When was Irish slavery in the New World illegalized?

For those not familiar, in the 17th century tens of thousands Irish prisoners (estimates range from a conservative ~30,000 to well over 100,000) were sent to the New World as slaves. The vast majority were sent during the Cromwell regime (1651-1660) but the practice of deporting and selling them for life to New World colonists began at least as early as 1625 and occurred on a smaller scale afterwards, usually due to small scale revolts.

By the 18th century the Irish and the Scots-Irish who were deported to the New World came as indentured servants: their servitude was involuntary but would expire after a set number of years. In the 17th century they were slaves- the word slave was in fact used- meaning they would not be free and any children born to them would be enslaved as well. The majority of them were sent to the plantations in the Caribbean, but many were sold in North America as well.

Irish slaves were cheaper than African slaves and their treatment often reflected it. Most of the Caribbean Irish slaves died within a few years of their transport. At least a few were actually owned by freed African slaves (or their descendants) who became free planters. Others participated in slave uprisings in the Caribbean, and while Bacon’s Rebellion wasn’t a slave revolt there were a couple of Irish freedman among the farmers who had been slaves (as well as some black freedmen).

For those who are familiar:

While this chapter of history is fairly well documented, what I haven’t been able to find is when the slavery of white Irish people in the New World was outlawed. I have found laws from various islands illegalizing aspects of their slavery- most have to do with miscegenation (it was illegal for Irish women to either voluntarily have relations with black slaves or to be required to have relations with black slaves by their masters who wished for mulattoes- I found no such laws, not surprisingly, prohibiting sexual relations between Irish men/African women or for white masters/Irish women).

Obviously at some point at least the descendants of Irish slaves if not the slaves themselves were freed. If they hadn’t been then there’d have been third and fourth generation Irish slaves being sold at the time of George Washington. I can’t find a date or an act though, nor do I know if it was done by the British crown or island by island. (I would guess that it was passed by Charles II as part of his “digup that bastard Cromwell and hang him for killing my daddy” Restoration reforms, but I don’t know this. (Plus, as mentioned, the deportations/selling of Irish rebels still went on under him though on a minute scale of the Cromwell era.)

Anybody have any info?

Great Britain banned the trading of slaves more or less throughout the Empire* in 1807, and slavery itself in 1833. Since Ireland was a British possession at the time, there wouldn’t be anybody else poaching slaves from Ireland, and of course the slaves on British New World plantations were all (supposedly) freed in 1833.

In fact, adult slaves were basically kept as indentured workers by their former owners, since they had no money to pay for passage, and slavery would basically have continued in the colonies until the last of the pre-1833-born slaves died off, escaped or was freed.

ETA: The governor of Trinidad banned the indenture practice on Trinidad and Tobago in 1838, but I doubt there were many Irish there, if any.

*With the notable exception of much of India and Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

I’d never heard that the descendents of Irish slaves and indentured servants became a hereditary class of slaves like Africans. Cite?

That’s what I’m trying to deduce actually. As I mentioned it’s clear there weren’t white-slave auctions by the late colonial era, but I’m wondering how long it did last.
This site contains an excerpt from the book TO HELL OR BARBADOS: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland (a book I haven’t read) that mentions the hereditary nature of the slavery and the rape of Irish female slaves in part to produce offspring.

Slight tangent – you might be interested in reading “Bound for America” by Ekirch.

I’m not sure if that’s true. I’m looking at Don Kirkland and Michael Walsh’s “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America”, which suggests that there was a limited term of indenture, 7 years, for those transported. It wasn’t perpetual, nor were their children enslaved.

The Irish slavery was also a key plot point of the noted documentary, Captain Blood

This topic was very new to me! References found Googling all call this “little known” and that does seem to be the case.

OP’s answer might be 1705. From Wikipedia:

That article is vague about white slaves before 1705. I realize “indentured servants” might be worse off than chattel slaves, but there is a difference.

One of my Scots ancestors was arrested in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 and sent to Pennsylvania as an indentured servant. He eventually became a successful Philadephia businessman. Now I wonder if he was just very lucky to be sent to the North rather than the South or Caribbean. (Monmouth Rebellion was also cause of Capt. Blood’s slavery (Errol Flynn) – see previous post.)

I just dug out the Slave Code of South Carolina from 1740

That implies that there were no white slaves.

No, it implies that white people were not automatically qualified to be slaves.

Fascinating OP, I just wanted to chime in with a slight hijack but Damien Dempsey released an album called To Hell Or Barbados (after the book) a few years back.

Cool. I have ancestors (well, one ancestor and his brothers) who were sent as involuntary indentured servants to Pennsylvania as well due to their participation in the 1715 uprising. From my research into them I learned that the reason most Scots Irish went to Pennsylvania (whether voluntarily or in-) was the simple but practical reason that PA was where most ships leaving Ulster for the New World were headed. English and Irish mills imported flax from Pennsylvania warehouses, refined it into linen and sent it back, and since linen takes up a lot less cargo room than raw material they subsidized the voyage over by taking passengers.

Here’s a better synopsisthan the first one I linked to. Some [pre-Salem] witch trials trivia from that site:

If you carry on reading to article V, that’s not the case

It’s pretty clear (at least in my addled head) that there are two distinct classes of people:- slaves and whites. I’ll admit that’s it’s logically possible for there to be overlap, but I doubt it.

Some info on Ann Glover:

Here’s her memorial plaque

And I tracked down this historical record


and for the truly nerdy, here’s a first hand account of her trial.

So definitely a slave in Barbados in 1680. No definite word on her status in Boston (other than poor, Catholic and eventually dead) :(.

Counting the moments til I can use “Papistical inclinations” in a conversation with one of my Catholic friends.

Tituba of Salem Witch Trials fame was also from Barbados. Her race is not exactly clear from documents- black, American Indian, or some combination- but it’s not inconceivable she had Irish blood as well.

It’s always amazing reading things like that and remembering that men like Cotton Mather were not stupid nor were they like an ancestor of Glenn Beck worshiping tinfoil hat conspiracists, but rather were among the most intellectual and well educated men of their time. They spoke and read and wrote in several languages and even kept up with the scientific discoveries and debates of the day, yet a half crazy “Hag” (their word) getting revenge on people who had been mean to her by changing herself into “a black thing with a blue Cap” and entering her employer’s home where she “tryed to pull out the boyes Bowels” spectrally is completely feasible.

You would think even then they’d wonder “If she’s in league with Satan and can change her shape and fly away to dance the hoochy koo in the forest, then how in the world did we ever get her into custody?” I wonder to what degree the Puritans of Massachusetts applauded fellow Puritan Cromwell’s attempted genocide of the Irish.

This is the crucial point. While involuntary indentured servitude might involve banishment abroad for life, the period of actual servitude was usually limited.

The other crucial point to grasp is that the legal status of the Irish involuntary indentured servants was exactly the same as that of their English counterparts. The English government had in recent decades regularly used this as a method for reprieving those convicted of capital crimes and as a punishment for vagrancy. All that was different about Ireland in the 1650s was the vast scale on which the policy was being applied. Under the conditions of military conquest and occupation, there were many more people who could be convicted of the relevant offences and, even more importantly, a much greater enthusiasm by some within the English government to apply this as a punishment.

What also needs to be remembered is that there were large numbers of voluntary indentured servants. In fact, one of the big problems in calculating the size of the Cromwellian deportations to the West Indies is that there had been significant numbers of Irish who had earlier chosen to emigrate there, also as indentured servants. Not every Irishman in Barbados or Montserrat was sent there by Cromwell.

Given all this, there was no particular reason for the restored monarchy to abandon the practice after 1660. As septimus notes, the transported Monmouth rebels are the obvious case in point. All that then happens is that it evolves into the more familar practice of transportation. Which wasn’t abolished - in England no less than in Ireland - until 1868.

One of my ancestors immigrated from Ireland before 1740, and was an indentured servant in Pennsylvania and Delaware. There were notices in the newspaper three times when he ran away, in 1749, 1750, and 1751. Some years later he served in the French and Indian War. I think the third time he ran away, he stayed free. He moved out west. Of course, his kids were born free. I’d never heard of indentured servitude being inherited. Although in places like rural India and Pakistan, debt slavery because of exorbitant interest rates keeps some families in debt, and hence de facto enslaved, for generations. Kind of like sharecropping in the southern United States during and after Reconstruction.

An interesting fact about African slavery is that the first ones to America were treated as indentured servants. Obviously it didn’t last long, but there was a small window where some Africans were guaranteed freedom and there were some free black families much later who descended from these.

The exact origins of African slavery are a bit hazy. We know that there were Africans, or at least people of African descent (their birth may have been in South America, the Caribbean or even Europe) who were present in James Town before the first slave ship. We’re not sure how many (other than very few- maybe as few as a couple- there’s just a reference to a man’s Negroes being counted in a provisioning) but they were among the 2,500 or so people who had come to James Town by 1619 (the vast majority of whom had died or gone back to England; for anyone not that familiar with James Town, it was a non stop disaster for its first few years with a mortality rate that would literally probably exceed most concentration camps).

In 1619 a slave ship, probably called “The White Lion” (though I’m not sure if that was its name or the English translation of its name) came up the James River due to a series of mishaps. The Dutch were fighting their wars of independence with the Spanish and their privateers (along with English privateers [though secretly by this point due to an English-Spanish non-aggression pact under James I]) were blasting away at any Spanish ships in the Caribbean that looked like they might be hauling valuable cargo. (The sought after grail of course was gold or silver or silk from the mines in South America or the Asia trade, but pretty much anything- even just capturing a ship itself- was worth the cost of the battle if it could be won fairly easily.) The White Lion captured a slave ship, probably en route to Cuba (but again the records are hazy) and were probably disappointed since while slaves were valuable they weren’t nearly as valuable as a hull full of precious metal, but, anyway…
The ships were damaged during the battle. The Dutch set sail to their own port in Guyana for repairs and to sell the cargo; records are unclear as to whether they were towing the captive Spanish vessel, or whether it had sunk, or whether they had possibly boarded it and renamed it White Lion, but in any case they had the slaves. And they sailed pretty much straight into a horrible storm- possibly a hurricane- that battered the hell out of their ship (this is possibly when the other ship was sunk) and blew them hopelessly off course. Since they were nowhere near a Dutch port and everything on North America south of Virginia was under Spanish control they limped into James Town to sell their cargo- their captured “negars” as they were referred to in records- for supplies and repairs.
The English really weren’t accustomed enough to slavery to much know how to handle them. In England African slaves were a luxury item more than anything else- about like having a butler or a limo and chauffeur- since there were so many poor people willing to work very cheaply. OTOH, Jamestown had a desperate need for labor, so the “let’s make a deal” thing worked out for the English and for the Dutch- not so much for the slaves.

At first, as mentioned, it was agreed that they would keep the slaves as indentured servants, albeit for 10 years as opposed to the usual 7, the extra 3 being because they were a bit more expensive and they had to be taught English and to be good Christians. By 1625 it’s known there were mulattoes in James Towne and slave ships were coming not only there but to Massachusetts (where the first slave is believed to have arrived around 1624). Even for those “lucky” first few who had survived captivity and enslavement in Africa, the ‘middle passage’ literal shitholes, a battle at sea, a tropical storm or hurricane, and being sold (lucky bastards) pretty much any offense real or imagined would extend their indenture, in some cases to life, but there were some in the first few ships who did get their freedom and the usual indentured servant severance (50 acres plus a specified amount of supplies or clothing or tools) at the end of their term.

By the time the first few got their freedom this way the indentures for the new ones coming it had already risen to 14-20 years standard and again often as not they died before the indenture was up due to it being extended or just the harsh working conditions, disease, Indian attacks (numerous small skirmishes and major offensives in 1622 and 1644- both of which had black victims) and other horrors of 17th century Virginia. By the time the second big batch of African indentured servants were freed the rules had changed completely and the new arrivals were just flat out slaves for life.

However, there were a few Africans who survived all of this and got their freedom and even were relatively respected free men and women for a time. The children or descendants of some of these were involved in Bacon’s Rebellion as free farmers, by which time the children or descendants of others had migrated north into other colonies. Some also had descendants who were ultimately re-enslaved for debt or other reasons (including probably “not being able to prove you were born free”).

The 17th century is so seldom taught in survey courses with any depth. Maybe they do Jamestown (a brief treatment), certainly Plymouth Rock, possibly a little of New Amsterdam beyond the $24 worth of beads, but very little between any of these and the Salem witch trials, yet to me it’s about the most fascinating period of our history. I’m surprised there aren’t more historical novels about it at very least.