One of the things you learn from blogging is that there isn’t much point in arguing with really stupid people, so I don’t intend to get sucked into a debate with anyone on the topic of white slavery. However, I have received a comment from a certain Mark Corbett and I think I will answer it here, just to make sure that everyone understands my position. Corbett says this:
“He’s saying that the way people of African descent were treated was much worse. Which it was.”
If Hogan stuck to claiming that the form of chattel slavery suffered by African slaves in the Americas was worse, there would be little controversy. What he’s actually saying is that people who had their land confiscated, were arrested as vagabonds, shipped to the new world and worked to death on Caribbean plantations were not slaves at all.”
Now, here’s a comment by Liam Hogan in a recently-published article in the New York Times:
Contemporary accounts in Ireland sometimes referred to these people as slaves, Mr. Hogan said. That was true in the sense that any form of coerced labor can be described as slavery, from Ancient Rome to modern-day human trafficking. But in colonial America and the Caribbean, the word “slavery” had a specific legal meaning. Europeans, by definition, were not included in it.
So, let’s please get certain things clear here. Hogan is not a Nine Years’ War denier, or a Plantation of Ulster denier. He’s not saying (and neither am I) that the British brought peace and civilisation to Ireland. He’s not saying that those who were in bonded servitude, or those who were captured as ‘vagrants’ and sentenced to work in the Caribbean, were well-treated. He’s not saying that they all survived the experience (though your claim that the Irish were worked to death seems illogical – if you’re a plantation owner who has one of these ‘vagrants’ for a period of seven years, you would want them to work for the full seven years, because labour was valuable). Any evidence for that claim? Having lived in an area where my neighbours were gunned down indiscriminately by pro-British death squads, and being a fluent Irish speaker, I am well aware that the British influence on my country has been baneful and disastrous and I don’t need to be reminded of that fact.
Here are some of the things Hogan is claiming:
- That there is no evidence that the Irish labourers or prisoners were treated worse than African slaves.
- That there is no evidence for the claims that Irish women were forced to reproduce with African men.
- That the whole notion of Irish slavery has been used in recent times, not so much to criticise the British, but to attack African-Americans – “White Irish slaves were treated worse than any other race in the US: when did you last hear an Irishman bitching how the world owes them a living?” (Obviously whoever wrote this never had any contact with Daniel Cassidy and his odious fan club…)
- That photographs of victims of Japanese prisoner of war camps or 20th century child laborers (like the photo above) are used with claims that they are pictures of Irish slaves.
- That a reference to a 1625 declaration by King James II to send thousands of Irish prisoners to the West Indies as slaves is a fabrication. James II was not alive at this time.
- That figures in relation to this have often been plucked out of the air and are completely unsubstantiated.
- That the first work dealing with this subject was They Were White And They Were Slaves: The Untold History of The Enslavement of Whites In Early America, self-published in the US in 1993 by an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier called Michael A Hoffman II.
It seems to me that this is a pretty good set of reasons to complain about the way this ahistorical nonsense is being spread, even if it does deprive people like Mark of a little bit of that warm feeling of victimhood which certain members of the Irish diaspora seem to enjoy so much.
So, the fact is, slavery was one thing. And what the Irish suffered in the 17th century was bad but it wasn’t the same as slavery. Interestingly, one comment in support of the Irish slaves meme mentions Goody Glover, a woman hanged as a witch in Boston because of superstition and racism and the fact that she was an Irish speaker and could only manage broken English. She had been sent to the Caribbean at some point, whether as a vagrant or an indentured servant isn’t clear. However, she and her children made their way to America. If they had been chattel slaves, she and her husband, and their children and their children’s children would have continued to be someone’s ‘property’ in the Caribbean. Is that a big enough difference for you, Mark?
The fact is, accuracy is important. We all know that there was a famine in Ireland in the 19th century. Historians argue about whether or not this was genocide. To my mind, the English establishment was to blame for the huge loss of life, whichever way you look at it. We don’t need to invent anything. But let’s just suppose that some lonely looney-tune in a dank apartment in Boston or London or Dublin decides that the truth about the famine was a far more hands-on thing. Suppose he claims that Queen Victoria and Trevelyan and Russell and lots of other English aristocrats caused the famine by floating over the West in hot air balloons throwing poison onto the fields and cackling hysterically at their own racist wickedness. A thousand dumbasses will immediately ignore that fact that this isn’t physically possible, that there is plenty of evidence of the disease that caused the blight, or that there is no record of all these upper-class English people going on a prolonged holiday at the time and they will accuse anyone who doubts the veracity of this claim of being soft, and pro-English, and self-hating Irishmen and traitors to the national cause and blah blah blah yada yada yada …
The fact is, I want historians to uncover the truth and tell it like it is, with all its contradictions and uncertainties. If you want a nice pantomime version of history with pantomime heroes and villains, then that’s up to you. But I personally don’t want anyone turning the tragic history of my people into a fucking cartoon, least of all when their motives have more to do with the Aryan Brotherhood than the Fenian Brotherhood.
Anyway, I’ve said what I wanted to say. Don’t bother replying, Mark. I’ve wasted enough time on this stupidity. If you want anything clarified, you can read it again.
In fact, I am indebted to Liam Hogan (once again) for providing the real facts about the Goody Glover case. While there is no doubt that she was an Irish speaker (though she spoke English as well) and that her inability to recite the Lord’s Prayer in English was one cause of her being condemned, the story that she had passed through the Caribbean is a modern addition. It began as a speculation because that theory would fit her timeline, but it quickly became accepted as fact through a process of certainty creep. Another idea, that her husband had been martyred in the Caribbean for refusing to accept the Protestant faith derives from Catholic journals in Boston in the late 19th century and is completely without evidence to support it.
I had heard of the Glover case a long time ago and had always accepted that the Barbados story was a claim made at the time of the trial. This is not the case. You can read Liam Hogan’s excellent work on the subject here:
View at Medium.com
Also, many thanks to BazG for pointing out a silly mistake in the post above. Of course, the potato blight was caused by a fungus, not by a virus as I had inadvertently written. I have corrected the mistake now.
I think the organism causing blight is now considered to be an oomycete rather than a fungus. These organisms resemble fungi in some ways but are not closely related to them.
Great blog. Must confess I’m taking my own first steps in Irish via Duolingo.
I’ll take your word for it! I have to confess I’ve never heard tell of an oomycete, though according to Tearma.ie it’s an úimícéit in Irish. I’m glad you like the blog. I have been learning Welsh with Duolingo myself and I think it’s a fantastic resource. Go n-éirí leat leis an Ghaeilge (nGaeilge). Nollaig Shona agus Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise!
I was just thinking there that there is a certain irony to the fact that a post containing the words ‘accuracy is important’ contains a couple of glaring errors. However, I would ask my readers to consider one point. I found out that the version of the Goody Glover story that I had always believed is wrong and I posted a link to the facts. A reader of this blog spotted the mistake about virus and I corrected it and acknowledged the mistake. See where I’m going with this? We all make mistakes. What distinguishes people like me from the Cassidy brigade is that I am happy to acknowledge and correct my mistakes where they do not correspond to the facts. Try getting Peter Quinn or Michael Patrick MacDonald to acknowledge that Cassidy’s work is garbage and see how far you get! 🙂