Possibly the swiftest route to your roots.

Out Of Africa, Out Of Ireland, by James Mullin

For centuries, England dominated both the African slave trade and Ireland. The parallels are too numerous and haunting to ignore.
W.E.B. Du Bois, founder of the NAACP and preeminent historian on slavery in the Americans, wrote:

"Any attempt to consider the attitude of the English colonies toward the African slave trade must be prefaced by a word as to the attitude of England herself and the development of the trade in her hands." Amen.

Du Bois gives America's "Dialogue on Race" a logical starting place. Racism is the legacy of slavery, and slavery in the Americas began with the "Mother Country's" dominant role in the Atlantic slave trade. Before all white Europeans are lumped together with the British as colonists and slave keepers, let us consider Britain's tyranny in Ireland and the many parallels of subjugation and enslavement to be drawn.

Britain first entered the slave trade with the capture of 300 Negroes in 1562, and pursued it with religious zeal for three centuries. She introduced the first African slaves to Virginia on board a Dutch ship in 1619. In 1651, she fought two wars to wrest the slave trade from the Dutch. In her book, Black Chronology from 4,000 B.C. to Abolition of the Slave Trade, Ellen Irene Diggs wrote: "The final terms of peace surrendered New Netherlands to England and opened the way for England to become the world's greatest slave trader."

In 1662 the Company of Royal Adventurers was chartered by Charles II. The Royal Family, including Queen Dowager and the Duke of York, contracted to supply the West Indies with 3,000 slaves annually. This company was later sold for 34,000 pounds and replaced by the Royal African Company, also chartered by King Charles II. Diggs says that in 1655, "Oliver Cromwell, in his zeal for God and the slave trade," sent an expedition to seize Jamaica from Spain. It soon became Britain's West Indian base for the slave trade.

In 1649 Oliver Cromwell and his 20,000-man army invaded Ireland. They killed the entire garrison of Drogheda and slaughtered all the townspeople. Afterwards, Cromwell said, "I do not think 30 of their whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did are in safe custody in the Barbados. "Under Cromwell's policy, known as "To Hell or Connaught," Irish landowners were driven off millions of acres of fertile land. Those found east of the river Shannon after May 1, 1654, faced the death penalty or slavery in the West Indies. Cromwell rewarded his soldiers and loyal Scottish Presbyterians by "planting" them on large estates. The British set up similar "plantations" in Barbados, St. Kitts and Trinidad.

The demand for labor on these distant plantations prompted mass kidnappings in Ireland. A pamphlet published in 1660 accused the British of sending soldiers to grab any Irish people they could in order to sell them to Barbados for profit: "It was the usual practice with Colonel Strubber, Governor of Galway, and other commanders in the said country, to take people out of their beds at night and sell them for slaves to the Indies, and by computations sold out of the said country about a thousand souls. "In Black Folk Then and Now, Du Bois concurs: "Even young Irish peasants were hunted down as men hunt down game, and were forcibly put aboard ship, and sold to plantations in Barbados."

According to Peter Berresford Ellis in To Hell or Connaught, soldiers commanded by Henry Cromwell, Oliver's son, seized a thousand "Irish wenches" to sell to Barbados. Henry justified the action by saying, "Although we must use force in taking them up , it is so much for their own good and likely to be of so great an advantage to the public." He also suggested that 2,000 Irish boys of 12 to 14 years of age could be seized for the same purpose: "Who knows but it might be a means to make them Englishmen." In 1667 Parliament passed the Act to Regulate Negroes on British Plantations. Punishments included a severe whipping for striking a Christian. For the second offense: branding on the face with a hot iron. There was no punishment for "inadvertently" whipping a slave to death.

Between 1680 and 1688, the English African Company sent 249 ships to Africa and shipped approximately 60,000 black slaves. They "lost" 14,000 during the middle passage, and only delivered 46,000 to the New World. As Diggs points out, "Planters sometimes married white women servants to Blacks in order to transform these servants and their children into slaves."

This was the case with "Irish Nell," a servant woman brought to Maryland and sold to a planter when her former owner returned to England. Whether her children by a black slave husband were to be slave or free occupied the courts of Maryland for a number of years. Petition was finally granted, and the children freed.

The "custom" of marrying white servants to black slaves in order to produce slave offspring was legislated against in 1681. How many half-Irish children became slaves through this custom? How many black Americans have Irish ancestors because of it? If a servant is forced to mate with a slave in order to produce slave children for her slave master, is she not a slave? In 1698 Parliament acted under pressure and allowed private English merchants to participate in the slave trade. The statute declared the slave trade "highly Beneficial and Advantageous to this Kingdom, and to the Plantations and Colonies thereunto belonging," according to Du Bois.

English merchants immediately sought to exclude all other nations by securing a monopoly on the lucrative Spanish colonial slave trade. This was accomplished by the Assiento treaty of 1713. Spain granted England a monopoly on the Spanish slave trade for 30 years. England engaged to supply the colonies with "at least 144,000 slaves at the rate of 4,800 a year," and they greatly exceeded their quota, according to Du Bois. The kings of Spain and England were to receive one-fourth of the profits, and the Royal African Company was authorized to import as many slaves as they wished.

In Slavery: A World History, Milton Meltzer says, "Slave trading was no vulgar or wicked occupation that shut a man out from office or honors. Engaged in the British slave trade were dukes, earls, lords, countesses, knights — and kings. The slaves of the Royal African Company were branded with initials D.Y. for the Duke of York. "In the late 18th century historian Arthur Young traveled widely in Ireland. He wrote, "A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a laborer, servant, or cottier dares to refuse. He may punish with his cane or horsewhip with most perfect security. A poor man would have his bones broken if he offered to lift a hand in his own defense. "When the Irish rebelled in 1798, Britain shipped thousands of chained "traitors" to her penal colonies in Australia. Many Irish prisoners were convinced that the masters of these convict ships were under orders to starve and murder them by neglect on the outward voyage. In The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes writes, "They had reason to think so," and points to the 1802 arrival of the Hercules, with a 37-percent death rate among the political exiles. That same year, the Atlas II sailed from Cork, with 65 out of 181 "convicts" found dead on arrival. Irish sailors who mutinied to help their countrymen were flogged unmercifully, and "ironed" together with handcuffs, thumbscrews and slave leg bolts.

In Slavery and the Slave Trade, James Walvin writes: "In 1781 the British slave ship Zong, unexpectedly delayed at sea and in danger of running short of supplies, simply dumped 132 slaves overboard in order to save the healthier slaves and on the understanding that such an action would be covered by the ship's insurance (not the case had the wretched slaves merely died).

"The Church of England supported the slave trade as a means of converting "heathens," and the Bishop of Exeter held 655 slaves until he was compensated for them in 1833. Trader John Newton had prayers said twice a day on board his slave ship, saying he never knew "sweeter or more frequent hours of divine communion.

" Francis Drake's slave ship was called Grace of God. In The African Slave Trade, Basil Davidson says, "The value of British income derived from the [slave] trade with the West Indies was said to be four times greater than the value of British incomes derived from trade with the rest of the world." Diggs says that the greater profits from the trade "helped make possible the British Industrial Revolution." The tables from the Royal African Company indicate that between 1690 and 1807, they took 2,579,400 slaves out of Africa.

By 1839, the year of the Amistad incident, Britain was no longer active in the slave trade, but it was about to engage wholeheartedly in the drug trade! British warships and troops fought the Opium War (1839-42) and forced the Chinese to accept British opium trafficking. "The British opium trade in China amounted to millions of silver dollars and hundreds of tons of opium annually." What a lucrative replacement for the slave trade, and how much more ethical! In 1845-52, over a million Irish people died of starvation and related diseases while enjoying the benefits of direct rule from London. The mortality rate was increased by the forced eviction of 500,000 souls. A million and a half more left Ireland, many on "coffin ships." During "Black '47," the worst year of the so-called famine, almost 4,000 vessels left Ireland carrying food to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London, according to Dr. Christine Kinealy. During nine months of that year, a total of 1,336,220 gallons of grain-derived alcohol were shipped from Ireland, she says, along with 822,681 gallons of butter!

In Forced Famine Genocide? Peter J. Parish, director of the Institute of U.S. Studies at the University of London, recently wrote Slavery: History and Historians. The index contains no entry for England, Britain, Great Britain or United Kingdom. He wrote: "Indeed, in the 16th and 17th centuries, slavery was very much an institution of the tropical and subtropical latitudes, and in the new world was a product of the Spanish and Portuguese empires rather than the British." Indeed?

Walvin says, "The picture described here has been too charitable toward the slavers and does not fully underline the inhumanities endemic in the slave trade ... The slave trade was an exercise in cruelty and inhumanity to a degree scarcely imaginable to modern readers. "Let us use our imaginations to face the horror of history, and overcome the legacy of racism bequeathed to us by "the Mother Country."

James Mullin is president of the New Jersey-based Irish Famine Curriculum Committee and Education Fund.  
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