Sunday, March 29, 2015

Irish slavery in the Caribbean

Very interesting. It’s True: We’re Probably All a Little Irish—Especially in the Caribbean by Krystal D'Costa

Another example of forgotten history. I mentioned in a post a while back, Puritans in Nicaragua, the case of the Puritan colony established in the 1630s on an island off the coast of Nicaragua.

In this instance, D'Costa is talking about the British sale of Irish slaves to interests in the new world.

Following the Battle of Kinsdale, the Irish clan system was largely abolished and the English seized most of the land of Ulster. The 30,000-something prisoners of war were shipped off and sold as laborers to the colonies of the Caribbean and the United States.
The first Irish slaves were sold to a settlement on the Amazon River In South America in 1612. It would probably be more accurate to say that the first “recorded” sale of Irish slaves was in 1612, because the English, who were noted for their meticulous record keeping, simply did not keep track of things Irish, whether it be goods or people, unless such was being shipped to England.
The Proclamation of 1625 would make this a common practice. Irish political prisoners would be routinely packed up and sold off as laborers:
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.
The Irish were desirable “slave stock” because they could be obtained for free and sold for a profit, whereas traders needed to pay to have Africans “caught,” minimizing their profit margins. And because they were cheaper in this sense, the Irish often suffered harsher punishments from their plantation masters. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 Irish were sold as laborers, contributing to a massive population reduction in Ireland. In 1652, Ireland’s population was 616,000, down from 1,466,000 in 1641. Of course, this change was not solely due to to the slave trade—famine, wars, and disease certainly played a role.
Reading Irish history is very hard, it is so steeped in tragedy and blood.

There is more on the Irish Slave trade at Daily Kos, The slaves that time forgot by bygjohnsit. It begins to answer a question I had about D'Costa's article. Are we talking about indentured servitude or slavery. It appears that the wrinkle is that the Irish suffered under a unique hybrid system. They were indeed commercially sold without consent to the plantation owners in the Caribbean, so in that sense, definitely slaves. On the other hand, it apparently was also the custom for that slavery to be time limited to 7-20 years which was the unusual feature.

In practice, it probably did not make much difference given that average life spans were on the order of 35-40 years. If you are sold at 20 for a duration of 20 years, you are a slave for the rest of your life.

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