The Irish slave trade began when the English King James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the “New World”. 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.
From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one decade. Families were ripped apart as the English dd not not allow Irish fathers to take their wives and children with them.
During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between 10 and 14 years were taken from their parents and sold as slaves. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2,000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica.
African slaves were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.
African slaves cost 50 sterling in the late 1600s. Irish slaves came at no more than five sterling. If a planter whipped, branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. The English settlers then began to “breed” Irish women and girls as young as twelve 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 having slaves”.
The result of this “human experiment” is the emergence of many descendants through the decades of brown skinned and lighter hue Jamaicans as well as other Caribbean nationals. Some may call it the “browning of the race’ while others may call it smart economic decisions. Whatever side you look at it one thing is certain- it has made the nationals of the islands more interesting and more diverse. It has created a mixture of people that has European lineage and African genes making them a unique set of people. The tragedy of the past has become the human treasure of the future. Out of Many, One People.