They came as slaves: human cargo transported on 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. Some were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.

We don’t really need to go through all of the gory details, do we? We know all too well the atrocities of the African slave trade.

But are we talking about African slavery? King James VI and Charles I also led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanizing one’s next door neighbour.

The Irish slave trade began when James VI 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, 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 mothers, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their children and would remain in servitude.

In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls (many as young as 12) 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 the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more, in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is also 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 its 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 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, why is it so seldom discussed? Do the memories of hundreds of thousands of Irish victims not merit more than a mention from an unknown writer?

Or is their story to be the one that their English masters intended: To 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.




  1. Kay Martin

    I have heard of Irish slaves but never knew (nothing in our history books) how horrendous this part of our history truly was to so many millions of humans! Funny how so much of the bad history is just skipped by whomever makes these decisions; wrong, all wrong. When will the African descendants realize that today no one in the USA is responsible for what their countrymen did to them hundreds of years ago. The democrats have used and abused the African descendants endlessly to further their pocketbooks and their agendas which keeps these people under their thumbs through freebies with strings! Wake up people!! Do not continue to allow the democrats to use you and your people for their benefit.

  2. alice whaley

    From my reading, the Irish were not worth as much as the black slaves. From what I understand, the blacks were better workers. So they would breed the Irish with the blacks to get more money for the children. Also, did you ever see a black man or a black woman with red hair. Ever wonder where that came from?

  3. Lexfunny

    I have been saying this for years , thank you for putting it into words that are readable ! They do not print it in the history books in America you will not find books on white slaves! I had to personally teach my kids what I knew about them and when they asked the teacher the teacher said that it was illegal for them to stray away from the curriculum which only describe black slaves ! So once again thank you for getting it out there !

  4. James

    Really interesting story. It’s a real same it’s not backed up by historical reference and as a result could be total fiction

  5. Michele

    Wow! I read THE LOST CHILDREN OF WILDER and learned how the catholic church HATED irish. I did not know about this slavery tho. Verrrrrry sad history. Very sad!

  6. Brenda

    Interesting article. My mother was Irish. I never knew about the Irish Slavery. I did however hear of the Irish as being “Indentured Servants”. I would be interested in reading more. Are there books written about this?

  7. Steohen Peery

    There are so many atrocities in connection with the early years of these united states. Thank for the article. May we remember those who suffered In any way out of hatred or profit.
    Early mormons were persecuted beyond imagination, even to the extent of an extinction order made by the Govener of the territory, by the name of Boggs. They were free game and killed by the hundreds. Not to mention being made to leave almost every early settlement just to have their property taken by whoever wanted it. Just a reminder. These along with so many other tragedies have been buried in history. I am confident in saying.. Our lord knows, and justice will prevail unless people repent. And for many, im afraid its to late for that.

  8. LL

    Huge difference and while their was discrimination, the Irish weren’t slaves, they were indentured see ants who were allowed this option (vs prison. At the end of their indenture, they were free- to move, visit their families, work, marry, etc. and gain early release if mistreated. “Servants could even petition for early release due to mistreatment, and colonial lawmakers established different, often lesser, punishments for disobedient servants compared to disobedient slaves”

  9. Gary

    …Indigenous people in all of the Americas…Roman Christians…Jews….Africans…’Underdog of the Moment’…many, many people had ‘their time in the barrel’.. not JUST Africans. African slaves BEGAN, as I understand it, with African tribes who sold their captured enemy [Africans] as slaves. Then the Europeans cut out ‘that middle man’ by colonizing Africa.

  10. Anne Wilson

    The Campbell’s is a novel which illustrates Irish slavery. It continued up to the 1940s. My Mother was required to ride in the back of the bus and sit at a segregated table in the lunchroom of Merced High School in the 20s. My grandmother was placed in a St. Louis Mo. Physicians home as servant and was never paid or compensated. He refused to let her go when she wanted to get married. Signs in California said “Irish need not apply” at job sites. The color of their skin was a saving grace, but Catholic persecution and discrimination was rampant.

  11. Pingback: BLOG BONUS: FORGOTTEN WHITE SLAVES | Voters Rights | Foster Care | Chief of Chiefs | lara
  12. Ireland82

    The reason it is never talked about is because if people knew that the irish people (white people) were slaves before African people (black people) then African Americans wouldn’t be able to use it as an excuse. If i said im being oppressed because my irish ancestors were slaves im being a racist but if an African American says it then all the sudden we owe them something. I will teach my son that he is irish and he should be proud that he is irish but the world doesnt owe him a damn thing because the English decided to enslaved our people hundreds of years ago. I will teach him to work hard for the things he wants/needs in life not to act like it is owed to him because of a horrible thing that happened hundreds of years ago. ERIN GO BRAGH!!!

  13. Don Schmigel

    Interesting, seldom discussed period of the human experience. Related comments suggest some readers view these facts in the same manner they view the holocaust or the horrors of enslavement. “Power, Faith and Fantasy – America and the Middle East 1776 to the present”, by Michael Oden is an excellent read covering some of the early experiences of seaman and passengers seized by the Barbary Pirates and either held for ransom or sold into North African slavery. Thomas Jefferson and the US Marines finally put a stop to the practice.

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