers were beilan slavers, pedophile and shite masons..

      1. But it’s still going on in N.E. my Irish grandma all of us grandkids trafficked and forced to produce kids with men afainst our will then they steal our kids again. We are denied medical, lawyers, jobs, it’s better masked though but present.

    2. There were two kinds of Irish..Nothern Irish were protestant scotch-irish from ulster who had been persecuting and oppressing catholic irish natives…They became the mostly southerners…The other native irish were of the famine and rebellions.

      1. There wasn’t a “potato’ famine. The English just stole all the irish goods. Do you really think they ate and farmed only potatoes?

    3. the american revolution adn civil war were all masonic coups by the masons backed by the east india coy…the american flage is the flag of the east india coy.

    4. For those who fails to accept the truth being told by the writer, let me personally tell you for sure, I know for a fact that what the writer is telling the world is the truth. I was born in one of those Islands namely Montserrat, W.I, My ancestry was some the Irish slaves that the English Hauled away from there homeland. I know some people refuses to accept the truth no matter what, but I could care less if you accept the truth or not. May God forgive those who treat human beings as slaves.

      1. If more people were willingly to search for the truth instead of assuming what they were taught was true maybe then the world would be a better place for all of us.

    5. …where did you come up with this trash ~
      The Irish didn’t become respected citizens over night. It took years to end the abuse and social disadvantage.
      They were poor and uneducated, in a new land run by the Elite class of British that enslaved them in the first place.
      Your logic is seriously flawed…
      THINK about life in the 1500 -1700’s…

  6. Thank you for sharing this unfortunate history of Irish slavery; none of this information was included world history classes taught in US public schools. So sad! ??

  7. I see there are posts stating that this is a myth and that there were no Irish white slaves – I reposted your original story on my facebook page and would like to know what record of proof exists to back this article if any

      1. That was Liam Hogan and he can be blown up rather easily.You only needed to be 1/8th Black to be considered a slave and not an indentured servant and that was only if you could find your way to a court in the North.

    1. Travel to some of the Islands of the southern Caribbean and take the tours. Many of them will tell you about the history of the Irish slaves on their Island. St. Kitts still has an area of the island they call Irish Town because that is where many of the Irish Slaves build their homes after they were released.

    2. Search: ( links get rejected as spam )
      The Irish of Barbados ( Irish America website )
      Irish indentured labour in the Caribbean
      ( National Archives Gov UK Website )
      Look into Cromwell and King James

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