Treatment Of White Irish Slaves
Although the Africans and Irish were housed together and were the property of the planter owners, the Africans received much better treatment, food and housing. In the British West Indies the planters routinely tortured white slaves for any infraction. Owners would hang Irish slaves by their hands and set their hands or feet afire as a means of punishment. To end this barbarity, Colonel William Brayne wrote to English authorities in 1656 urging the importation of Negro slaves on the grounds that, “as the planters would have to pay much more for them, they would have an interest in preserving their lives, which was wanting in the case of (Irish)….” many of whom, he charged, were killed by overwork and cruel treatment. African blacks cost generally about 20 to 50 pounds Sterling, compared to 900 pounds of cotton (about 5 pounds Sterling) for an Irish.
They were also more durable in the hot climate, and caused fewer problems. The biggest bonus with the Africans though, was they were NOT Catholic, and any heathen pagan was better than an Irish Papist. Irish prisoners were commonly sentenced to a term of service, so theoretically they would eventually be free. In practice, many of the slavers sold the Irish on the same terms as prisoners for servitude of 7 to 10 years.
There was no racial consideration or discrimination, you were either a freeman or a slave, but there was aggressive religious discrimination, with the Pope considered by all English Protestants to be the enemy of God and civilization, and all Catholics heathens and hated.
Irish Catholics were not considered to be Christians. Any infraction was dealt with the same severity, whether African or Irish, field worker or domestic servant. Floggings were common, and if a planter beat an Irish slave to death, it was not a crime, only a financial loss, and a lesser loss than killing a more expensive African. Parliament passed the Act to Regulate Slaves on British Plantations in 1667, designating authorized punishments to include whippings and brandings for slave offenses against a Christian.
Irish Catholics were not considered Christians, even if they were freemen. The planters quickly began breeding the comely Irish women, not just because they were attractive, but because it was profitable as well as pleasurable. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, and although an Irish woman may become free, her children were not. Naturally, most Irish mothers remained with their children after earning their freedom.
Planters then began to breed Irish women with African men to produce more slaves who had lighter skin and brought a higher price. The practice became so widespread that in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” This legislation was not the result of any moral or racial consideration, but rather because the practice was interfering with the profits of the Royal African Company. It is interesting to note that from 1680 to 1688, the Royal African Company sent 249 shiploads of slaves to the Indies and American Colonies, with a cargo of 60,000 Irish and Africans.