The Irish Slave Trade – The Forgotten “White” Slaves: The Slaves That Time Forgot

The Irish Slave Trade – The Forgotten “White” Slaves
The Slaves That Time Forgot
By John Martin
Global Research, January 27, 2013//Oped News and Global Research 14 April 2008
Region: Europe // Theme: Culture, Society & History, Poverty & Social Inequality

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 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.

Please note – this article is not an original of this site – however its content is deemed substantial such that it is re-posted in its entirety. Please, visit the originating site as there are other articles of interest as well.

Additional articles on slavery (that do not include much on Irish Slavery) can be found below.  One paragraph stood out to me:

Before 1400: Slavery had existed in Europe from Classical times and did not disappear with the collapse of the Roman Empire. Slaves remained common in Europe throughout the early medieval period. However, slavery of the Classical type became increasingly uncommon in Northern Europe and, by the 11th and 12th centuries, had been effectively abolished in the North. Nevertheless, forms of unfree labour, such as villeinage and serfdom, persisted in the north well into the early modern period. In Southern and Eastern Europe, Classical-style slavery remained a normal part of the society and economy and trade across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seaboard meant that African slaves began to appear in Italy, Spain, Southern France, and Portugal well before the discovery of the New World in 1492. From about the 8th century onwards, an Arab-run slave trade also flourished, with much of this activity taking place in East Africa, Arabia, and the Indian Ocean. In addition, many African societies themselves had forms of slavery, although these differed considerably, both from each other and from the European and Arabic forms. Although various forms of unfree labour were prevalent in Europe throughout its history, historians refer to ‘Chattel Slavery’, in which slaves are commodities to be bought and sold, rather than domestic servants or agricultural workers. Chattel Slavery is the characteristic form of slavery in the modern world, and this chronology is concerned primarily with this form.


The Irish Slaves – Rhetta Akamatsu

Bibliography for The Irish Slaves:


Linebaugh, Peter & Rediker, Marcus: T he Manyheaded Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.

Karras Ruth Mazo: Slavery And Society in Medeivel Scandinavia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Connelly, James: The Reconquest of Ireland .Sioux Falls: NuVision Publications, LLC, 2007.

Sowell, Thomas: Ethnic America. New York: Basic Books, 1981

Miller, Kerby: Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Miller, Kerby A. (Editor), Schrierm Arnold (Editor), Boling, Bruce D. (Editor), Doyle, David N. (Editor): Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and

Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Woodham-Smith, Cecil: The Great Hunqer; Ireland 1845-1849. New York: Penguin Group,1992.

Macmanus, Seumas: The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History of Ireland (1922).New York: Cornell University Library, 2009.

Metlzer, Milton: Slavery: A World History. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1993.

Williams, Joseph J : Whence the “Black Irish” of Jamaica.Lincoln MacVeigh/The Dial Press, 1932.

Lenihan, Maurice: Limerick, its history and antiquities; ecclesiastical, civil, and military,from the earliest ages, with copious historical, archaeological, topographical, and genealogical notes. Nabu Press, 2010.

Akinson, Donald H: An Irish History of Civilization, Volume 1. Montreal: McGill-Queen‘s University Press,2006.

Jordan, Don and Walsh, Michael: White cargo: the forgotten history of Britain’s White slaves in America. New York: NYU Press, 2008.

Renwick, W.L. and Spencer, Sir Edmund: A view of the present state of Irelande, 1934 Edition. Native American Books Distributor, 2007. Page 37

Emmet, Thomas Addis: Ireland Under English Rule.Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007.

Purvis, Thomas L: A Dictionary of American History. Wiley-Blackwell, 1997.

Hayden, Tom: Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America. New York: Verso,2003.

Miles, Rosalind: The Women’s History of the World. Topsfield: Salem House Publishing, 1992.

Clark, Dennis: The Irish relations: trials of an immigrant tradition. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982.

Mittelberger, Gottlieb: On the Misfortune of Indentured Servant: 1754.

Crimmens, John Daniel: Irish-American Historical Miscellany: Relating Largely to New York City and Vicinity, Together with Much Interesting Material Relative to Other Parts of the Country. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007.

Annu, Ogu Eji Ofo (editor): White Slaves in Americas.

Thebaud, Rev. August J: The Irish Race in the Past and Present. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2010.

Coleman Philip, Byrne, James, & Kling, Jason (editors): Ireland and the Americas: culture, politics, and history: Volume 2. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

McEnnis, John T: The white slaves of free America: Being an account of the sufferings, privations and hardships of the weary toilers in our great cities as recently exposed … child labor, contract and prison labor. R.S. Peale and Co., 1888.

Bettman, Otto: The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible! New York: Random House, 1974.

Fitzpatrick, Brian: Fitzpatrick, Brian: 1945). Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing, 1982.

O‘Driscoll, Robert & Reynolds, Lorna (editors): Untold Story : The Irish in Canada. Celtic Arts, 1988.


This entry was posted in Historical, History, Irish, Muslims. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.