See also: When Blacks Owned Slaves, by Calvin Dill Wilson 1905 and A History of White Slavery by Charles Sumner 1853
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"Among the first to be sent were children. Some were dispatched by impoverished parents seeking a better life for them. But others were forcibly deported. In 1618, the authorities in London began to sweep up hundreds of troublesome urchins from the slums and, ignoring protests from the children and their families, shipped them to Virginia. England’s richest man was behind this mass expulsion. It was presented as an act of charity: the ‘starving children’ were to be given a new start as apprentices in America. In fact, they were sold to planters to work in the fields and half of them were dead within a year. Shipments of children continued from England and then from Ireland for decades. Many of these migrants were little more than toddlers. In 1661, the wife of a man who imported four ‘Irish boys’ into Maryland as servants wondered why her husband had not brought ‘some cradles to have rocked them in’ as they were ‘so little’." White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh
"Slavery they can have everywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil." - Edmund Burke
Start of: When the Irish were Slaves, article in The Month 1890
There is (another) phase of British slavery, the traffic in white slaves. Mr. Froude gives proof of a sale of Spaniards at Dover in 1571:
The extraordinary spectacle was actually witnessed, of Spanish gentlemen being disposed of openly in Dover market at a hundred pounds apiece, and being kept in irons at the court-house till their friends could purchase their liberty.
But this was a manifestly exceptional case. Nevertheless, the legal "penal servitude" was for a long period literal slavery, especially in the case of those transported to America and the West Indies. The earliest History of the Island of Barbadoes, by Richard Ligon, gentleman, published in 1673, gives a graphic account of the island when that gentleman visited it in 1647, less than two years before the execution of Charles the First. He says:
The island is divided into three sorts of men, viz., masters, servants, and slaves. The slaves and their posterity, being subject to their masters for ever, are kept and preserved with greater care than the servants, who are theirs but for five years, according to the law of the island. So that for the time the servants have the worst lives, for they are put to very hard labour, ill lodging, and their diet very slight . . . Upon the arrival of any ship that brings servants to the island, the planters go aboard; and having bought such of them as they like, send them with a guide to his plantation; and being come, commands them instantly to make their cabins, which they, not knowing how to do, are to be advised by other of their servants, that are their seniors; but if they be churlish, and will not show them, or if materials be wanting, to make them cabins, then they are to lie on the ground all that night ... If they be not strong men, this ill lodging will put them into a sickness; if they complain, they are beaten by the overseer; if they resist, their time is doubled. I have seen an overseer beat a servant with a cane about the head, till the blood has followed, for a fault that is not worth the speaking of; and yet he must have patience, or worse will follow. Truly, I have seen such cruelty there done to servants, as I did not think one Christian could have done to another.
Mr. Ligon tells a story which shows that this servitude was not merely an allotment to a master, but the "servants" actually became his property, so that he could sell them again.
There was a planter in the island that came to his neighbour, and said to him: "Neighbour, I hear you have lately bought good store of servants out of the last ship that came from England, and I hear withal, that you want provisions. I have great want of a woman-servant, and would be glad to make an exchange; if you will let me have some of your woman's flesh, you shall have some of my hog's flesh." So the price was set a groat a pound for the hog's flesh, and sixpence for the woman's flesh. The scales were set up, and the planter had a maid that was extream fat, lasie, and good for nothing; her name was Honor. The man brought a great fat sow, and put it in one scale, and Honor was put in the other; but when he saw how much the maid outweighed his sow, he broke off the bargain, and would not go on. Though such a case as this may seldom happen, yet 'tis an ordinary thing there, to sell their servants to one another for the time they have to serve; and in exchange receive any commodities that are in the island.
These passages show only too clearly what was the fate that awaited not only felons, but those who were shipped out to the plantations as "servants." In the case of those who would now be called political prisoners, the term of five years' service was extended indefinitely, as will shortly be seen.
There is a curious passage in Ligon's book, which shows that some remnant of the old Catholic idea that Christians could not be made slaves of, still remained among these planters. A slave to whom Ligon had explained a compass was so impressed with his superior knowledge that he declared his intention of becoming a Christian; "for he thought to be a Christian, was to be endowed with all those knowledges he wanted."
I promised to do my best endeavour; and when I came home spoke to the master of the plantation, and told him that poor Sambo desired much to be a Christian. But his answer was, that the people of that island were governed by the laws of England, and by those laws we could not make a Christian a slave. I told him my request was far different from that, for I desired him to make a slave a Christian. His answer was, that it was true there was a great difference in that; but being once a Christian, he could no more account him a slave, and so lose the hold they had of them as slaves, by making them Christians; and by that means should open such a gap as all the planters in the island would curse him. So I was struck mute, and poor Sambo kept out of the Church, as ingenious, as honest, and as good a natured poor soul as ever wore black or eat green.
This scruple as to holding Christians in slavery does not seem to have disturbed the Puritans, who probably did not regard Catholics as Christians.
As early as 1618, one Owen Evans caused great consternation in Somersetshire by pretending a commission "to press maidens to be sent to the Bermudas and Virginia."
Records are noted such as these: "Hope shortly to send 200 English to be exchanged for as many negroes." Under Cromwell, the Council of State (1649) are "informed that 170 Irish have been taken at sea. Desire them to treat with those who trade to the English plantations to transport the common men thither, where their services may be made use of." By order of Council of State, "liberty to be given to Henry Hazard and Robert Immans of the city of Bristol, merchants, to carry 200 Irishmen from any port in Ireland to the Caribee Islands, and to Robt. Lewellin, of London, merchant, to have 300 men." "For a licence to Sir John Clotworthy to transport to America 500 natural Irishmen."
Licence to merchants of Boston to "pass to New England and Virginia, where they intend to carry 400 Irish children; directing a warrant to be granted, provided security is given to sail to Ireland, and within two months, to take in 400 Irish children, and transport them to those plantations."
When Cromwell found that it was impossible to carry out his original design of extirpating the whole Catholic population of Ireland, he adopted the expedient of allowing the chieftains to expatriate themselves with a certain number of followers. According to Sir William Petty, thirty-four thousand officers and men enlisted in the armies of France, Spain, Austria, and the republic of Venice. Their wives and children were next to be disposed of, and the same author tells us that not less than six thousand boys and women were transported to the West Indies, where Lynch says they were sold for slaves. His words are:
They sent away to the most remote part of the Indies many droves of old men and youths, a vast multitude of virgins and matrons, that the former might pass their lives in hard slavery, and the latter maintain themselves even by their own prostitution. . . . Many priests are sent away to the islands of the Indies, that they might be sold by auction, and be set to the most degrading offices and employed in twisting tobacco.
The number of exiles has never been ascertained. . . . After this drain the morality of the Irish people was protected by the following article of the Irish Republican Commissioners: "That Irish women, as being too numerous now, be sold to merchants, and transported to Virginia, New England, Jamaica, or other countries, where they may support themselves by their labour. (Porter, p. 292.)
The Editor quotes a letter on the state of Ireland (1652— 1656) by Father Quin, S.J.:
Whole cargoes of poor Catholics are shipped to Barbadoes and the islands of America, that thus those, whom shame prevents from being murdered by the sword, may fall under the doom of perpetual banishment. Sixty thousand, I think, have already been shipped; the wives and children of those who were banished in the beginning to Spain and Belgium are now sentenced to be transported to America.
It is most difficult to get authentic information about these unfortunate exiles. Mr. Maurice Lenihan says:
Father O'Hartegan, who brought to Limerick the standards taken by Owen Roe, had been the agent of the Confederation at the Court of France. . . . We know nothing of Father Hartegan till the year 1650, when 25,000 Irishmen, sold as slaves in St. Kitts and the adjoining island, petitioned for a priest. Through the Admiral du Poenry, the petition was placed in Father Hartegan's hands. He was a Limerick Jesuit. He volunteered himself, and disappeared from our view. As he spoke Irish, English, and French, he was very fit for that mission, which was always supplied with Irish Jesuits from Limerick for more than a hundred years afterwards. It is thought that Father Hartegan assumed the name of De Stritch, to avoid giving umbrage to the English; for, in the year 1650, according to letters written five years after the petition, an Irish Father De Stritch was welcomed and blessed by the Irish of St. Kitts, heard the confessions of three thousand of them, then went disguised as a timber merchant to Montserrat, employed numbers of Irish as woodcutters, revealed his true character to them, and spent the mornings administering the sacraments and the day in hewing wood, to throw dust in the eyes of the English.
The same writer adds:
Before we leave the Irish slaves, we may say one word more about their missionaries. In 1699, Father Garganel, S.J., Superior in the island of Martinique, asked for one or two Irish Fathers for that and the neighbouring islands, which were full of Irish; for, continues he, every year shiploads of men, boys, and girls, partly crimped, partly carried off by main force for purposes of slave trade, are conveyed by the English from Ireland.
A very rare little book, published at Innspruck in 1659, by F. M. Morison, O.Min., states:
Besides those whom they slew (1651), after a treaty had been entered upon, and amnesty promised, they sent into perpetual exile 32,000 men and women from divers parts of the kingdom to different countries of the world.
An. 1657, I myself saw this iniquitous law carried out into iniquitous execution in the city of Limerick in Ireland, by Henry Ingoldsby, Governor of the same city. A certain noble gentleman of Thomond, named Daniel Connery, was accused of harbouring a priest in his house and convicted on his own confession (although the priest had safe conduct from the Governor himself), and declared guilty of death, And then, as he said, out of mercy, the sentence was changed, commuted, and he was despoiled of all his goods, and bound in prison, and finally condemned to perpetual exile. This gentleman had a wife and twelve children. His wife was of a very noble family of Thomond, and she fell sick, and died in extreme want even of necessaries. Three of the children, very beautiful and virtuous virgins, were sent off to the East (sic) Indies, to an island which they call Barbadoes, where, if they are still alive, they pass their days in miserable slavery. The rest of the children, who from their tender years could not work, have either perished from hunger, or live unhappily under the cruel yoke of heretics.
If a Catholic cannot pay the fine for non-attendance at the Protestant church, an. 1658, he will certainly be sold as a slave, sent away to the East Indies (Indias Orientates), where he passes the remainder of his life in miserable slavery.
After the conquest of Jamaica in 1655, and the occupation of Barbadoes, the Governor of the latter island writes to Cromwell to assure him that the political prisoners shall not be released after the usual term has expired:
Such as hitherto have bin brought to this island from England, Scotland, and Ireland, have been landed on merchants accompts, who claimeing a propertie in the persons they bring as servants, for theire passage and disbursments on them, dispose of them heare, either for a tearme of yeares to serve, or for a summe of money, by which they free themselves from such servitude, either of which being performed, they have freedome to stay or departe hence, by the law and customes of the place. For the future, such as your highnes shall please to command theire stay heare, I shall to the utmoste possibility of meanes to be used, labour to keepe them with us in pursuance of your highnes' commands.
Henry Cromwell, Major-General of the Forces in Ireland, writes to Thurloe, September 11, 1655:
I received yours of the 4th instant, and give you many thankes for your relation of Jamaica. ... I have endeavoured to make what improvement I could in the short time allotted me toucheing the furnishinge you with a recruite of men, and a supply of younge Irish girles. . . . Concerninge the younge women, although we must use force in takeinge them up, yet it being so much for their owne goode, and likely to be of soe great advantage to the publique, it is not in the least doubted, that you may have such number of them as you shall thinke fitt to make use uppon this account.
Again, on September 18th, he writes:
I shall not need to repeate anythinge aboute the girles, not doubtinge but to answerr your expectationes to the full in that; and I think it might bee of like advantage to your affaires their, and ours heer, if you should thinke fitt to send 1,500 or 2,000 younge boys of 12 or 14 yeares of age to the place aforementioned. We could well spare them, and they would be of use to you; and who knows, but that it may be a meanes to make them English-men, I meane rather Christianes.
Lord Broghill to Secretary Thurloe, September 18th:
For women and maids, you must declare what you will give thera on ship-bord, and what ther conditions shall be, when ther. For my part, I beleeve you may get many more out of Ireland than heer, which I thought not impertinent to minde you of.
Thurloe writes to Henry Cromwell, September 25th:
I returne your lordship most humble thanks for the letter I received from you touching transporting of Irish girles to Jamaica.
Again he writes:
I did hope to have given your lordship an account by this post of the bussines of causinge younge wenches and youths in Ireland to be sent into the West-Indies; but I could not make thinges ready. The comittee of the counsell have voted 1,000 girles, and as many youths be taken up for that purpose, &c.
Thirty-three Royalist naval officers complain, on December 30, 1655:
That those who usurp the present power in England . . . most barbarously have sold and sent away many of those our friends (freeborn subjects to the crown of England) for slaves into some of the foreign plantations under the present power, &c
This transporting of free subjects into slavery did not cease at the Restoration, as appears from the letter of Father Garganel. In fact, it was applied equally to all persons convicted. Thus, in 1666,
The resolutions about the Scotch rebels is to hang all ministers and officers; of the common sort, one in ten is to be executed, or forced to confession, and the rest sent to plantations.
Some observations on Barbadoes in 1667, note that there are
Not above 760 considerable proprietors, and 8,000 effective men, of which two-thirds are of no reputation and little courage, and a very great part Irish, derided by the negroes as white slaves. . . . Has inspected many plantations, and seen thirty or forty English, Scotch, and Irish at work in the parching sun, without shirt, shoe, or stocking; and negroes at their trades, in good condition; by which the whole may be endangered, for now there are many thousands of slaves that speak English, and if there are many leading men slaves in a plantation, they may be easily wrought upon to betray it, especially on the promise of freedom.
When the infamous Judge Jeffreys held his "Bloody Assize" after the suppression of Monmouth's rebellion, out of those who escaped the gallows, "above eight hundred were given to different persons to be transported for ten years to the West Indies." The historian says that "with respect to prisoners made in the field, it was argued [in the time of Elizabeth] that to them, as they might lawfully have been put to death on the spot, any fate short of death must be considered a favour: hence they were often transferred by gift or sale to others, who employed them as slaves, or by cruel treatment extorted from them or their relatives exorbitant ransoms. Afterwards, when colonies had been established in the West India Islands, these unhappy men were generally sold for a high price to the planters, to serve them as slaves during life, or for a certain term of years."
An authentic account by one of the victims has come down to us. Henry Pitman acted as surgeon to the forces of the Duke of Monmouth, and, though he had never been in arms, was taken prisoner after the defeat at Sedgemoor, in 1685, and tried by Judge Jeffreys, and ordered to be transported to the Caribee Islands.
And in order thereunto, my brother and I, with nearly a hundred more, were given to Jeremiah Nepho, and by him sold to George Penne, a needy Papist, that wanted money to pay for our transportation. . . . He at length prevailed upon with our relations to give him 60 Pounds, upon condition that we should be free when we came to Barbadoes; only owing some person, whom we should think fit to nominate, as a titular master. . . . And thus we may see the buying and selling of free men into slavery, was beginning again to be renewed among Christians.
When they got to Barbadoes, they found that a special Act of the Governor and Assembly of that island had been passed providing that no such arrangement as this should stand, but that every rebel sent out should serve his full time, and
Be obliged serve and obey the owner or purchaser of him or them, in their plantations within this island, in all such labour or service as they shall be commanded to do by their owners, masters, or mistresses, or their overseers, for the full time and term of ten years from the day of their landing, and disposed of fully to be completed and ended; any bargain, law, usage, or custom in this island to the contrary, in any wise, notwithstanding.
Pitman at first brought much gain to his master by his profession, but on his refusing to practise unless he got better food than the slaves,
My angry master could not content himself with the bare execution of his cane upon my head, arms, and back, although he played so long thereon, like a furious fencer, until he had split it in pieces; but he also confined me close prisoner in the stocks (which stood in an open place), exposed to the scorching heat of the sun, where I remained about twelve hours, until my mistress moved either with pity or shame, gave order for my release.
Pitman's brother died of his hardships, but he himself contrived to escape, and after many hair-breadth escapes, got back to England.
Henry and William Pitman both appear in the "Lists of convicted Rebels," as having been "sold and disposed of here in Barbadoes," with seventy others, by order of George Penne, Esq., 1685. The lists contain the names of 792 persons to be thus disposed of, but some of these died on the voyage.
There is no allusion in Bryan Edwards' History of the West Indies, to this reduction of free British subjects to slavery, but it is too well attested to be doubted, and therefore we have thought it right to investigate it in connection with the subject of Slavery and Serfdom.
“Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland in the middle of the seventeenth century made slaves as well as subjects of the Irish people. Over a hundred thousand men, women and children were seized by the English troops and shipped to the West Indies, where they were sold into slavery...” (George Novack, “Slavery in Colonial America,” America’s Revolutionary Heritage, p. 142).
See also: When Blacks Owned Slaves, by Calvin Dill Wilson 1905 and A History of White Slavery by Charles Sumner 1853
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