When we talk about slaves and America, the first images that come to mind are the huge cotton plantations where slaves brought from Africa work from sun to sun. But there were other slaves, white and almost forgotten by history in this case, who suffered the same penalties: the Irish.
In the 16th century, the Spanish were the first Europeans to use African slaves in the New World (islands of Cuba and Hispaniola). Later, the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British did the same in their respective colonies (Brazil, Antilles, North America…). British colonies in North America were also used for the criminal exile of convicted criminals from the early 17th century until independence, and then to Australia between 1788 and 1868. In addition to these criminals, the English sent to their American colonies Irish people, especially Catholics, who rebelled against English oppression…. to be sold to settlers as labor.
Slave women and children
Human trade began when James II, King of England, sold 30,000 Irish political prisoners as slaves to the New World. In the mid-17th century, the Irish became the main source of human cattle for English traders… 70% of the total population of the Ancient Islands and Montserrat were Irish slaves. In the 1650s more than 100,000 Irish children, between the age of 10 and 14, were separated from their parents and sold into slaves in the West Indies, Virginia, and New England; 52,000 more, mostly women and children, were sold in Barbados and Virginia; 2,000 children were sold to Jamaica… Nor were they criminals, nor, as they have tried to sell, did they have serfdom contracts.
In addition, they were cheaper than Africans (in the 17th century, an African slave cost about 50 pounds and an Irishman no more than 5) and children born of white slaves remained slaves even if their mother obtained freedom, so the mothers remained with them. The settlers, to maximize their resources,decided to use Irish women/girls – as well as for their own benefit – to cross them with Africans and raise mulatos. These new slaves broke the market: they could be sold for a higher price than the Irish and came out cheaper than Africans. This slave half-breed practice was extended until 1681 when, under pressure from the Royal African Company to which the British Crown had granted a monopoly on African slave trade routes, the law “Forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale” was passed.
In 1807 the British Parliament passed the Law on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, under which the captains of slave ships could be severely punished for each slave transported. It was surpassed by the Abolitionist Act of 1833, which freed all slaves from the British Empire.