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Myth Busted: Scholars Fire Back Against Memes Pushing Narrative of Irish Slaves in the Americas

1 zD9qp8O6E9-AsupS3E6D7wScholars in various academic circles are reexamining the idea that the Irish were enslaved in the Americas.

In academic discussions and debates that try to diminish how  racism and slavery impacted African-Americans in the United States, many whites try to use this myth of Irish slavery as a rebuttal.

In recent months, memes about Irish slavery have been debunked by Irish historian Liam Hogan via his Medium page. He has effectively torn down the idea that the Irish were involved in the worst forms of chattel slavery in the New World by using historical facts.

For example, back in 2013, a member of the far right Tea Party tweeted this  racist meme:


However, Hogan and historian Matthew C. Reilly debunked this photo. Reilly has done extensive research on the “poor white” community of Barbados and discovered that this photo comes from 1908. None of the men in the photo have Irish surnames and they may be of African and European ancestry.

Reilly writes:

“Photograph locally known as “The ‘Redlegs’ of Barbados.” Pictured are fishermen residents of Bath in the parish of St. John taken in 1908. Photo courtesy of Mr. Richard Goddard.”

The fact is that the Irish were indentured servants, and indentured servitude was nothing compared to the harshness and brutality of Black slavery. Indentured servitude was no picnic, but it was a form of debt reimbursement with a set time and a contract agreed on by both parties. Many people agreed to these terms in order to travel to the new world and start over. In the 17th century, the East India Company was notorious for providing contracts to the desperate to get cheap labor for the burgeoning colonies.

According to PBS, “Servants typically worked four to seven years in exchange for passage, room, board, lodging and freedom dues. While the life of an indentured servant was harsh and restrictive, it wasn’t slavery.”

There were laws in place to protect the rights of the indentured. And at the end of their contract, the newly freed servants may have gained at least 25 acres of land, a year’s worth of corn, arms, a cow and new clothes. In many cases, the former Irish indentured servants would buy enslaved Africans to work their land. That was the case in Louisiana.

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Screenshot from Liam Hogan Medium Page

Hogan writes:

“This piece of anti-slavery propaganda during the American Civil War was aimed at a Northern white audience. These enslaved children were “the offspring of white fathers through two or three generations.” The fact that many slave owners in Louisiana were of Irish descent only makes this appropriation more reprehensible. In my review of Irish surnames and slave-ownership I found that 159 different Irish surnames were represented among slave owners in Louisiana in 1850.”

These unfounded theories about Irish slavery have been used by conservatives and suspected racists to counter and attack the work of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Irish slave memes are frequently used to derail conversations about slavery and racism,” writes Al Jazeera’s Norma Costello. “When they proclaim that ‘Irish slaves were treated worse than any other race in the US,’ they attempt to diminish the history of the slave trade, the popular Black Lives Matter movement and calls for reparations for slavery in the US and the Caribbean.”

One of the most recent memes went viral during Black History Month and has been proven inaccurate by Hogan:

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Again, this photo was taken in the 20th century. It depicts breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co., South Pittston, Pennsylvania. It was taken by Lewis Hine — investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee —  in January 1911.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Hogan states that popular online articles about Irish slavery is a revisionist and wrong interpretation of history:

“These articles have created an Irish slave trade timeline, ostensibly a fantasy, which runs from 1612 to 1839,” he explained. “This is to make it appear that there was a concurrent transatlantic slave trade of Irish slaves that historians have covered up because of liberal bias.”

The Irish and many Catholic immigrants in America did not have it easy, because they weren’t considered white in the first place. They were not Protestant, and they did not come from western Europe. To say that the Irish endured chattel slavery is asinine.  As Black people moved to northern industrialized cities, the Irish historically tormented Black people because they often competed for the same jobs. The Irish and Black people also faced the same oppression and discrimination.

It has been nearly two years since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement. Drastic measures have been taken to improve a racially unbalanced justice system that has disproportionately imprisoned Black people. Racist and factually inaccurate memes won’t stop this movement.

What people are saying

13 thoughts on “Myth Busted: Scholars Fire Back Against Memes Pushing Narrative of Irish Slaves in the Americas

  1. Um actually Much of the irish were slaves myth has been debunked.. Many people just arent open to the ideal. Where as it has been said that no one denies Some indentured workers had harsh lives.. There has been an attempt to put them on the same levels of hardship as african slaves. Indentured workers DID have laws protecting them.. They COULD own land and even slaves.. They DID have a limited time to work and after that they could leave. They DID have a choice to move to a new country and work to pay off their trip and make a life for their selves..

    African slaves did not voluntarily become slaves. They could not own land.. There were laws limiting them and laws protecting their owners if they killed their slaves. African slaves were held indefinatly as well as their childrens children. Much of what I said and more Can be found.

    Also it is the sick minds of those who want to prepetuate the irish slave myth so much that they would fabricate photos as some sort of proof?? that they would trust uncredible sources from thoses who were not historical scholars?? And many reposted and reshared bad info without even caring if it had merit.

  2. Joseph Intro James See it's the same old story. Try to down play the cruelity of the Irish and then compare it to african slavery. Indentured servants, slaves were both property according to congress laws in those days. Both were considered human chattle. Just because they gave white slavery a damn title of "indentured servants" don't make it so. It's not a bloody competition.
    Irish population was nearly wiped out due to their slavery. I'm sure they thought their slavery was awesome. They were lied to, contracts not recgonized, their children were born slaves, there were many who were life long slaves. Sure there are people out there who have distorted Irish slavery. One of those people is you.

  3. Note #13 on that link if you dare.. "How the Irish were worse off than african slaves of the 19th century, America"

  4. Joshua D Bird LOL I think that you meant to say *disagrees. But who am I to say since you think I am an idiot and a moron. LOL Some more education would obviously be good for you!!! Or maybe you disaggrees wid dat too! LOL

  5. Jim Gustafson You can tell what type of person people are by what they post and respond too. None of these believers of this myth will even address the sum of what the article said. Or even ANY of the links ive posted with quotes and academic research. It is far easier to deny truth and reality. They hold on to convenient beliefs because it helps them sleep at night.

    Also, the indigenous americans were nearly wiped out.. yet you do not see this type of hate and disingenious posts from them. Memes and books and clear disinformation. They dont compare their history to that of slaves because each has merit. So it is not nessecary to minimize one or the other.

  6. Joseph Intro James Yes, ones like Joshua lack the ability to enter into an intelligent conversation. But they are good at calling people names. Thanks again for the excellent articles.

  7. Joseph Intro James Never compared anything.

  8. Jim Gustafson Called a mistype, shit happens.

  9. So being forced at sword or gun point onto a ship and transported to someplace you don't want to go and sold to someone you don't want to work for is not slavery?

  10. Joseph Intro James Many Irish did not voluteer to to be indentured either. Being forced onto ships by the Kings men is hardly selling one's self.

  11. There's more to history than what our government feeds us. Nobody is rewriting history.

  12. American history has not been accurately taught in our Schools for decades and its getting worse all the time… So just because something does not appear in some histroy class is no sign it did not happen.

  13. Jim Gustafson so everything is competely clear…Those native americans you speak ofwere tribes that were in the process of conquering other tribes and taking there woman andenslaving their men scallping. not unlike nations all over the world trying to conquer each other rape pillage and enslave, like tribes did to each other in Africa and across the world.Thank god we have the greatest tool the world has ever seen The Constitution doing its best to bring equality to the world.ASK those slaves that gave there hearts and heads to the sun gods how they felt.

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