The Irish slaves in the Americas

scolairebocht

Well-known member
Member
Joined
Sep 11, 2021
Messages
236
Reaction score
330
In an ongoing debate on twitter and other places, we find the Irish experiences of being slaves in the colonies in America in the 17th century, dismissed as some kind of 'myth'. In some accounts I have it seen described as some sort of Irish nationalist fable composed in the late 19th century. Well it isn't, and can hopefully show why in this short article, beginning with one of the main contentious issues in the debate.


Slaves or Servants?

To cut a very long story short, Oliver Cromwell comes across into Ireland in the very late 1640s and then he, and his successors, rule the island throughout the 1650s. Supposedly avenging the death of Irish Protestants in 1641 (and that one is largely a myth, the Depositions notwithstanding) he begins one of the most awful periods of oppression that any race or religion has experienced anywhere, but since this is so well known even in folklore, hopefully I do not have to describe it more fully here.

As part of these oppressions, many Irish were banished from Ireland, including many transported, forcibly, to the West Indies to the British colonies there. So far I think that is all agreed by everybody, or nearly everybody, but some do dispute that these transported Irish were really slaves or just sent as servants. We can say I think that they were transported as slaves, not just as servants, from these two references in the English state papers, starting with William Lord Willoughby writing to the King from Barbados. Sept. 16, 1667:
"I wish the whole Island were of my mind. But in it there are a strange composition of people, what with Blacks, Irish & servants I cannot rely of more then between 2 and 3000 men."
(Aubrey Gwynn, Documents relating to the Irish in the West Indies, in, Analecta Hibernica, no 4 (Dublin, 1932), p.266.)
Obviously he is not including the Irish among the servants, instead just listing them alongside the blacks.
Some were transported by Cromwell from England and Scotland as well, although not nearly as many as the Irish, and in some of these cases they were allowed to come back after the Restoration, as this reference from 31 December 1661 shows:
"Warrant to pay to Capt. Strange £320 for the charge of importation and for clothing of divers loyal persons sold by the late usurper as slaves to the Barbadoes, and lately brought back to London."
(Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1661-2 (London, 1861), p.196.)
So in the most official of the sources of that period, the state papers, these people expelled by Cromwell are explicitly considered slaves, so solving that question even from the perspective of the British government. And while these English were brought back from slavery the Irish weren't, as Anthony Bruodin writes in 1669:
"From these massacres and murderous plagues some now passed into a different plague of the world, banished into exile. Above a hundred thousand Catholics of all ages and sexes (out of whom some 1,000s were banished into the remote tobacco islands in America) were banished by these cruel barbarian rebels [Cromwellians], where, these islands having been pacified, they remain. Condemned unjustly, his Majesty is indifferent to their plight."
"Trucidatis jam, & respectivefame, & pestenecatis, vel in diversas mundi plagas in exilium relegatis, ultra centum millia omnis sexus, & aetatis Catholicorum (ex quibus aliquot millia in diversas Americae Tabaccarias Insulas relegata sunt) saeviunt Barbari Rebelles in illos, qui in Insula juxta pactata remanserunt; eosque omnes indifferenter laesae Majestatis reos, iniqua condemnarunt sententia."
(Anthony Bruodin, Propugnaculum Catholicae veritatis libri (Prague, 1669), p.693.)

Island Accounts

Then as regards accounts from the islands themselves we will begin here by the account of Fr John Grace in his report from his visit to the West Indies in 1666. In reference to the Irish who had to go there during the reign of the 'tyrant Cromwell and others':
"...when they were not only cast out but are cruelly driven not only in temporal things but especially in the spiritual..."
"...cum quibus misere et crudeliter agitur tum in temporalibus tum maxime in spiritualibus..."
(Aubrey Gwynn, Documents relating to the Irish in the West Indies, in, Analecta Hibernica, no 4 (Dublin, 1932), p.257.)
The treatment the Irish routinely got from the British in these islands can be seen here from an episode where some of the Irish who were fortunate to come under French jurisdiction were then taken over by the British and expelled. Fr Grace, as an eye witness describes it here:
"You should see these wretched people, who in that place were living agreeably enough, now expelled, destitute of all solace they expire on the road and die with the animals. Among whom was a certain woman having five children, of whom the eldest was six years old; her mother having perished in the middle of this multitude the youngest child was still turning her breast. Called Margaret Riordan, three days before I had heard her confession and gave her Holy Communion."
"Vidisses miseros illos, qui ibidem satis commode vivebant, abactos, omni solatio destitutos, in via deficere et animas exhalare. Inter alias fuit quaedam mulier quinque habens liberos, quorum maior sexennis tantum erat; in medio istius multitudinis emortuae genetricis ultima proles ubera torquebat; vocabatur Margarita Riordan, quam ego triduo ante a confessionibus audivi et sacra communione refeci."
(Aubrey Gwynn, Documents relating to the Irish in the West Indies, in, Analecta Hibernica, no 4 (Dublin, 1932), p.254.)
Also from the islands themselves we have this contemporary account from Barbados in 1667, where it says the French could have easily taken the island because:
"For first they are not above seven hundred and sixty considerable Proprietors; and not above 8000 effective men, of which two thirds are of no interest or reputation, and of little innate Courage, being poor men, that are just permitted to live, and a very great part Irish, derided by the Negroes, and branded with the epithet of white slaves.
...
I have for my particular satisfaction inspected many their Plantations, and have seen 30, sometimes 40, Christians, English, Scotch and Irish at work in the parching sun without shirt, shoe or stocking, which their Negroes have been at work at their respective trades, in a good condition."
(Aubrey Gwynn, Documents relating to the Irish in the West Indies, in, Analecta Hibernica, no 4 (Dublin, 1932), p.250.)
 
Last edited:

scolairebocht

Well-known member
Member
Joined
Sep 11, 2021
Messages
236
Reaction score
330
Irish historians of the period

I think its fair to say that, until very recently at least, the story of these Irish slaves has always been accepted by Irish historians, not as some 'myth' at all. Here is a couple of examples of respected historians discussing this and also I will try and drill down to the contemporary accounts that they are basing their history on.

John Prendergast was always considered one of the great experts on the Cromwellian period of Irish history, and here he is drawing on two contemporary accounts of the time, firstly from Maurice Conry [his pseudonym was Morison], in his Threnodia Hiberno Catholica sive planctus universalis (Innsbruck, 1659):
"Daniel Connery, a gentleman of Clare, was sentenced, in Morison's presence, to banishment, in 1657, by Colonel Henry Ingoldsby, for harbouring a priest. "This gentleman had a wife and twelve children. His wife fell sick, and died in poverty. Three of his daughters, beautiful girls, were transported to the West Indies, to an island called the Barbadoes; and there, if still alive (he says) they are miserable slaves."
"Ego ipse vidi iniquissimam hanc legem iniquae executioni mandari,quo ad primam partem, in urbe Limericensi in Hibernia ab Henrico Ingoldesby, ejusdem urbis Gubernatore, qui quendam nobilem Thomoniensem, nomine Danielem Connery, de sustentatione Sacerdotis domi sua, accusatum, et propria confessione convictum ( quanquam Sacerdos haberet salvum conductum ab ipso Gubernatore) reum mortis declaravit, et mutata (ut ait) propter misericordiam sententia, omnibus bonis spoliavit, carceribus mancipavit, ac tandem perpetuo proscripsit exilio; hic nobilis habuit uxorem, & duodecem liberos, cujus uxor ex nobilissima Thomoniae familia, in infirmitatem incidens, penuria rerum necessariarum mortua est, & ex liberis, tres virgines pulcherrimae, & virtuosissima in Indias Orientales, ad Insulam, quam Barbados vocant, relegatae sunt, ubi adhuc (si vivunt) in misera degunt servitute; Reliqui ex liberis, qui ex tenera aetate laborare non poterant, vel fame perierunt, vel crudeli hareticorum jugo subjecti calamitose vivunt."
(Fr Maurice Conry, Threnodia Hiberno Catholica sive planctus universalis (Innsbruck, 1659), p.29., translated in, John Patrick Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland (Dublin, 1922), p.90.)
Secondly drawing on the The Roman Catholics of Ireland, their Answer to Proposals offered, a 1660 petition from the Irish which is among the Carte papers in the Bodleian library, and referring to the Cromwellian authorities in Ireland in 1654/5:
"They issued the most threatening orders. They then ordered the general arrest of all transplantable persons untransplanted by a certain day. This was put in execution, said the ancient peers and proprietors of Ireland at the Restoration (who protested against the proposal of the Cromwellians that their acceptance of pittances of land in Connaught, to save their perishing families, should be held to bar them of their hereditary estates), at one and the same time throughout the kingdom, by troopers and soldiers dragging the poor people out of their beds in the dead of night, and bringing them in such troops as there was not gaol room enough to contain them. Therefore (they continue), some were put to death; others sold as slaves into America; others detained in prison till they were not able to put bread into their mouths; others, as partakers of the greatest favour that could be expected, only released on condition of transplanting into Connaught."
(John Patrick Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland (Dublin, 1922), p.129-130.)

Another leading historian of that period of Irish history would be Patrick Francis Moran, who eventually became a Cardinal in Australia and here he is translating two contemporary accounts of the period, firstly by John Lynch in his 1664 book Alithinologia:
"In one year, since the late war, forty thousand men were transported from Ireland into foreign countries; and since then we have repeatedly seen husbands torn from their wives, children from their parents, servants from their masters, and all forcibly carried off to the West Indies, there to be sold as slaves.
...
[The Irish Catholics in July 1654:] The people should either give their labour at home for a small hire (tenui mercede), or, as the early Christians were sent to the stone-quarries, so were the Irish Catholics now banished to the most remote Indian islands, there to discharge the most abject duties for the colonists, and the women were sold in the public markets in those Anglo-Indian colonies at a trifling price (vili pretio), to gratify their masters passions, or to be their slaves."
(John Lynch, Alithinologia (St Omer, 1664), translated by Patrick Francis Moran, in, Historical sketch of the persecutions suffered by the Catholics of Ireland under the rule of Cromwell and the Puritans (Dublin, 1884), p.322 and 324.)
Secondly Moran also draws frequently on the great contemporary account now known as Commentarius Rinuccinianus, of 1666. Here is an example from the latter book which of course is a very highly respected and famous source for Ireland of that period and which in a number of other places goes into further details about these Irish slaves:
"The island of St Christopher [St Kitts], with regard to which here he speaks, is part of that region which in our fathers memory was captured by the English to inhabit in America, into which several thousands of the Catholic Irish were transported and integrated into these colonies as having been reduced into slavery, not only to eradicate the Irish nation but also to eradicate from the homes of this race and nation, the Catholic faith, moreover so that they can populate this region at the ends of the world. Indeed those Irish, having been transferred there and equal with slaves, are all held under penalty of a cruel yoke, so that these great believers in the faith (whose only solace is God), one of the greatest parts of the community of faithful in Ireland, is infixed into America."
"Insula S. Christophori, de qua hic loquitur, est pars earum regionum, quas nostra patrumque memoria Angli in America caeperant inhabitare, in quas complura Ibernorum Catholicorum millia et colonias integras tanquam in servitutem redactas transportarunt, tum ut Nationem Ibernicam, et cum Natione fidem Catholicam domi stirpitus eradicarent, tum ut in ea mundi plaga fines suos dilatarent. Ibernos enim, etiam illo translatos instar mancipiorum pene omnes crudeli sub jugo tenent, ut cum his orthodoxa fides imis (quae solius Dei gratia est) infixa medullis ex magna demum Iberniae parte in Americam exularit."
(Fr Stanislaus Kavanagh edit, Commentarius Rinuccinianus, 1652-1666 (Dublin, 1944) vol v, p.95.)
 
Last edited:

scolairebocht

Well-known member
Member
Joined
Sep 11, 2021
Messages
236
Reaction score
330
Here is some more from that important contemporary source, as translated by Moran:
"And how shall I recall the sending into exile, and banishments, and transportations, recurring every day since Cromwell landed upon our shores in 1649, and more cruel than death itself. At one time we see English ships laden with Catholic priests and people who are led off to the American islands and other parts to endure in the service of those heretics all the horrors of slavery, whilst at another time they bear away our countrymen to serve in the armies in Belgium or Spain. Those sold to the heretics in America, are treated by them more cruelly than the slaves under the Turks; nor is any attention paid to the youth or the decreptitude of age, to sex or rank, or sacerdotal orders or religious life, and with inhuman barbarity the wife is torn away from the husband, and the husband from the wife. Nothing is more painful than to witness the shipment of those exiles, the father separated from his child, brother from brother, sister from sister, relative from relative, friend from friend, spouse from spouse: and the closest ties of nature being sundered by the most heartless heretics the whole island resounds with cries of grief, property confiscated, those most dear led off to death or chains or prison, and the rest driven to exile or transportation. At one place we see the sons of noble families, the hope and consolation of their aged parents, youths delicately reared and carefully educated, who are not only robbed of every chance of their hereditary property, but even despoiled of their more valuable clothes, receiving tattered rags instead, and flogged with rods, and branded like sheep on their skin and flesh, and then driven among a crowd on board these infamous transportation ships: elsewhere we see respectable maidens trained in their father's house to piety and chastity and the love of religion, some of them of noble birth, and engaged to contract honourable marriage corresponding to their social rank, yet in one week are they deprived of their parents hanged on the nearest tree, and of their nearest relatives also put to death, despoiled moreover of their rich patrimony by the greed of heretical monsters, and now almost naked and piercing heaven with their shrieks they are dragged off to the ships: and again husbands and wives, one of their sons being killed in war and another executed on the scaffold, and the rest reduced to beggary or to a soldier's life in foreign lands, their whole family being thus destroyed or scattered, whilst themselves were hoping to be allowed by living according to the articles of surrender and paying the tributes exacted from them, to end their days in sadness in their own homes and holdings, are nevertheless with unparalleled violence driven forth without mercy, the wife thrown into prison in Ireland, and the husband sent off to slavery in the Anglo-American colonies: and saddest of all, amid such scenes of Puritan barbarity, was the grief of husbands and wives torn from each other's arms and clamouring to be allowed to die together whatever and wherever their lot might be."
(Patrick Francis Moran, Historical sketch of the persecutions suffered by the Catholics of Ireland under the rule of Cromwell and the Puritans (Dublin, 1884), p.327-9.)

How is it possible to read contemporary and clearly eye witness accounts like that and then dismiss the terrible experiences of these Irish people as some sort of 'myth'? I think it is very insulting to our heroic ancestors, and maybe even insulting to Irish people now.
 

Zipporah's Flint

Moderator
Staff member
Member
Joined
Apr 7, 2022
Messages
1,488
Reaction score
1,235
In an ongoing debate on twitter and other places, we find the Irish experiences of being slaves in the colonies in America in the 17th century, dismissed as some kind of 'myth'. In some accounts I have it seen described as some sort of Irish nationalist fable composed in the late 19th century. Well it isn't, and can hopefully show why in this short article, beginning with one of the main contentious issues in the debate.

The denial comes from the United States because "White Nationalists" brought up the subject basically to say that Blacks being enslaved there was nothing particularly special and also it has been used by Rightists in the reparations for slavery debates- therefore a lot of Leftist and Centrist North American academics have taken to denying it outright, and tragically some in Ireland have decided to follow the latter on this.
 

scolairebocht

Well-known member
Member
Joined
Sep 11, 2021
Messages
236
Reaction score
330
Yes Declan I did see that ages ago and of course its great work, you seem to be motivated like myself, outraged that people can dismiss this true history on modern social media. I was just concentrating on the Cromwellian period because I happened to read a tweet, by an Irish historian, dismissing it all as a nationalist 'myth' dreamt up by them in the late 19th century, and I was outraged like you were about facebook.

I agree Zipporah, they really are very arrogantly dismissing authentic Irish history here.
 

Declan

Administrator
Staff member
New
Joined
Sep 11, 2021
Messages
7,321
Reaction score
5,152
About 3 years ago on Facebook there was a viral post that every idiot posted. It referred to to some nobody in a library in Limerick that wrote an article saying irish slavery was a myth. It was everyplace and then any Google search or the words "irish slavery" or similiar would have this article at the top.

One plastic Paddy, son of a Roscommon man posted it and I advised him not to repeat that in Ireland or he could end up getting a slap. He blocked me. A typical empty skull.
 

PlunkettsGhost

Well-known member
Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2023
Messages
3,013
Reaction score
2,682
1024-map.gif
 

Bold Fenian Man

Well-known member
Member
Joined
Aug 17, 2022
Messages
1,656
Reaction score
1,551
About 3 years ago on Facebook there was a viral post that every idiot posted. It referred to to some nobody in a library in Limerick that wrote an article saying irish slavery was a myth. It was everyplace and then any Google search or the words "irish slavery" or similiar would have this article at the top.

One plastic Paddy, son of a Roscommon man posted it and I advised him not to repeat that in Ireland or he could end up getting a slap. He blocked me. A typical empty skull.
Is this the Limerick lad? Another pro-Gaeilge lefty type.
Why is it they love the language or claim to, but hate the actual Irish?



View: https://limerick1914.medium.com/all-of-my-work-on-the-irish-slaves-meme-2015-16-4965e445802a
 
Last edited:

Latest Threads

Popular Threads

Top Bottom