Their history as human chattel in the New World is disturbing.
“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.”Harvard professor Henry Gates, central figure in the racially charged incident involving Cambridge police, is an ardent proponent of reparations to Black Americans for the atrocities of the African slave trade. However, Gates's ethnocentric outrage conveniently ignores the full history of slavery in the Americas. The above excerpt does not describe the plight of black slaves torn from their families in Africa. It comes from White Slavery: The Slaves That Time Forgot by John Martin detailing the trade in Irish slaves.
The story of Irish slaves is one the politically correct manage to overlook while damning the United States for past transgressions against blacks. It is not discussed in schools when teaching about slavery. The history of Irish slaves is so completely buried that students gain a false impression that slave trade began when white Europeans raided Africa for cheap black labor. In truth, the majority of early slaves in the New World were white, victims of that dehumanizing practice long before the establishment of an African slave trade.
“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.”Treatment of the Irish people under King James II and Charles I by the likes of Oliver Cromwell amounted to little more than state sponsored genocide on a scale not seen again for nearly three centuries.
“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.”Even a growing trade in African slaves did nothing to alleviate the hardships of Irish slaves. If anything, it only made their lot worse as the lowest members in a perverse caste system. African slaves were a prized commodity, often fetching prices 10 times that of the Irish. To minimize expenses, slave owners forced Irish women and girls (many as young as 12) to breed with African men. The “mulatto” offspring of these rapes were more valuable than their Irish parents, yet considerably cheaper than purchasing new Africans.
This trade in Irish slaves continued for well over a century as England sold thousands of Irish into slavery after the 1798 Irish Rebellion. England finally renounced its official participation in slave trade in 1839, far too late for those hapless Irish dragged away in chains. The Reconstruction Amendments after America's Civil War codified the rights of all men and women to live free of slavery's chains.
The horrors sustained by all people subjected to slavery are undeniable. Many freed blacks returned to their ancestral homeland to restart their lives anew. Many more Africans migrated to America on their own accord in search of the American dream. Yet, as the Martin article concludes:
“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.”For anyone such as Dr. Gates to proffer slavery as a uniquely Black experience requiring reparations to descendants of Black Africans is an insult to everyone of Irish ancestry. It is a ludicrous proposition that all whites now living in America are responsible for sins against blacks going back over 200 years, and therefore should be held monetarily accountable. It would be equally ludicrous for me to demand some type of payment from all blacks now living in America for their ancestors' participation in the forced rapes of Irish women so long ago.
However, if Gates and others insist on pushing the reparation issue, I will be equally insistent that the Irish be the first recipients, at least to the extent that blacks have benefited so far. I demand the atrocities committed against the Irish be finally recognized and taught in our schools along with those of the Africans.
Note: Although enslavement of the Irish may have been the most egregious as far as numbers and percent of population, the treatment of other white European slaves from Spain, Portugal and Scotland was no less heinous, and equally deserving remembrance.
Dennis P. O'Neil
Originally posted at Townhall.com on July 26, 2009.