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Were the Irish the First Slaves in America?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 21, 2023 3:03 am

Were the Irish the First Slaves in America?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 21, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Slavery is one of the oldest profit-making endeavors, and the Irish were a special target for a thousand years. Colin D. Heaton, a military veteran and a host of the YouTube channel, "Forgotten History," tells us the story. 

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And we continue with our American Stories. There's been an ongoing debate as to whether the Irish were the first slaves in the Americas, predating the first black African slaves by almost a decade. Some groups deny the Irish slavery under English and later British rule, claiming that this was nothing more than voluntary indentured servitude, which did exist. However, the official British legal terminology used was indentured servants. Whether the servants in question had willingly signed the indenture contract to immigrate to the Americas or were first to go, many were forced.

Therefore, those transported unwillingly and effectively sold were not considered to be indentured. This included political prisoners, vagrants, convicts, political activists, thieves, prostitutes, or people who had been defined as undesirable by the English government. The Irish introduction to slavery was during the first Viking raids in the year 795, lasting through the midnight century. This period saw the Irish killed and enslaved. Just like many other societies, the Vikings attacked. Most of these early raids were along the northern and eastern coast using hit and run tactics. The Vikings would then flee with treasure and slaves and return to either their holdings in Scotland or back to Norway.

Usually, many slaves who were of value were ransomed back to their families, but others remained in captivity. Then, from the year 837 onward, larger targets such as the greater monastic towns of Armagh, Glendala, Kildare, Slane, Clonard, and Clonmacnoise, and Lismore were hit by larger forces. These large-scale raids generally spared the smaller local churches and villages far inland, but slaves were still taken, mostly to Scotland and Iceland. In 875, Irish slaves in Iceland launched Europe's largest slave rebellion since the end of the Roman Empire, when Hálfioleth, Holmarsson's slaves killed him and fled to Vesmanaillar. In 841, the port that became known as Dublin was taken and occupied by both Olaf and Ivar the Boneless, and by 853, this part of Ireland was a Norse trading center and slaves were a large part of it. But Irish resistance was not over. In 980, the Irish, under Mael Seachnáil Mac Domnail, King of Meath, fought and managed to defeat the Vikings and freed all of their slaves. Some Vikings who remained assimilated and adapted to Christianity and became part of Irish society. The final nail in the coffin regarding Vikings holding land and taking slaves was in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf, when Brian Barrieux, High King of Ireland, attacked Dublin, aided by his allies, the Limerick Vikings. They fought other Irish ally to the local Vikings in Dublin, and Barrieux's force won, and all the slaves were again freed, thus ending the legacy of constant Norse raids, whether from Danes or Norwegians. In 1155, Pope Adrian IV supposedly gave Henry II of England a papal bull, granting the king the authority to invade Ireland.

However, many historians believe that this authorization was a forgery. Regardless, Adrian's successor, Pope Alexander III, granted the lands of Ireland to Henry II, although it was not his land to give. The Normans were initially invited to Ireland by Dermot McMurrah, the deposed King of Leinster. In October 1171, King Henry II landed in Ireland and allowed Dermot to recruit soldiers and mercenaries, as Ireland was made up of several kingdoms at war with each other. The city of Dublin and the surrounding area were under Norman occupation and would be called the Pale, or the Safe Zone.

Going beyond that was considered foolish, hence the term we use today, going beyond the Pale. Following the Battle of Kinsale, in 1601, when the Irish and Spanish alliance was defeated, the Irish aristocracy fled to Europe, but the commoners remained. After nearly a decade, King James I of England gave permission for the English Governor General to collect and sell the captured Irish soldiers as slaves and send them to the New World in the Americas. In 1612, the first recorded Irish slaves were sold, possibly to the Portuguese and taken to the Amazon River basin, in their colony in modern day Brazil. This brought them to the New World. There has been some dispute as to whether these people were indentured servants or slaves, but it is clear that they were forced out of Ireland to the New World, so it seems illogical and ridiculous to assume that they went voluntarily, hence the status of slaves. It has been chronicled that in 1625, James I's son, Charles I, issued the decree, but given the timeline on James' death, it would appear that his son, Charles, probably did issue the world decree authorizing the Irish slaves.

This included prisoners captured, those deemed to be common criminals and rabble-rousers who were sold. They were to become the property of the English plantation owners in the North American colonies. As a result, tens of thousands of Irish men and women were sent to the Eastern American colonies as well as Guyana, Antigua, and Montserrat, as well between 1629 and 1632 as other Caribbean locations over the next few decades were infiltrated. By 1637, approximately 69% of the population of Montserrat were Irish. Many were indentured servants, yet some were slaves.

The rationale was simple. Black slaves had to be purchased at a cost of around 20 to 50 pounds sterling, a huge sum of money in those days. However, Irish slaves were sold for 900 pounds of cotton per person, but also traded for tobacco and indigo in a straight barter system. The Irish then became the largest source of slaves for English slave traders and plantation owners, far surpassing the African slave trade until the early to mid-1700s. Between 1641 during the Irish rebellion to 1652, over 550,000 Irish were killed by English forces and 300,000 more were sold as slaves, mostly military-aged men.

Their children, especially women and girls, were sold and considered quite valuable in the domestic service role. The greatest perpetrator of this was Oliver Cromwell, who defeated Charles I in 1649 during the English Civil War and had him executed. Cromwell, as Lord Protector, waged a ruthless war against the Irish starting in 1649. By 1650, it is claimed that nearly 29,000 Irish were sold to planters in St. Kitt. During the decade of the 1650s, it is also claimed, as well as disputed, that around 100,000 Irish children, generally from 10 to 14 years of age, were taken from their parents and were also sold, and sold themselves also as slaves or indentured servants in the West Indies, Virginia, the Carolinas, and New England. Between 1651 and 1660, the Irish slaves far outnumbered the colonists in all areas. In 1652, Cromwell ordered that 12,000 Irish were to be sold to Barbados.

On 1 May 1654, his To Hell or To Conacht Proclamation was issued during the active settlement of 1662. This was when the English began confiscating all Irish-held lands, and the native Irish were relocated west of the Shannon River. Those who resisted were sent to the West Indies as slaves or executed. His own words proclaimed, Those who fail to transplant themselves into Connacht or County Clare within six months shall be attained of high treason, or to be sent to America or other parts beyond the seas.

Those banished who return ought to suffer the pains of death as felons by virtue of this act without benefit of clergy. The English could kill the Irish without penalty, but selling them offered great profit. It is claimed that over 80,000 more Irish were sold, with 52,000 going to the colonies of Barbados and Virginia. Many argue that these were indentured servants, not slaves, yet there are no records of contracts between those forcibly removed and their benefactors. One may assume that, given the barter system of using tobacco and cotton as a trade item for workers, that these deported Irish were, in fact, slaves. In 1656, the Council of State ordered the round-up of 1,000 Irish girls and 1,000 Irish boys in their early teens, even some children, to be rounded up and sold to Jamaican planters, as these would be children whose parents were already deported. The persons were Irish, and no indentured servant would be released to go to Jamaica. These had to be forcibly exported Irish, who were already present in New York. So, whether one accepts the reality of Irish slavery or not, the fact remains that there were Irish people forced into slavery.

Therefore, those transported unwillingly and effectively sold were not considered to be indentured. These deported Irish were, in fact, slaves. Throughout the world, it's so much more than skin-colored slavery. It's about war. It's about the vulnerable. And it was always, and still is, about profit. The story of the Irish being the first slaves in America here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-25 21:46:47 / 2023-08-25 21:50:50 / 4

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