…originally published in the Daily Kos as The Slaves That Time Forgot
Irish Slaves in America
We’ve all been taught the horror’s of the African slave trade. It’s in all the school books and in plenty of Hollywood movies. But for some reason the largest group of slaves in the British Colonies in the 17th Century doesn’t get mentioned at all: the Irish.
Most people have heard of the Great Famine, which reduced the population of Ireland by around 25%. That pales in comparison to the disaster that England inflicted upon Ireland between 1641 and 1652, when the population of Ireland fell from 1,466,000 to 616,000.
Then things got worse.
What to do with the Irish?
From the Tudor reconquest of Ireland until Irish independence in 1921, the English puzzled over the problem of what to do with all those Irish people.They were the wrong religion. They spoke the wrong language. But the big problem was that there were just too many of them.The English had been practicing a slow genocide against the Irish since Queen Elizabeth, but the Irish bred too fast and were tough to kill. On the other side of the Atlantic, there was a chronic labor shortage (because the local natives tended to die out too quickly in slavery conditions).
Putting two and two together, King James I started sending Irish slaves to the new world. The first recorded sale of Irish slaves was to a settlement in the Amazon in 1612, seven years before the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown.The Proclamation of 1625 by James II made it official policy that all Irish political prisoners be transported to the West Indies and sold to English planters. Soon Irish slaves were the majority of slaves in the English colonies.
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. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters. 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.
The slavers were so full of zest that they sometimes grabbed non-Irishmen…
…On March 25, 1659, a petition was received in London claiming that 72 Englishmen were wrongly sold as slaves in Barbados, along with 200 Frenchmen and 7-8,000 Scots. So many Irish slaves were sent to Barbados, between 12,000 and 60,000, that the term “barbadosed” began to be used. By the 1630’s, Ireland was the primary source of the English slave trade.
And then disaster struck.
After Oliver Cromwell defeated the royalists in the English Civil War, he turned to Ireland, who had allied themselves with the defeated royalists. What happened next could be considered genocide.
The famine (caused by the English intentionally destroying foodstocks) and plague that followed Cromwell’s massacres reduced the population of Ireland to around 40%.
Anyone implicated in the rebellion…was sold into slavery
And then Cromwell got really nasty.
Anyone implicated in the rebellion had their land confiscated and was sold into slavery in the West Indies. Even catholic landowners who hadn’t taken part of the rebellion had their land confiscated. Catholicism was outlawed and catholic priests were executed when found.To top it off, he ordered the ethnic cleansing of Ireland east of Shannon in 1652. Soldiers were encouraged to kill any Irish who refused to relocate.