Paperback - $23.49 ebook - $7.99 Hardcover - $34
Paperback - $23.49 ebook - $7.99 Hardcover - $34
What many Americans don’t know is that the Irish preceded the Africans as slaves in the early British colonies of America and the West Indies. They toiled in the tobacco fields of Virginia and Maryland and the sugar cane fields of Barbados and Jamaica.
Long before King Charles II and the London Merchants started to ship African slaves to America, plantation owners had already established slave laws.
When one thinks of slavery in America, the main image that comes to mind is usually Africans picking cotton in the fields. What many Americans don’t know is that the Irish preceded the Africans as slaves in the early British colonies of America and the West Indies. They toiled in the tobacco fields of Virginia and Maryland and in the sugar cane fields of Barbados and Jamaica. For over 179 years, the Irish were the primary source of slave labor in the British American colonies and the British West Indies. 
This book is the unveiling of the true and untold history of slavery in America. King James I’s proclamation ordering the Irish to be placed in bondage opened the door to wholesale slavery in the British American colonies and West Indies, with Irish men, women, and children providing slave labor. This was not indentured servitude but raw, brutal, I-own-you slavery, with all the mistreatment that goes with being a slave — including being beaten to death.
Proclamation 1625 discusses the circumstances that led to Irish slavery in the British American colonies. It timelines the enslavement of the Irish and brings the events all together in one repository. Here, I cover the brutal British indentured servitude system and the enslavement of Britain’s unwanted poor and destitute citizens to bring to light the foundation that was developed and used to support Irish slavery.
The British ruling class kidnapped and jailed poor English citizens and transported them as lifetime slaves to the colonies. These citizens were taken because of their class status: They were destitute or criminals. However, the entire Irish people were targeted for enslavement because of who they were: Irish and Catholic. In To Hell or Barbados, Sean O’Callaghan writes: "However, from 1625 onward the Irish were sold, pure and simple as slaves. There were no indenture agreements, no protection, no choice. They were captured and originally turned over to shippers to be sold for their profit. Because the profits were so great, generally 900 pounds of cotton for a slave, the Irish slave trade became an industry in which everyone involved (except the Irish) had a share of the profits." 
None of the information contained in this book is new. It has been out there for years, some of it even for centuries. Richard Ligon wrote of his firsthand observation of the treatment of the Irish in his book A True and Exact History of Barbados (London, Cass, 1657): “Truly I have seen cruelty there done to servants as I did not think one Christian could have done to another.” But the British didn’t consider the Irish Catholics to be Christians: Catholics were “papists,” and papists weren’t Christians. The English very much hated the Catholic religion. The Irish, as subjects of England’s monarchs, were forbidden and severely punished for practicing their religion.
Plantation owners had a number of laws put in place to control the behavior of their indentured servants and Irish slaves. One law in particular was enacted to add to their stable of slaves. This law defined the free/slave status of a newborn based on the free/slave status of the mother: If the mother was a slave when she gave birth, then the baby would be a slave and became the property of the plantation owner. Once the law was in place, the slave owners bred the African males and the Irish women and girls to get the product they really wanted: a mixed African/Irish slave.  Riocard Ó Cruimín writes, “Instead, the British attempted to literally combine the two together, as slave masters forced their female Irish and male African subordinated to breed with one another.” 
This law and other laws and practices were in place before the plantation owners transitioned to Africans as the primary source of slave labor.
There is little review of African slavery in this book. I address African slavery only as it pertains to the interaction between the Irish and African slaves. For example, I note that they were housed together and fought the plantation owners together as slaves. I also discuss the transition from Irish slavery to African slavery, or what the wealthy and ruling class established as “racial slavery.”
Many of us have been exposed to the classroom version of “the history of slavery in America.” Some Irish who are aware of their ancestors’ enslavement have expressed anger that Irish slavery isn’t discussed in American history books. Some don’t want it to be discussed. Others think their ancestors came over on the Mayflower; they did not. Many of them came here in chains, just like the Africans.
Some people have published denials arguing that the Irish were never slaves on American soil. Those arguments are based solely on the definition of an indentured servant versus a slave. Yes, there were some Irish indentured servants. The Wikipedia dictionary definition of an indentured servant is “A person under contract to work for another person for a definite period of time, usually without pay but in exchange for free passage to a new country.” During the 17th century, most of the white laborers in Maryland and Virginia came from England as indentured servants.
But the presence of Irish indentured servants is not proof that Irish slavery did not happen. After 1625, both Irish servants and Irish slaves appeared in the colonies. What is proof is documented evidence of a time and place in which the events related to Irish slavery occurred.
If someone kidnapped you, threw you aboard a ship, fastened a heavy iron collar around your neck, chained you to 50 other people, and held you in a cargo hold, all padlocked to a common board, would you consider yourself an indentured servant, gaining free passage to a new country? That’s exactly how the British transported the Irish to the American colonies.
To deny that the Irish were ever slaves in the early colonial period is to deny that King James I and Oliver Cromwell existed. According to Cruimín: "When the term “slavery” as it pertains to the United States is mentioned, almost all mids immediately turn towards thinking of the enslavement of Africans by pre-Civil War American citizens. While the images that are conjured up by contemplating this era of human indignity certainly fit the bill, all too often it is the only instance of slavery that comes to mind. As a result, other instances and time periods of human slavery become lost in the shuffle. [. . .] Furthermore, an entirely different population of enslaved people is almost wholly disregarded: the Irish." 
The most difficult task for some of you in reading this book will be the “complete inability to conceive of whites as being slaves.” There is no indication in our classroom textbooks of any Irish — man, woman, or child — ever having spent a day in slavery in America.
Historian Ulrich Phillips, in Life and Labor in the Old South, states that African slaves were “late comers fitted into a system already developed.”  By the time Africans became the primary source of labor, the plantation owners had already honed their skills in using violence to increase tobacco and sugar production; they gained their experience beating the European servants and Irish slaves.  You have to ask yourself, “How did this happen?” I answer that question in detail. The truth can be revealing; but an omission obscures the truth. An Omission on purpose is a lie.
European and African settlers worked together side by side to serve the plantation owners — until the workers rebelled. The European and African indentured servants, along with the Irish and African slaves, banded together to rebel against the Virginia ruling class in protest of their harsh treatment. The ruling class responded to the rebellion with the invention of the “white race” in order to divide and control them. The division was along racial lines, Europeans versus Africans, and the tool created to control them was white racism.
The British abolished slavery in 1833. This act emancipated the Irish slaves in the British West Indies. The United States of America abolished slavery in 1865. None of this freed the Irish to the degree they wanted, because America had classified them as “colored” and treated them accordingly. It was only after the ruling class accepted them as “white” that they could finally say, “I’m free, white, and 21.”
During the early colonial period, European and African settlers socialized and married. Being in shared bondage, the Irish and African slaves mated. I end Proclamation 1625 with a discussion of descendants. At least 23 percent of American whites walking the streets of America are descendants of Africans. They don’t know it, and they don’t know why. Black and white Americans have had a consanguineous (having the same ancestor) relationship that originated in the early colonial period. That common ancestor may have been a male, or it may have been a female.
This book is not to lessen the horrors of slavery experienced by the Africans. Nor is it promoting or discrediting the experience of any one particular group over the other. It’s only to bring to light the fact that the Irish as a group of people were forced into slavery in the American colonies before the Africans. Hopefully, it will generate an open discussion about the omission of these events.
I claim African and Irish ancestry. I identify with both groups because I have lived with, hugged, kissed, loved, and was disciplined by both of these ancestors. So either way, I have some skin in the game.
To be clear, I am not a historian. History was my least favorite subject. If history is “the continuous investigation of the past,” then I’m an investigator who wanted to know the true and complete past. I understand that dates and places are important; they validate the events. But teaching of the subject seems to be relegated to remembering places and dates. History is about life, yet it’s often presented in a lifeless manner. I hope to give you historical events brought to life.
Proclamation 1625 is for those who want to know the untold true history of slavery in America.
"He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors."
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Herbert L. Byrd Jr. is president and CEO of MOJA an information technology and intelligence analysis company which supports the U.S. intelligence community and national level decision-makers. Herbert has a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University, LC Smith School of Engineering and Computer Science. He was born in Hampton, VA.