Remembering the Irish slaves – and not them alone…

After the Battle of Kinsale at the beginning of the 17th century, the English are faced with a problem of some 30,000 Irish military prisoners, which they solve by creating an official policy of banishment. Other Irish leaders have voluntarily exiled to the continent.

The Battle of Kinsale marks the beginning of the so-called ’Wild Geese’, those Irish banished from their homeland. Banishment, however, does not solve the problem entirely, so James II encourages selling the Irish as slaves to planters and settlers in the New World colonies.

The first Irish slaves are sold to a settlement on the Amazon River in South America in 1612.

Almost as soon as settlers land in America, English privateers show up with many slaves to sell. The first load of African slaves brought to Virginia arrives at Jamestown in 1619. English shippers, with royal encouragement, partner with the Dutch to try and corner the slave market to the exclusion of the Spanish and Portuguese.

The Proclamation of 1625 orders that Irish political prisoners be transported overseas and sold as labourers to English planters, who are settling the islands of the West Indies, officially establishing a policy that is to continue for two centuries.

In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women are sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish are the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census shows that 69% of the total population of Montserrat are Irish slaves,

Although ‘African Negroes’ are better suited to work in the semi-tropical climates of the Caribbean, they had to be purchased, while the Irish are free for the catching, so to speak. It is not surprising that Ireland becomes the biggest source of livestock for the English slave trade.

The Confederation War breaks out out in Kilkenny in 1641, as the Irish attempts to throw out the English yet again.

In the 12-year period during and following the Confederation revolt, from 1641 to 1652, the English kill over 550,000 Irish and 300,000 are sold as slaves. Banished soldiers are not allowed to take their wives and children with them, and naturally, the same for those sold as slaves. The result is a growing population of homeless women and children, who being a public nuisance, are likewise rounded up and sold.

In 1649, Oliver Cromwell lands in Ireland and attacks Drogheda, slaughtering some 30,000 Irish living in the city. Cromwell reports: “I do not think 30 of their whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did are in safe custody in the Barbados.”

A few months later, in 1650, 25,000 Irish are sold to planters in St. Kitt. During the 1650s decade of Cromwell’s ‘Reign of Terror’, over 100,000 Irish children, generally from 10 to 14 years old, are taken from Catholic parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England.

Treatment

Although the Africans and Irish are housed together and are the property of the planter owners, the Africans receive better treatment, food and housing. In the British West Indies the planters routinely torture white slaves for any infraction.

To end the barbarity, Colonel William Brayne wrote to English authorities in 1656 urging the importation of Negro slaves on the grounds that, “as the planters would have to pay much more for them, they would have an interest in preserving their lives, which was wanting in the case of (Irish)…”

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