Were there Irish slaves?

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.


October 1, 2018 By Mike McCormack
In the late 1800s, banks were charging as much as 50% interest on mortgages and Railroad rates were uncontrollably high. As a result, mid-west farmers were experiencing a downward economic spiral. In Kansas, among the frustrated farmers, one voice was heard that would unite them in search of a solution. It came from Mary Elizabeth Lease who raised her voice in defense of her Kansas farming neighbors.

Mary Elizabeth Lease
Mary Ellen, as she was known, was the sixth child of Irish immigrants, Mary (Cullen) and Joseph Clyens, who had fled Ireland?s Great Hunger. Born in Pennsylvania on 11 September 1850, she lost her father and a brother in the Union Army during America?s Civil War. At age twenty she went to Kansas to teach school and married Charles Lease, a local pharmacist. In the 1870s, a nationwide economic depression swept away her husband?s pharmacy and left them penniless. After unsuccessful farming ventures, the Leases and their four children moved to Wichita, Kansas, where Mary Elizabeth took a leading role in civic and social activities. She empathized with the poor for, as she said, she was one of them!

In 1888, she began working for the Union Labor Party and spoke at their state convention. From that beginning, she helped to form the People?s Party which later became the Populist Party. She believed that big business had made the people of America into Wage Slaves, declaring, ?The great common people of this country are slaves and monopoly is the master.? She exhorted Kansas farmers to ?raise less corn and more hell.? She was remarkably like another Irish Woman who, at the same time, was ?fighting like hell? for miners back east; her name was Mother Jones. Similarly Mary Ellen was known as ?Mother Lease? by her supporters and ?Mary Yellin? to her detractors.

By 1890, her involvement in the growing revolt of Kansas farmers against high mortgage interest and railroad rates put her in the forefront of the Populist Party and she traveled all over Kansas, the Far West and the South for the cause. She was a powerful orator expressing the discontent of the farmers declaring, ?Our laws clothe rascals in robes and honesty in rags.? Labor unions loved her while the press and major party politicians criticized her unmercifully. They even went beyond disagreeing with her message and focused their attacks on her looks, self-confidence and ?unwomanly? argumentative behavior. One Republican editor called her, ?the petticoated smut-mill.? Despite the abuse, she persevered, delivering her message throughout the States. making more than 160 speeches for the Populist cause. In 1890s Kansas, women could not run for office, but in the Republican-dominated State election that year, the Democrats took 8 seats, the Republicans took 26 and the Populist Party took 91. Mary Lease had sparked a fire and it swept the country in the next two years.

Encouraged by her success, she expanded her cause to include women?s suffrage, African American suffrage and temperance. She brought her revised agenda to the Populist Party?s next state convention. In December 1893, Populist Governor Lorenzo D. Lewelling disagreed with her new focus and tried to have her removed from the Board of Charities, a position to which he had previously appointed her. Lease?s public outrage at the attempt to remove her prompted newer members of the Populist Parties to distance themselves from her. She left the Populist Party and social historian Gene Clanton cites her split with the Party as a major contributor to the Populist party?s defeat in 1894.

In 1895, she wrote The Problem of Civilization Solved and in 1896, moved to New York City where she edited the democratic newspaper, World. In addition, she worked as an editor for the National Encyclopedia of American Biography. Despite her fallout with, and the eventual demise of, the Populist Party, Lease?s work and efforts were ultimately rewarded with the election of Theodore Roosevelt and the national push for the reforms that she had championed years earlier. She wrote, ?In these later years I have seen, with gratification, that my work in the good old Populist days was not in vain. The Progressive party has adopted our platform, clause for clause, plank by plank. Note the list of reforms which we advocated which are coming into reality. Direct election of senators is assured; Public utilities are gradually being removed from the hands of the few and placed under the control of the people who use them; Women suffrage is now almost a national issue . . . The seeds we sowed out in Kansas did not fall on barren ground.? More an agitator than a practical politician, after 1896 Lease turned to personal interests and spent the rest of her life with one or another of her children in the East until her death in Callicoon, NY, on October 29, 1933, just one month after her 83rd birthday. Though rarely recognized for her contributions, She is truly one of the Irish Americans who changed America for the better.