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Irish Slaves

Ryan Crowe

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I was wondering if any teachers have teached there students on Irish slaves? I found this article and thought I would post it......


by Robert E. West

PEC Illinois State Director*

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Records are replete with references to early Irish Catholics in

the West Indies. Gwynn in Analecta Hibernica, states: 'The

earliest reference to the Irish is the establishment of an Irish

settlement on the Amazon River in 1612."(1) Smith, in Colonists

in Bondage, reports: "a Proclamation of the year 1625 urged the

banishing overseas of dangerous rogues (Irish Political

Prisoners); kidnapping (of Irish) was common."(2)

Condon states that the first considerable emigration from

Ireland to the southern latitudes of America was to Guiana in

1629.(3) Newton declares that Antigua and Montserrat were

occupied as early as 1632 and that many emigrant Irish came out

among the early planters and servants in these islands.(4) Dunn,

in Sugar and Slaves, asserts that, in 1636, Ireland was already a

prime source of supply for servants: as early as 1637, on

Montserrat the Irish heavily outnumbered the English colonists,

and 69 percent of Montserrat's white inhabitants were Irish.(5)

Lenihan writes: in 1650 "25,000 Irishmen sold as slaves in Saint

Kitt's and the adjoining islands, petitioned for a priest..."(6)

In 1641, Ireland's population was 1,466,000 and in 1652,

616,000. According to Sir William Petty, 850,000 were wasted by

the sword, plague, famine, hardship and banishment during the

Confederation War 1641-1652. At the end of the war, vast numbers

of Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the

American colonies by the English government.(7) These people were

rounded up like cattle, and, as Prendergast reports on Thurloe's

State Papers(8) (Pub. London, 1742), "In clearing the ground for

the adventurers and soldiers (the English capitalists of that

day)... To be transported to Barbados and the English plantations

in America. It was a measure beneficial to Ireland, which was

thus relieved of a population that might trouble the planters; it

was a benefit to the people removed, which might thus be made

English and Christians ... a great benefit to the West India

sugar planters, who desired men and boys for their bondsmen, and

the women and Irish girls... To solace them."(9)

J. Williams provides additional evidence of the attitude of the English

government towards the Irish in an English law of June 26, 1657:

"Those who fail to transplant themselves into Connaught

(Ireland's Western Province) or (County) Clare within six

months... Shall be attained of high treason... Are to be sent

into America or some other parts beyond the seas..."(10) Those

thus banished who return are to "suffer the pains of death as

felons by virtue of this act, without benefit of Clergy."(11)

The following are but a few of the numerous references to

those Irish transported against their will between 1651 and 1660.

Emmet asserts that during this time, more that "100,000

young children who were orphans or had been taken from their

Catholic parents, were sent abroad into slavery in the West

Indies, Virginia and New England, that they might lose their

faith and all knowledge of their nationality, for in most

instances even their names were changed... Moreover, the

contemporary writers assert between 20,000 and 30,000 men and

women who were taken prisoner were sold in the American colonies

as slaves, with no respect to their former station in life."(12)

Dunn claims in Barbados the Irish Catholics constituted the

largest block of servants on the island.(13) Higham estimated

that in 1652 Barbados had absorbed no less than 12,000 of these

political prisoners.(14) E. Williams reports: "In 1656 Cromwell's

Council of State voted that 1,000 Irish girls and 1,000 Irish

young men be sent to Jamaica."(15) Smith declares: "it is

impossible to say how many shiploads of unhappy Irish were

dispatched to America by the English government," and "no mention

of such shipments would be very likely to appear in the State

Papers... They must have been very considerable in number."(16)

Estimates vary between 80,000 and 130,000 regarding the

amount of Irish sent into slavery in America and the West Indies

during the years of 1651 - 1660: Prendergast says 80,000(17);

Boudin 100,000(18); Emmet 120,000 to 130,000(19); Lingard 60,000

up until 1656(20); and Condon estimates "the number of Irish

transported to the British colonies in America from 1651 - 1660

exceeded the total number of their inhabitants at that period, a

fact which ought not to be lost sight of by those who undertake

to estimate the strength of the Celtic element in this


It is impossible to ascertain the exact number of those

unfortunate victims of English injustice during this period, but

we do know the amount was massive. Even though the figures given

above are but estimates, they are estimates from eminent


The flow of the Irish to the American colonies throughout

the remainder of the 17th century was large and continuous, but

not nearly as massive as between 1651 and 1660. Some of the many

statements by historians give evidence of this Irish tide. Higham

reports that in 1664 the Irish took the place of the French on

St. Bartholomew's.(22) Smith claims that during the four years

leading up to 1675, already 500 Irish servants were brought to

Jamaica by ships from Bristol, England that stopped in Ireland

for provisions.(23) During 1680 on the Leeward Islands, Dunn

posits: "with so many Irish Catholic servants and farmers... The

English planters became obsessed with the fear of popery."(24)

Dunn also states that in Jamaica in 1685 the 2nd Duke of

Aberlmarle, after his appointment by James II, a Catholic,

mustered his chief support from the Irish Catholic small planters

and servants and that the indentured servants who constituted the

island militia were mainly Irish Catholic.(25) In reporting on

Father Garganel's statements, Lenihan claims: "in 1699 Father

Garganel, S.J., Superior of the island of Martinique, asked for

one or two Irish Fathers for that and the neighboring isles which

were 'fill of Irish' for every year shiploads of men, boys and

girls, partly crimped, partly carried off by main force for the

purposes of slave trade, are conveyed by the English from


Smith has recorded that "Servants sailed from every port in

the British Isles, but by far the greater number came from

London, Bristol, Liverpool, Dublin and Cork, and, doubtless, it

was principally the merchants of Bristol, Whitehaven and

Liverpool which conducted trade with Ireland."(27) Emmet

clarifies Smith's statement in detail by asserting: "the early

and continued emigration of the Irish to this country during the

17th century has been lost sight of in consequence of this change

to English surnames and from the fact that no vessel was

knowingly allowed to sail from Ireland direct, but by law was

obliged first to visit an English port before clearance papers

could be obtained. Consequently, every Irish emigrant (slave,

servant, etc..) crossing in an Irish or English vessel from

either England or Ireland, appeared in the official records as

English, for the voyage did not begin according to law until the

ship cleared from an English port, and all passengers on arrival

in this country (American Colonies) were rated as English."(28)

It is also of importance to be aware of the fact, as Dunn

confirmed, that most population lists for Barbados, Jamaica and

the Leeward Islands concern only parish registers of the Church

of England, all other people were essentially ignored in the head


The English government variously referred to Irish to be

transported as rogues, vagabonds, rebels, neutrals, felons,

military prisoners, teachers, priests, maidens etc. All

historians call them servants, bondsman, indentured servants,

slaves, etc., and agree that they were all political victims. The

plain facts are that most were treated as slaves. After their

land was confiscated by England, which drove them from their

ancestral homes to forage for roots like animals, they were

kidnapped, rounded up and driven like cattle to waiting ships and

transported to English colonies in America, never to see their

country again. They were the victims of what many called the

immense "Irish Slave Trade."

All writers on the 17th century American colonies are in

agreement that the treatment of white servants or white slaves in

English colonies was cruel to the extreme, worse than that of

black slaves; that inhuman treatment was the norm, that torture

(and branding FT, fugitive traitor, on the forehead) was the

punishment for attempted escape. Dunn stated: "Servants were

punished by whipping, strung up by the hands and matches lighted

between their fingers, beaten over the head until blood ran,"

--all this on the slightest provocation.(30) Ligon, an eyewitness

in Barbados from 1647-1650 said, "Truly, I have seen cruelty

there done to servants as I did not think one Christian could

have done to another."(31)

It is a matter of great importance to realize that most of

the white slaves, servants and small farmers abandoned the West

Indies for the mainland colonies in America. Dunn reports:

"Between 1678 and 1713, Leeward sugar planters became more rich

and powerful and controlled all local councils and assemblies so

white servants and small farmers abandoned the Leeward

Islands."(32) Craven said that between 1643 and 1667, about

12,000 left Barbados for other plantations(33) and Dunn said the

white population of the Leeward Islands was reduced by 30 percent

between 1678 and 1708.(34) According to Craven, in Colonies in

Transition, prior to the 1680's, the hopes which sustained the

Carolina venture continued to depend chiefly upon the migration

of settlers from the older colonies, especially from the West

Indies.(35) Smith asserted that after 1670, the emigration of

whites from the smaller islands at least equalled the

immigration.(36) Condon declared: "In [the] course of time many

of those who had been transported to the West Indies in this

manner found their way to the colonies on the continent, in

search of greater freedom and a more healthful climate."(37)

All writers on the 17th century history agree that between

one-half and two thirds of white immigrants in the British West

Indies and mainland America were servants, most of them severely

mistreated. Most all Irish immigrants were 'servants.' Irish were

almost exclusively Catholic (at least they were when they left

Ireland) and most were of ancient Irish families even though they

appeared in English records as English, if recorded at all.

After 20,000 Puritans arrived in the American colonies from

1630-1640, migration of English colonists all but subsided. Some

writers say after 1640 only a trickle of English colonists

arrived. In 1632, many Irish were on Antigua. In 1637, 69 percent

of whites on Montserrat were Irish. In 1650, 25,000 Irish were on

St. Kitt's and Nevis and some were on other Leeward islands. In

1652, prior to the wholesale transportation of Irish, most of 12

thousand political prisoners on Barbados were Irish.

From 1651 to 1660, between 80,000 to 130,000 Irish were

transported. From 1660-1700, there was a large steady flow of

Irish immigrants. Most whites, especially servants, slaves and

small farmers went to the American mainland for more freedom, a

healthier climate and economic betterment.

There are no verifiable records on the white population of

all the American colonies in the 17th century. Some estimates

include blacks, some do not. Some list only members of the Church

of England. Estimates are made for Barbados for a certain year

while estimates are made for the Leeward Islands for other years.

The same applies to Jamaica and the mainland colonies. One

estimate for the mainland colonies, white and black included, was

given at 204,000 in 1689.

In the absence of reliable records, I believe it is necessary

to take the following into very serious consideration: migration

trends, prolificness of people of varying national origin, laws in

effect in the country from which people migrated; the prevailing

conditions in the country undergoing emigration; the amount of

control the emigrating people had over their own destiny; and the

fact that all American colonies both mainland and the West Indies

were very intertwined,

Well over one-half of white immigrants to the

West Indies during the 17th century were Irish Catholic servants,

most who, in the course of time, abandoned the West Indies for

the mainland American colonies.

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  • 2 months later...

For what its worth, most of the talk of slaves involving Britain and Ireland is very one sided, before about 800/900 or so it was in reverse order.

Picts from Scotland and Irish people both kinknapped people and brought them to the west of ireland.

St.Patrick was born in carlisle and brought to ireland as a slave and returned years later as a missionary.


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