Irish immigrants frequently were slaves

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

If you wish to use more about the Irish, here is some information that I found and was new to me.

Irish immigrants, voluntary or forced, had a difficult time in the North American.  I have a great-great-great grandmother who was Irish, so I don’t think that I am being offensive.  Some of the names for the Irish in colonial and U.S. history include: Mick, Paddy Muckers, Cat-Lick, and Donkey, among others.  These came from their names which included many Mac’s or Mic’s, from their work in Boston filling the Back Bay, their Catholic religion and that they were cheaper to hire than a donkey in coal mining areas.  And there were other more derogatory ones.

Many, but not all, of the white slaves in North America were Irish.  In the mid 1600s a white slave rebellion in Virgina took 800 troops to put down.  The British colonial government admitted blacks into the colonial militia to police white slaves.  In 1676 white slaves led by Nathaniel Bacon burnt down Jamestown, plundered plantations and expelled the governor.  All were eventually captured or killed.

The 18th century did not see improvement in their conditions.  In 1710, 40 Irish slaves took over a ship, killed all the crew and ran it aground in Nova Scotia. Five years later a reward was offered to American Indians to capture runaway white slaves and return them to their masters.  In 1748 the Virginia House of Burgesses upheld the Act of 1705 which legitimized white slavery.

In the Antebellum South, black slaves were viewed as valuable property and were prohibited by law from participating in hazardous, life-threatening work.  Unemployed Irish were hired for these jobs at low wages, so their loss of them would not be a property loss.

Indentured servitude was not technically slavery, but was a way that many Irish men and women came to the colonies.  The terms of their work could be harsh, and termination dates were often ignored, and they remained in service as long as the households wanted them.

President Andrew Johnson of Irish lineage was sold into servitude at age 10.  He escaped and went to Tennessee and worked as a free man.  He became president at Abraham Lincoln’s death.  He was also the first president to be impeached.

Many Irish were not welcomed nor had auspicious starts in North America, but as shown in previous articles, they became very important and powerful in the U.S., and their culture is now celebrated.
Loren Cain
Piedades de Puriscal

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