§ 7.—Irish Exported As Slaves.
It was not enough to import foreigners of every hue and every denomination into Ireland; the Puritan rulers deemed it further necessary to export as slaves to the American islands as many of the natives as yet survived the miseries and vexations of Connaught. Jamaica and the adjoining islands had lately passed into the hands of England, and slaves were wanting to cultivate the sugar and tobacco-plant on their deadly soil. Sir William Petty, writing in 1672, states that six thousand boys and women were thus sold as slaves to the undertakers of the American islands. Bruodin estimates the total number of the exiles from Ireland at 100,000; and adds, that of these several thousands were transported to the tobacco islands. A letter, written in 1656, cited by Dr. Lingard, reckons the number of Catholics thus sent to slavery at 60,000. "The Catholics are sent off in ships-full to the Barbadoes and other American islands. I believe 60,000 have already gone; for the husbands being first sent to Spain and Belgium already, their wives and children are now destined for the Americans."
This transportation to slavery was even viewed by the Puritan persecutors as a boon they were conferring on the Irish Catholics. When Secretary Thurloe wrote to the Lord Deputy of Ireland to inform him that a stock of Irish was required for the peopling of Jamaica, the Lord Deputy replied: —
"Concerning the supply of young men, although we must use force in taking them up, yet it being so much for their own good, and likely to be of so great advantage to the public, it is not the least doubted but that you may have such a number of them as you may think fit to make use of on this account. I shall not need repeat anything regarding the girls, not doubting to answer your expectations to the full in that; and I think it might be of like advantage to your affairs there and ours here, if you should think fit to send fifteen hundred or two thousand boys to the place above mentioned. We can well spare them, and who knows but that it may be the means of making them Englishmen—I mean rather Christians. As for the girls, I suppose you will make provisions of clothes and other accommodations for them."
The author of the "Description of Ireland in 1654,'" without stating the number of those thus transported to the tobacco islands, observes:—
"The heretics at length, despairing of being ever able to alienate the Irish from the ancient faith, transport their children in ships-full for sale to the Indian islands, that thus, forsooth, no remnant of the Irish race may survive, and none escape from the utter extermination of the nation."
[When the Rev. John Grace visited these islands in 1666, he found that there were as yet no fewer than 12,000 Irish scattered amongst them, and that they were treated as slaves.]—(From his letter of 5th of July, 1669).
The same writer adds an instance of the sufferings to which the Irish slaves "were subjected in these distant islands:—
"God alone knows the severe lot that awaits the Irish children in that slavery. We may form some idea of it from what happened to some others of our nation there last year, that is to say, in 1653. The heretics, seeing that matters were prospering with the Irish in the island of St. Christopher, and being excited partly by envy and partly by hatred of the Catholic religion, seized in one night and bound with chains three hundred of the principal Irish that were there, and carried them off to a desert island, which was wholly destitute of all necessaries of life, that there they might inevitably perish from cold and starvation. This was, alas! too sadly realized in all, excepting two, who, through despair, cast themselves into the sea, resolving to risk their lives rather on the waves than on the barren rocks. One of these soon perished, the other reached the mainland, bearing the sad intelligence of the dreadful fate of his companions."
The letter of father Grace, already mentioned, states that those who yet survived in 1666 were cruelly treated both temporally and spiritually: "The administration of the sacraments and the giving of instruction is wholly interdicted, nor can any priest visit them without risking his life."
Another "Relatio" of the same islands, made about the same time, reckons the population of Barbadoes at 40,000, of whom 8,000 were Irish; and it adds, regarding these Irish, that "they are sadly deprived of spiritual assistance; nevertheless their constancy in the faith is wondrous and miraculous (mira et miraculosa), for they cling to it despite the oppressive exactions, and threats, and promises, and innumerable arts employed by the heretics to withdraw them from it." In another small island adjoining St. Christopher, the same narrative says, there were 600 Irish; these stealthily sought to frequent the sacraments, and assist at the holy sacrifice in some of the French chapels, but "as often as they are discovered they receive the lash and are fined by their English masters" (mulctas et verbera patiuntur ab Anglis.)
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.