Cromwell did not only enslave Catholics. Poor white Protestants on the English mainland fared no better. In February, 1656 he ordered his soldiers to find 1,200 poor English women for enslavement and deportation to the colonies. In March he repeated the order but increased the quota to “2,000 young women of England.” In the same year, Cromwell’s Council of State ordered all the homeless poor of Scotland, male and female, transported to Jamaica for enslavement (Eric Williams, p. 101).
Of course, Cromwell and the Puritan ruling class were not the only ones involved in the enslavement of Whites. During the Restoration reign of King Charles II, the monarch with Catholic sympathizers who had been Cromwell’s arch-enemy, the king enslaved large groups of poor Presbyterians and Scottish Covenanters and deported them to the plantations in turn.
Legislation sponsored by King Charles II in 1686, intended to ensure the enslavement of Protestant rebels in the Caribbean colonies, was so harsh that one observer noted, “The condition of these Rebels was by this Act made as bad, if not worse than the Blacks.” (Richard Hall, Acts Passed in the Island of Barbados, p. 484).
“By far the largest number and certainly the most important group of white indentured servants were the poor Protestants from Europe.” (Warren B. Smith, p. 44).
Slaves or Indentured Servants
There has been a lot of whitewashing of the Irish slave trade, partly by not mentioning it, and partly by labeling slaves as indentured servants. There were indeed indentureds, including English, French, Spanish and even a few Irish. But there is a great difference between the two. Indentures bind two or more parties in mutual obligations. Servant indentures were agreements between an individual and a shipper in which the individual agreed to sell his services for a period of time in exchange for passage, and during his service, he would receive proper housing, food, clothing, and usually a piece of land at the end of the term of service.
It is believed that some of the Irish that went to the Amazon settlement after the Battle of Kinsale and up to 1612 were exiled military who went voluntarily, probably as indentureds to Spanish or Portuguese shippers. 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.