100,000 Irish children sold for slavery during 1650s

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.

According to John Martin of the Montreal-based Center for Research and Globalisation, in a new article, The Irish Slave Trade — The Forgotten ‘White’ Slaves’, during that decade some 52,000, mostly women and children were sold to Barbados and Virginia, with another 30,000 Irish men and women transported to and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Oliver Cromwell ordered that 2,000 children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers there.

Mr Martin said the Irish slave trade began with James II in 1625, leading to Ireland rapidly becoming the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. “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.”

Mr Martin explains how the Irish population fell drastically due to the slave trade. This was done at the hands of the British who simply broke up families and sold them to settlers in the New World.

“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,” he said.

“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... 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,” wrote Mr Martin.

He also claims that Irish women and young girls were forced to breed with African males to produce a ‘mulatto’ slave of a different complexion.

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