Irish Slaves

Scottish Slaves

It wasn’t only the Irish who suffered

Source :

Slavery in Scotland?

April 1666 City fathers of Edinburgh were exporting beggars and vagabonds because they were “not fit to stay in the kingdom”. A ship named “Phoenix” which was captained by James Gibson would sail from Leith loaded with the unfit and poor to be sold in Virginia. These people were seen as a commodity in Virginia to be bought and sold like tobacco or firewood.

In February 1659 merchants in Barbados requested a ship load of “shiftless people and vagabonds” to be sold on the block. The Burgh Council was happy to comply, this would clear some of the streets of Edinburgh of the unwanted and unfit.

Many men and women were slaves in Scotland working in the coal mines until 1799. Their status as slaves was hereditary being passed on to their children.

Ships sailing to Virginia needed a cargo. A good example was the ship “Charles” sailing from Leith in 1669. The syndicate that owned her was granted “saleable cargo of any loose beggars or gypsies plus any poor, or unfit they could find on the streets of Edinburgh, Canongate or Leith. Some of these were termed “indentured labor ” a polite term.

In 1681 a ship’s captain who sailed from Port Glasgow told the government he was ready to sail to Virginia, if they had a cargo of “sorners, lusty beggars or gypsies”

It is said many Edinburgh ships in 1690 would top off their ships with mugged and kidnapped people before sailing to the colonies. In 1694 a merchant from Glasgow one James Montgomerie Jr. requested to the Edinburgh Council “collect dissolute women” for shipment to the colonies.

There is a manuscript in the British museum which states that any two judges in any city, towne of the commonwealth can from time to time issue warrants for the arrest of any beggar or vagrant. The said beggars or vagrants to be shipped to the colonies as cargo. The judges in Edinburgh from 1662-1665 ordered the enslavement and shipment to the colonies of any rouges, beggars or any other persons of low class who are a plague on society.

The calendar of state papers, colonial series 1701 records 25,000 slaves in Barbados, of the 25,000 slaves it is noted 21,700 were white slaves.

The term Redlegs or Redshanks in Barbados was used to describe Scots slaves whose fair skin legs would burn in the tropical sun.

It is a dark tale, but part of history, a part that needs to see the light of day cast upon it. We can hide our past if we choose or admit the wrongs done in past history and move on.

James A. Bullman


What to do with the Irish ?


From Worse to Worser

They couldn’t kill them all

The Irish Slaves –  No Previous Convictions Necessary


At the beginning of the 17th Century, in the reign of James I of England, England faced a problem: what to do with the Irish. They had been practicing genocide against the Irish since the reign of Elizabeth, but they couldn’t kill them all. Some had been banished, and some had gone into voluntary exile, but there were still just too many of them.

So James I encouraged the sale of the Irish as slaves to the New World colonies, not only America but Barbados and South America. The first recorded sale of Irish slaves was to a settlement along the Amazon in South America in 1612. However, before that there were probably many unofficial arrangements, since the Irish were of no importance and details of how they were dealt with were not deemed necessary.

In 1625, the King issued a proclamation that all Irish political prisoners were to be transported to the West Indies and sold as slave labor to the planters there. In 1637, a census showed that 69% of the inhabitants of Monsarrat in the West Indies were Irish slaves. The Irish had a tendency to die in the heat, and were not as well suited to the work as African slaves, but African slaves had to be bought. Irish slaves could be kidnapped if there weren’t enough prisoners, and of course, it was easy enough to make Irish prisoners by manufacturing some petty crime or other. This made the Irish the preferred “livestock” for English slave traders for 200 years.

In 1641, one of the periodic wars in which the Irish tried to overthrow the English misrule  in their land took place. As always, this rebellion eventually failed. As a result, in the 12 years following the revolt, known as the Confederation War, the Irish population fell from 1,466,000 to 616,000. Over 550,000 Irishmen were killed, and 300,000 were sold as slaves. The women and children who were left homeless and destitute had to be dealt with , so they were rounded up and sold, too.

But even though it did not seem that things could get worse, with the advent of Oliver Cromwell, they did. In the 1650’s, thousands more Irish were killed, and many more were sold into slavery. Over 100,000 Irish Catholic children were taken from their parents and sold as slaves, many to Virginia and New England. Unbelievably but truly, from 1651 to 1660 there were more Irish slaves in America than the entire non-slave population of the colonies!

In 1652, Cromwell instigated the Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland. He demanded that all Irish people were to resettle west of the Shannon, in arid, uninhabitable land, or be transported to the West Indies. The Irish refused to relocate peaceably, for the most part, since they couldn’t survive if they did.

A law, published in 1657, read:

“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…”(1)

Any who attempted to return would no killa no party

“suffer the pains of death as
felons by virtue of this act, without benefit of Clergy.”(2)

The soldiers were encouraged to kill the Irish who refused to move; it was certainly not considered a crime. But the slave trade was so profitable that it was much more lucrative to round them up and sell them. Gangs went out to fill quotas by capturing whoever came across their path; they were so industrious that they accidentally captured a number of French and English and several thousand Scots in the process. By Cromwell’s death, at least 100,000 Irish men, women, and children had been sold in the West Indies, Virginia, and New England. While most were sold to the sugar planters in Barbados, Jamaica and throughout the West Indies, some writers assert that at least 20,000 were sold to the American colonies. (3) The earliest record of Irish slaves in America was in 1620, with the arrival of
200 slaves. Most of the documentation, however, comes from the West Indies.

In 1742, a document entitled Thurloe’s State Papers, published in London, opined that:

“..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.”(4)

Note the chilling insouciance of the purpose stated for the women and Irish girls. . to “solace” the sugar planters. Also, to our way of thinking, the Irish were Christians, but to the Protestant English, Catholics were considered Papist, and Papists weren’t Christians.

So for the entire 17th Century, from 1600 until 1699, there were many more Irish sold as slaves than Africans. There are records of Irish slaves well into the 18th Century.

Many never made it off the ships. According to written record, in at least one incident 132 slaves, men, women, and children, were dumped overboard to drown because ships’ supplies were running low. They were drowned because the insurance would pay for an “accident,” but not if the slaves were allowed to starve. Typical death rates on the ships were from 37% to 50%.

In the West Indies, the African and Irish slaves were housed together, but because the African slaves were much more costly, they were treated much better than the Irish slaves. Also, the Irish were Catholic, and Papists were hated among the Protestant planters. An Irish slave would endure such treatment as having his hands and feet set on fire or being strung up and beaten for even a small infraction. Richard Ligon, who witnessed these things first-hand and recorded them in a history of Barbados he published in 1657, stated:

“Truly, I have seen cruelty there done to servants as I did not think one Christian could
have done to another.”(5)

According to Sean O’Callahan, in To Hell or Barbados, Irish men and women were inspected like cattle there, just as the Africans were. In addition, Irish slaves, who were harder to distinguish from their owners since they shared the same skin color, were branded with the owner’s initials, the women on the forearm and the men on the buttocks. O’Callahan goes on to say that the women were not only sold to the planters as sexual slaves but were often sold to local brothels as well. He states that the black or mulatto overseers also often forced the women to strip while working in the fields and often used them sexually as well.(6)

The one advantage the Irish slaves had over the African slaves was that since they were literate and they did not survive well in the fields, they were generally used as house servants, accountants, and teachers. But the gentility of the service did not correlate to the punishment for infractions. Flogging was common, and most slave owners did not really care if they killed an easily replaceable, cheap Irish slave.

While most of these slaves who survived were eventually freed after their time of service was completed, many leaving the islands for the American colonies, many were not, and the planters found another way to insure a free supply of valuable slaves. They were quick to “find solace” and start breeding with the Irish slave women. Many of them were very pretty, but more than that, while most of the Irish were sold for only a period of service, usually about 10 years assuming they survived, their children were born slaves for life. The planters knew that most of the mothers would remain in servitude to remain with their children even after their service was technically up.

The planters also began to breed the Irish women with the African male slaves to make lighter skinned slaves, because the lighter skinned slaves were more desirable and could be sold for more money. A law was passed against this practice in 1681, not for moral reasons but because the practice was causing the Royal African Company to lose money. According to James F. Cavanaugh, this company, sent 249 shiploads of slaves to the West Indies in the 1680’s, a total of 60,000 African and Irish, 14,000 of whom died in passage.(7)

While the trade in Irish slaves tapered off after the defeat of King James in 1691, England once again shipped out thousands of Irish prisoners who were taken after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. These prisoners were shipped to America and to Australia, specifically to be sold as slaves.

No Irish slave shipped to the West Indies or America has ever been known to have returned to Ireland. Many died, either in passage or from abuse or overwork. Others won their freedom and emigrated to the American colonies. Still others remained in the West Indies, which still contain an population of “Black Irish,” many the descendents of the children of black slaves and Irish slaves.

In 1688, the first woman killed in Cotton Mather’s witch trials in Massachusetts was an old Irish woman named Anne Glover, who had been captured and sold as a slave in 1650. She spoke no English. She could recite The Lord’s Prayer in Gaelic and Latin, but without English,  Mather decided her Gaelic was discourse with the devil, and hung her.(8)

It was not until 1839 that a law was passed in England ending the slave trade, and thus the trade in Irish slaves.

It is unfortunate that, while the descendents of black slaves have kept their history alive and not allowed their atrocity to be forgotten, the Irish heritage of slavery in America and the West Indies has been largely ignored or forgotten. It is my hope that this article will help in some small way to change that and to commemorate these unfortunate people.


(1) John P. Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, Dublin, ?, 1865
(2) Ibid.
(3) See, for example, Thomas Addis Emmet, Ireland Under English Rule, NY & London,
Putnam, 1903
(4) Prendergast, The Conwellian Settlment of Ireland
(5) Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of Barbadoes, London,
Cass, 1657, reprinted 1976
(6)Sean O’Callaghan, To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland, (Dingle, Ireland: Brandon, 2001)
(6) James F. Cavanaugh, Clan Chief Herald
(7) For Mather’s account of the case, see Cotton Mather, Memorable Providences, Relating To
Witchcrafts And Possessions (1689)


Source :

The Lost or Irish Slaves

131076[1]They came as slaves; vast human cargo transported on tall British ships bound for the Americas. They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children.

Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways. Slave owners would hang their human property by their hands and set their hands or feet on fire as one form of punishment. They were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.

We don’t really need to go through all of the gory details, do we? We know all too well the atrocities of the African slave trade.

But, are we talking about African slavery? King James II and Charles I also led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s famed Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanizing one’s next door neighbor.

The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.

Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.

From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.

During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: Slaves. They’ll come up with terms like “Indentured Servants” to describe what occurred to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle.

As an example, the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period. It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.

African slaves were very expensive during the late 1600s (50 Sterling). Irish slaves came cheap (no more than 5 Sterling). If a planter whipped or branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. A death was a monetary setback, but far cheaper than killing a more expensive African. The English masters quickly began breeding the Irish women for both their own personal pleasure and for greater profit. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master’s free workforce. Even if an Irish woman somehow obtained her freedom, her kids would remain slaves of her master. Thus, Irish moms, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their kids and would remain in servitude.

In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women (in many cases, girls as young as 12) to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new “mulatto” slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves. This practice of interbreeding Irish females with African men went on for several decades and was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.

England continued to ship tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. Records state that, after the 1798 Irish Rebellion, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia. There were horrible abuses of both African and Irish captives. One British ship even dumped 1,302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean so that the crew would have plenty of food to eat.

There is little question that the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is, also, very little question that those brown, tanned faces you witness in your travels to the West Indies are very likely a combination of African and Irish ancestry. In 1839, Britain finally decided on it’s own to end it’s participation in Satan’s highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded THIS chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.

But, if anyone, black or white, believes that slavery was only an African experience, then they’ve got it completely wrong.

Irish slavery is a subject worth remembering, not erasing from our memories.

But, where are our public (and PRIVATE) schools???? Where are the history books? Why is it so seldom discussed?

Do the memories of hundreds of thousands of Irish victims merit more than a mention from an unknown writer?

Or is their story to be one that their English pirates intended: To (unlike the African book) have the Irish story utterly and completely disappear as if it never happened.

None of the Irish victims ever made it back to their homeland to describe their ordeal. These are the lost slaves; the ones that time and biased history books conveniently forgot.