There are claims circulating that there was an Irish Slavery Trade
A Global Research web-site article about white slavery has gone viral. People circulating the piece claim that there has been a conspiracy to cover up the subject. This has caused an uproar, and historians such as Liam Hogan have rushed to unpack the claims.
The article is by John Martin
( no reference exists as to who he is ).
He included a picture of the book cover for White Cargo written by Don Jordon and Michael Walsh. This book conflates slavery with indentured servitude. This can give rise to grave misconceptions.
Being a slave and experiencing slavery are separate concepts
The physical experience of slavery is surely horrific. However, this is different to the experience of slavery as a state of personhood.
Beyond the esoteric idea that slavery is a state of mind, is the fact that a slave is the property of an owner. This ownership is a legal transaction that exists within a particular society’s framework that permits it.
The life that a slave experiences, once they become chattel, would obviously vary
But the fact remains, the slave has, by an external force, lost their personhood. Their owner writes their future, and the future of their children. The slave has no permission to dream for his or her own future. The slave is not permitted personal hope.
They do not belong to themselves, according to the law. Their purchase did not take occur between them and their owner. The purchase took place by parties that don’t view the slave as having human rights.
It is the conditions that slaves lived within that causes confusion. Indentured servants could absolutely live in conditions that are identical to a slave.
But the fact remains that the personhood of an indentured servant and a slave were eons apart.
The framework that society lived within defined the lines between servants and slaves clearly. In indentured servant was most likely a willing participant.
Promised food and shelter, they submitted to 7 years under the employment of a Master. Under the law, once the 7 years expired, their Master had an obligation to free them. Included in these legally binding Freedom Dues was a parcel of land.
The indentured servant could dream of the future
They had a personhood that the law denied the slave. There is the argument that the British forced many Irish people into indentured servitude.
They transported thousands of political prisoners, vagrants, and undesirables to the West Indies. However, even a forcibly indentured servant only had 7 years to tolerate their sentence.
Whether an indentured servant received their Freedom Dues is a separate issue.
Tragically, history does show that many indentured servants lost their lives before the 7 year period ended
Visitors to plantations that contained Irish workers did report appalling conditions. An English adventurer during the period, John Scott, described how they worked alongside slaves. He claimed that the slaves referred to the Irish as “white slaves” and derided them.
Another easily disproven myth is that of supposed mulatto Irish/African slave interbreeding
There is absolutely no evidence this took place. In fact, the tangible evidence proves the complete opposite. The laws surrounding interracial relationships were very racist in those times. The laws forbade such interactions between white people and African slaves.
Hefty fines befell slave owners who considered creating further slaves through forcing such “interbreeding“.
As we can see proof of this from the act in 1664
“And forasmuch as divers freeborn English women, forgetful of their free condition and to the disgrace of our nation, marry Negro slaves, by which also divers suits may arise touching the issue of such women, and a great damage befalls the masters of such Negroes for prevention whereof, for deterring such freeborn women from such shameful matches”.
In fact, this point is further emphasized in the episode of “Irish Nell“. Eleanor Butler had finished her 7 years of servitude and took up employment with a Catholic planter, Major William Boarman. She fell in love with an African slave, and pleaded through tears to marry him.
This caused much uproar, and the act needed altering to accommodate her future offspring. In 1681 the new act determined that the children of a white/African interracial couple would be born free from slavery.
Proof is evident in the act in 1681
Which read as follows:
“if the marriage of any woman-servant with any slave shall take place by the procurement or permission of the master, such woman and her issue shall be free, and enacts a penalty by fine on the master or mistress and on the person joining the parties in marriage.”
A French missionary by the name of Perl Lebat, concurred with Scott’s description. It was common knowledge that during the 7-year contract, indentured servants lived in slave-like conditions.
But the key difference remains the fact that they had a contract, and the slaves did not. The indentured servant had a light at the end of the tunnel.
In the period of history where Americans exploited African slaves, there was no white slavery
During that same period, it was common for employers and slave owners to be brutal and dehumanizing. However, clear hierarchies existed with defined privileges.
Sadly, Africans lived on the bottom rung of the American human hierarchy during that period. The Irish were certainly seen as being on a lower rung than the English, by the English.
But the fact remains that the Irish indentured servants had more privileges than the African slaves. Humanity has a history of exploiting others for financial benefit.
Lust for power tempts people to crush others underneath them. This crushing has always been brutal, violent and sadistic.
Depressingly, things are still like this in many parts of the world. Let’s hope we can review this history and decide to make an effort to respect human rights and equality for all.