Tag Archives: irish

More Properly Called Slaves, part 9

Now come the Irish…

Ever since Norman* rule in the 11th century, the English had held a special hatred of Irish people. During the TAST period, English adventurers and soldiers use Ireland to hone their thieving & killing skills. Slavers, since they had to pass Ireland to get to the Americas, stopped off to collect a few extra slaves along the way. In fact, the headright system gained so much popularity it became instrumental in encouraging Irish to emigrate!

* For those who don’t know, Normans were the mixed descendants of native Frankish (French), Gallo-Romans and Norse invaders of France. 

Note that not all emigrants from Ireland were Irish. Some were Scotch-Irish (Scottish settlers in Ulster) who’d been driven out because of religious dissent. Upon arriving in the Americas they were welcomed in Delaware, Pennsylvania and other colonies, especially after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Considering Scotland was Protestant at the time, this is no surprise. However, Quakers, Presbyterians & Catholics alike were booted out of Ireland. Not so much by Henry VIII as he didn’t bother with the place too much, more by Elizabeth I.

Yes, that Elizabeth with the skunk breath.

I beg your pardon, Moor?

English & Norman hatred of Irish stemmed from a belief that they were savage, backward, uncivilised, all of that. Ironically though, invaders (English, Norman, Scottish, Welsh, even Vikings) often ended up adopting Irish culture & never going back!

In 1166 the deposed King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had begged the Norman army to help him get his throne back. Then in 1171, Henry II came along and established the Pale, a bridgehead stretching from Dublin to Drogheda. The name Pale was from Latin palus, meaning stake. This was Anglo-Norman aristocracy “staking” a claiming to Ireland. Not too far removed from what the English were now doing 500 years later.

After building the Pale, Welsh cleric Giraldus Cambrensis wrote extensively on what he considered to be Irish vices: blasphemy, laziness, treachery, incest, cannibalism and more. That’s where all the hatred started from, one man’s propaganda. It got so bad that in 1278, 2 Anglo-Norman men were charged with raping Margaret O’Rorke. Because she was Irish, the 2 were deemed not guilty. They were even forbidden from living by their own laws; noblemen made a complaint to the Pope how English people couldn’t be punished for killing Irish.

Needless to say, rebellions started. The first serious one was the Nine Years War of 1594. Then earl of Tyrone Hugh O’Neill was pissed off at the rapidly increasing pace of the plantations’ growth, but in 1603 he surrendered to James I. This meant Ireland became a free-for-all to English planters, which quickly reduced it to the same shithole England was.

Problem: loads of wandering dispossessed people.


During the first arrival of English in the Caribbean (St. Christopher, now known as St. Kitts) Captain Thomas Warner, his wife, son and a few other men claimed the island for King Jamie. Of course they gave no fucks about the Kalinagos who’d already invaded the native Arawaks to get there. But they had to deal with them still.

(Note: Warner was a staunch Puritan. In other words, trouble)

Warner had a wary relationship with chief Ouboutou Tegremante, in which he set up a colony in 2 years, went back home for more planters, got Jamie’s warrant to fetch more Irish free-willers, and set them to work slashing & burning to make space for their own crops. And tobacco.

In the mid-1600s, Capt Matthew Cradock (first governor of Massachusetts Bay Company, and Puritan) charged his agent Thomas Anthony the duty to round up more slaves. Which he did, after competition with an Amsterdam ship and getting imprisoned for knavery in Kinsale. That only lasted a few days, though, ’cause he decided to free 2 slaves.

Then he and Cradock were off!

Meanwhile, Charles I fell out with Parliament, and Irish Catholics sought to use that to their advantage. In Ulster (the centre of another rebellion), rebels killed 4000 Protestant invaders and left 800 to die by starvation. News got back to England, rebellions spread again, Parliament passed an act in 1642 to fund an army to finish the Irish off once and for all. Yes, once and for all. This was not merely invasion, this was an ethnic cleansing. England wanted to free up 2.5 million acres of Irish land and replace Irish people with English wholesale!

Cromwell (yes, that Cromwell) waged all-out war on Ireland in 1649, the same year England brought in a new policy to make larger-scale transportations. Cromwell marched on Drogheda to advance on Ulster, slaughtering officers, soldiers, priests and friars on sight. This resulted in 150 Protestant deaths vs. 3500 Droghedan deaths, with many of the survivors taken as slaves to the Caribbean, predominantly Barbados. That’s why the Bajan accent is so similar to Irish, for anyone familiar with it. This became so common that being dumped in the Caribbean came to be known as being “Barbadosed“.

“For fuck’s sake Clotworthy, make sure they are native Irish!!!
“Yes massa.”

This was a nice bit of synchronicity for England: by deporting even more Irish out they had more land to fill up with themselves, and they could keep the colonies happy by giving them more slaves! Genius! Transportation wasn’t the only method they used to get rid of the Irish. England also exiled them to random other parts of Europe (reaching its peak in 1652-3), and/or let them starve to death.

1st April 1653: Cromwell’s Council of State authorised John Clotworthy to transport another 500 Irish. However, he gave him a special notice – make sure they’re IRISH and NOT Anglo-Normans or Old English! This was in response to such an error; some Anglo-Norman women were once taken to the Caribbean by accident. Oops! At the end of the Confederate War that same year, orphans and widows were also shipped off to work for or marry planters.

By the 1650s, hundreds of thousands of Irish people disappeared from Ireland in just a few decades, which resulted in wolves making a comeback! Some of the remaining people tried to fight back against English rule, but all failed. Stranglehold laws were put in place too; any Catholics who refused to attend Protestant churches were fined, and if they couldn’t pay up…

Of course, the Irish who’d already been enslaved fared no better. Even in the colonies their religion and language were banned. This meant they had to practice their faith in secret. None of the subjugation changed what English thought of them though; they became outright afraid of Irish. So much so that Acts were passed to forbid them being taken to Massachusetts (which no-one paid attention to).

In 1658, English slaves’ minimum service time was extended from 4 to 5 years, and Irish slaves from 5 to 6. But two years later at the Restoration of the English Monarchy that extension was repealed because it discouraged free-willers from going. Then in 1688 in Massachusetts, allegations of demonic possessions ran riot! Minister of Boston’s North Church, Cotton Mather claimed devils were everywhere! Illnesses in children were seen as witchcraft, and of course where there’s witchcraft there’s a witch.


An elderly Irishwoman, Goodwife Ann “Goody” Glover, to be exact. The court knew she was guilty because she was unable to recite the Lord’s Prayer in English! Ignore the fact she couldn’t speak English at all, and ignore that she could say the prayer in Irish & Latin! Apparently they also found dolls in her house. She was a witch therefore…

Back to Part 8

On to Part 10

More properly called slaves, part 1

Inspired by Don Jordan & Michael Walsh’s White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America, ISBN 9781845961930.

This post will focus on the TAST (trans-Atlantic slave trade) but not on the enslaved Africans. Rather, I’ll focus on the enslaved Europeans. It’s not news that ‘whites’ enslaved each other, but rarely is that point dwelt on. I aim to correct that.

I’m going to do separate posts on each chapter, simply because they’re too long and interesting to summarise in one. Conveniently, the book summarises itself in the introduction so I’ll base this first post on that:

It should first be made clear that those ‘whites’ were ENSLAVED. Nowadays there’s an argument that they weren’t slaves as slaves were in lifelong servitude; these were servants contracted (indentured) to serve for a limited time then given freedom & rights. This claim isn’t new; it dates directly from that era and was as justificatory as it is now. But even in theory that argument was bollocks, never mind in practice – especially since the vast majority of them had their servitude periods extended indefinitely at their masters’ whim AND most of them died before the end of their period. Even the tiny minority who outlived their service rarely gained freedom or land rights, living as dirt-poor as they were back in England. While it’s true that from the mid-1700s to 1800s “servant” was understood to mean ‘white’ chattels while “slave”/”Negro” meant ‘black’ ones, masters saw their status as identical, even after lifelong enslavement of Africans was enforced.

Daniel Defoe (c. 1660-1731) said indentured servants are “more properly called slaves”, hence this post’s title.

And my mind is not changed in the least!

In short, both in theory & in practice indentured servant = servant = serf = chattel = slave.

A bit of historical context also helps make sense of the whole TAST:

  • It was conjured up by England, the basis of which was laid in the 1570s.
  • It was a continuation of the old serfdom system, which had supposedly ended in the European Renaissance.
  • Virginia & Maryland were where the first and most successful colonies were established.
  • Though making money off of other people’s backs was an integral purpose of the colonies, since they expected to find cities of gold* like the Spanish & Portuguese did in south America, the main reason for slave labour was to rid England of its “surplus” people – the “poor & lawless”.

* It never happened. Eventually they wised up and looked to crops to line their pockets.

  • After more colonists came, the north American mainland became the main site for expanding the British Empire in conjunction with personal profiteering. The Caribbean islands, on the other hand, were mainly just for personal profiteering.

Though figures are inexact, it’s known hundreds of thousands of ‘whites’ were transported and enslaved. Many of them went by force, but from 1620-1775 the majority went voluntarily and were called free-willers. They thought they were selling just their labour temporarily, but found they were selling their human rights. They were duped into thinking they’d have land, money & renown at the end, only to find they were as bad off as back home or more so.

IF they survived overwork, infirmity, punishments (one girl reportedly received 500 lashes from the whip and was beaten to death!), diseases (many of which were unique to English slaves), the voyages themselves*, malnutrition, overexposure to sun, and attacks from native Americans fed up of their lands being invaded.

Yes, Brits and other ‘white’ slaves were packed into ships in this exact same manner. Needless to say hygiene was piss-poor, illnesses ran rampant and most didn’t make it to land alive. 

From the 16th to early 17th centuries, ‘white’ people were the main labour force of the new American colonies. Even after Africans became the predominant slaves, Europeans were still used left, right and centre throughout the entire TAST period. They were worked and punished, rebelled, ran away & fought alongside the ‘black’ slaves.

The very first slaves were NOT Irish as you may think, though the English did harbour a special hatred of Irish since Anglo-Norman days. It’s true the English saw them as fundamentally inferior and enslaved many of them. They even committed genocide and tried to totally replace them (thanks in large part to Oliver Cromwell).

But that was much later.

The first TAST slaves were English! AND most of them were kidnapped children!

Just to remind you who did the kidnapping

Kidnapping children for this purpose eventually became so common that kidnappers (known as Spirits, hence the phrase spirited away) made a business out of it. They hung around at nearby ports weaving their way into the crowded streets targeting pretty much any lone child they found.

Those children were often beggars, pickpockets and other kinds of street urchins. Some of them were sent by their parents conned into thinking they’d have a better life. However, most were taken without the parents’ knowledge or consent. The work was so torturous and the climate so intolerable to their city-bred bodies most died in the first year! Some were so young, back in 1661 a man was shipping 4 “Irish boys” and his wife said they were so little he should’ve sent them in cradles! Remember Britain only banned child labour in the late 1800s!

In the late 1700s adults (predominantly convicts and petty criminals) were sent as a way to empty England’s overcrowded gaols (prisons) and get rid of the criminals. At first the law didn’t know or care where to chuck them but soon enough settled on the Americas. In other words, before Australia America used to be a dumping ground for England’s human refuse!

Such refuse weren’t always criminals however. They also included many religious & political dissidents (everyone who wasn’t Protestant or didn’t like the current monarch), prostitutes, beggars, and just the down-on-their-luck.

Then came the Irish, during Oliver Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing policy and for at least a century afterward. They were pretty much all taken against their will.

I did it not for pleasure, for pleasure is a sin. Twas my Christian duty

Throughout the entire era Africans were stolen for the same purpose of course. However, the disgusting abusive treatment inflicted on our ancestors was practised and perfected on the ‘white’ slaves first. The slavers ultimately didn’t give a flying fuck who their chattels were, as long as they didn’t have to do shit for themselves. Contrary to the popular American creation myth, American freedoms were gained only after LONG centuries of wanton punishments & enslavement of the poor majority.

Just like today, there were many who denied or belittled this ‘white’ slave trade. Back in the Renaissance Shakespeare’s favourite historian Raphael Holinshed, for example, claimed England had no slaves anymore and any slave who set foot on English soil became immediately free! Maybe that’s why those marked for servanthood were sent away from England, to keep that myth going?

Tens of millions of Euro-Americans today are descendants of those slaves. How many claim them, the way we’re always expected to? How many go out of their way to acknowledge them?

tumbleweed family
Just in case the tumbleweed got lonely, I brought its whole family!

Now onto the fun! Part 2