CARIBBEAN-L ArchivesArchiver > CARIBBEAN > 2003-04 > 1049666184
Subject: Re: Irish Slaves
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 17:56:24 EDT
Glad to see Donald Akenson's book mentioned. My family links run vaguely
backwards from Virginia to Barbados, St.Kitts, Montserrat and Ireland and, as
it turns out, Professor Akenson is a long-time friend whose career (and
writings) I'd lost track of. The book's thesis, fully and carefully
documented, is that the oft-pitied early Irish emigrants (here I'm including
my own likely progenitors) displayed very little difficulty in both drifting
away from the Church and, themselves, becoming prominent slave owners in the
It is my strong impression that the indenturing system is often exaggerated
as "slavery." In unusual circumstances the physical treatment (work,
punishment, abuse of females) of indentured servants could resemble slavery.
But their legal status couldn't have been more different. An indentured
servant's relationship with the person paying his passage was based in
contract; that contract was enforceable by either side. A slave had no
contractual rights whatsoever. A slave was property, and had no more
independent legal rights than a wagon, a plow, or a dog would have.
Contracts are frequently broken and misapplied, and some indentured servants
certainly encountered such abuse, but there was recourse in the courts and
the great majority of indentured servants went on to fulfill their indenture,
receive the promised consideration (usually a plot of land), and form many of
America's original families.