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.
By Peter Thomson
Nigerian (Yoruba ) businesswoman and patriot, after whom a prominent Lagos landmark, "Tinubu Square," is named. She lived in the 19th century and was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Western Nigeria, to a trading family.
According to Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Tinubu was in the slave trade for local consumption only. What she discovered was that the people she held captive, used for local consumption, were being taken out of Afrika not to return, she launched war on slave trade and fought the trade to a stand still, and fought all the kings in the business during this time.
She died in 1887 when she was at the height of her popularity. Today in Abeokuta, a monument stands in the town square named after her, Ita Iyalode (Iyalode Square).
The Gullah people are the descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. They still live in rural communities in the coastal region and on the Sea islands of those two states, and they still retain many elements of African language and culture. Anyone interested in the Gullah must ask how they have managed to keep their special identity and so much more of their African cultural heritage than any other group of Black Americans. The answer is to be found in the warm, semitropical climate of coastal South Carolina and Georgia; in the system of rice agriculture adopted there in the 1700s; and in a disease environment imported unintentionally from Africa. These factors combined almost three hundred years ago to produce an atmosphere of geographical and social isolation among the Gullah which has lasted, to some extent, up until the present day.
The climate of coastal South Carolina and Georgia was excellent for the cultivation of rice, but it proved equally suitable for the spread of tropical diseases. The African slaves brought malaria and yellow fever which thrived on the swampy coastal plain and especially around the flooded rice plantations. The slaves had some inherited resistance to these tropical diseases, but their masters were extremely vulnerable. The white planters moved their houses away from the rice fields and adopted the custom of leaving their farms altogether during the rainy summer and autumn months when fever ran rampant. The plantations were run on a day-to-day basis by a few white managers assisted, quite often, by certain talented and trusted slaves working as foreman or "drivers." The white population in the region stayed relatively low, but the importation of African slaves increased as the rice plantation system expanded and generated more and more profits. By 1708, there was a black majority in South Carolina, a unique situation among the North American Colonies. A European arriving in Charlestown in the 1730s remarked that "Carolina looks more like a negro country than a country settled by white people."
The Gullah slaves in coastal South Carolina and Georgia lived in a very different situation from that of slaves in other North American colonies. The Gullahs had little contact with whites. They experienced a largely isolated community life on the rice plantations, and their isolation and numerical strength enabled them to preserve a great many African cultural traditions. By the early 1700s the Gullah slaves were already bringing together distinctive language, rituals, customs, music, crafts, and diet drawing on the cultures of the various African tribes they represented. The emergence of the Gullah was due, above all, to the isolation of black slaves in a disease environment hostile to whites and to their numerical predominance in the region—but another important factor was the continuing importation of slaves directly from Africa, and especially from the rice-growing areas along the West Coast. The South Carolina and Georgia planters realized that the specialized nature of their crop required a constant influx of slaves born in Africa, not in the West Indies or in the neighboring colonies. So, a black community, already isolated from whites, was being constantly renewed by forced immigration from Africa.
The isolation of the Gullah community lasted throughout the period of slavery and continued even after the U.S. Civil War (1860-65) and the emancipation of the slaves. The Gullahs on the mainland continued to work on the rice plantations as wage laborers after gaining their freedom, but the rice economy of South Carolina and Georgia collapsed after about 1890 due to competition with rice farmers farther west in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. By 1900, the rice plantations were all abandoned, and the fields were returning to swampland. The Gullah people were left in an area of little commercial importance and of little interest to the outside world. On the Sea Islands, the rice and cotton plantations were abandoned after the Civil War, leaving the Gullahs there in one of the most geographically isolated regions in the United States. The first bridges were not built until the 1920s, and a decade later there were still adults on the islands who had never visited the U.S. mainland. But World War II and the great changes in American life since then have had a profound impact on the Gullah community. Many people have found economic opportunities outside the area, and return only occasionally for holidays and family gatherings. The Gullah people are no longer as isolated, and there is increasing influence through the media of American popular culture. But the Gullah continue to regard themselves as a distinct community, and they continue to cherish their unique heritage.
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 – 31 March 1797), was a former enslaved African, seaman and merchant who wrote an autobiography depicting the horrors of slavery and lobbied Parliament for its abolition.
In his biography, he records he was born in what is now Nigeria, kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child. He then endured the middle passage on a slave ship bound for the New World. After a short period of time in Barbados, Equiano was shipped to Virginia and put to work weeding grass and gathering stones.
In 1757, he was bought by a naval captain (Captain Pascal) for about £40, who named him Gustavas Vassa. Equiano was about 12 when he first arrived in England. For part of that time he stayed at Blackheath in London with the Guerin family (relatives of Pascal). It is here that Equiano learnt how to read and write and to do arithmetic. However, Equiano spent much of his time at sea, both on warships and trading vessels.
He served Pascal during naval campaigns in Canada and then in the Mediterranean. In 1763, Captain Pascal sold Equiano to Captain James Doran. He was taken to Montserrat and sold to the island's leading merchant Robert King. During the next three years, by trading and saving hard, Equiano was able to save enough money to buy his freedom for £40.
He came to London before returning to sea, working as an able seaman, steward and, once, as acting captain. He travelled widely, including the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Arctic (in an attempt to reach the North Pole, under the command of John Phipps). Returning to London, he came into contact with the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp when his friend, John Annis, was kidnapped by his former owner. Between them they tried to save Annis but were unsuccessful.
In 1775, he travelled to the Caribbean and became involved in setting up a new plantation colony on the coast of Central America. Equiano did everything to comfort and 'render easy' the condition of the enslaved people brought to work on the plantation. Equiano himself was badly mistreated. A slave trader named Hughes tried to enslave him and strung him up with ropes for several hours, but Equiano managed to escape in a canoe.
He returned to London and worked as a servant for a while, before finding employment with the Sierra Leone resettlement project, which was set up to provide a safe place for freed Slaves to live and work. He also formed the ‘Sons of Africa', a group which campaigned for abolition through public speaking, letter writing and lobbying parliament. In 1788, Olaudah Equiano led a delegation to the House of Commons to support William Dolben's bill to improve conditions on slave ships, by limiting the number of enslaved Africans that ships could carry.
Equiano knew that one of the most powerful arguments against slavery was his own life story. He published his autobiography in 1789: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. It became a bestseller and was translated into many languages.
The book began with a petition addressed to Parliament and ended with his antislavery letter to the Queen. The tens of thousands of people who read Equiano's book, or heard him speak, started to see slavery through the eyes of a former enslaved African. It was a very important book that made a vital contribution to the abolitionists' cause.
Equiano worked hard to promote the book. He went on lecture tours around Britain and Ireland and spent much of the 1790s campaigning against slavery. He was helped by abolitionist friends, such as Thomas Clarkson, who recommended his book and wrote letters of introduction. You can see one of the letters of introduction (written in 1789) in the source materials. He visited Birmingham in 1789 and Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Cambridge in 1790. In 1791, he toured Ireland. Equiano spoke at a large number of public meetings, where he described the cruelty of the Slave Trade. The following letter was written by Equiano in 1792:
"Sir, I went to Ireland and was there eight and a half months and sold 1900 copies of my narrative. I came here on the 10th and I now mean to leave London in about 8 or 10 days and to take me a wife (one Miss Cullen) of Soham in Cambridgeshire. When I have given her about 8 or 10 days comfort, I mean directly to go to Scotland - and sell my 5th. Editions. I trust that my going has been of much use to the cause of Abolition of the accursed Slave Trade. A gentleman of the Committee, the Revd. Dr. Baker, has said that I am more use to the cause than half the people in the country - I wish to God, I could be so."
In 1792, Equiano married Susan Cullen, from Ely, at Soham church. After his marriage, Equiano visited Scotland, Durham and Hull. In 1793, his travels took him to Bath and Devizes. These travels turned the public against the Slave Trade, raising awareness of the horrors of the trade, changing attitudes towards enslaved people and inspiring others to join the abolition campaign.
Equiano died in March 1797. The Slave Trade in Britain was not to end until nearly a decade later. It would be forty years before slavery itself was abolished in the British Colonies.
Slavery is not a relic from the past. News stories surface consistently of people being sold into slavery by family members or vigilantes. The latest report of modern day slavery comes from the Guardian, who is reporting that African women from Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Kenya and Ethiopia are all saying that they were duped into being part of a modern day slavery ring after being promised lucrative nursing and hotel jobs in other countries.
One of the countries most of these women wound up is Kuwait, where almost 90 percent of households employee at least one foreign maid. The ratio of one domestic worker to every two Kuwaiti citizens is the highest ratio of domestic workers to citizens in the Middle East. The women report that they paid recruitment agents around $1,500 to secure jobs hat they were told were in nursing or in the hotel industry. Upon their arrival to the new country, the women learned that the work was actually as a domestic worker and that they would be expected to workup to 22 hours a day.
One woman, who worked as a nurse in Sierra Leone, reports, “[The agents] took us to their offices and people would come to look at us. If they said ‘I want this person,’ they took you to their house.” Another woman reports being treated like a slave, being forced to work “24 hours [with] no day off,” never being allowed to leave the house and also being prohibited from using a mobile phone.
Kuwait’s kafala sponsorship system makes it extremely difficult for women to escape enslavement as domestic workers once it has begun because the system prevents domestic workers for being able to leave or change jobs without the permission of their employer. Human rights group Human Rights Watch reports that women’s grievances include wages not being paid, taking house servants passports to prevent them from returning home, and abuse on a physical, sexual, and psychological level. The grievances number over 10,000.
Millions of African Americans will soon be able to trace their families through the era of slavery, some to the countries from which their ancestors were snatched, thanks to a new and free online service that is digitizing a huge cache of federal records for the first time.
Handwritten records collecting information on newly freed slaves that were compiled just after the civil war will be available for easy searches through a new website, it was announced on Friday.
The records belong to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative body created by Congress in 1865 to assist slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia transition into free citizenship.
Before that time, slaves were legally regarded as property in the US and their names were not officially documented. They often appeared only as dash marks – even on their owners’ records.
Read More (Click On image)
An estimated 200,000 Africans were brought to Mexico under slavery, yet Afro-Mexicans remain a marginalized and often forgotten part of Mexico's identity.
The black community there told her they were descendants of Africans shipwrecked off the Pacific coast in 1900.
Afro-Mexicans are also not accounted for in the national census, which does not track race. The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples provides a sweeping estimate for the Afro-Mexican population: between 474,000 and 4.7 million.
Read More (Click On Image)
Former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo has supported an open letter by ex-Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson denouncing British Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to apologize for the United Kingdom’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Read More (Click On Image)
Four million Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves but only Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua wrote down his story – in English as a free man in Canada.
Waking after a night’s heavy drinking at the court of a strange king, Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua found his companions gone and his hands tied.
It was the start of a nightmarish journey that saw the low-ranking Muslim civil servant from west Africa sold into slavery and shipped to Brazil in the middle of the 19th century.
Years later, a free man living in Canada, he recounted the horrors of his experiences in a dictated memoir – the only autobiographical account of an African-born slave in Brazil.
“I imagine there can be but one place more horrible in all creation than the hold of a slave ship, and that place is where slaveholders and their myrmidons are the most likely to find themselves some day,” he wrote.
Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country in the Americas – for every one European who immigrated to the country, eight Africans were imported as slaves – but until now, no memoir by a Brazilian slave has ever been published in the country.
Read More (Click On Image)