FACT CHECK: Viral Post Spreads Misinformation About ‘Irish Slaves’

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A viral Facebook post shared more than 6,100 times makes several claims related to Irish people and slavery, including the claim that 300,000 Irish people were sold into slavery between 1641 and 1652.

Verdict: False

There is no evidence to support the claims made in the post. It stems from a discredited 2008 article.

Fact Check:

The lengthy post alludes to myths surrounding Irish people and slavery, including a theory that claims the Irish were enslaved at levels comparable to Africans throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Much of that theory hinges on a false equivalency between the indentured Irish servants and African slaves, according to The New York Times.

The text appears to stem from a 2008 article, titled “The Slaves That Time Forgot,” that was published on OpEdNews.com. In 2016, dozens of academics signed an open letter against “‘Irish slaves’ disinformation” that singled out the article as a source of the false narrative.

“The Irish slave trade began when 30,000 Irish prisoners were sold as slaves to the New World,” reads the opening line of the Facebook post, explaining that the “King James I Proclamation of 1625” mandated it. But the Daily Caller News Foundation found no evidence the proclamation existed, and that king died in 1625.

“This Proclamation of 1625 which supposedly stated that ‘Irish political prisoners’ were to be sold as servants to English colonists in the New World does not appear to exist,” Irish historian Liam Hogan wrote in an article debunking the Irish slavery narrative. “Charles I did issue A proclamation for settling the Plantation of Virginia (13 May 1625) but it does not mention anything about transportation or banishment.”

Some iterations of the post cite King James II of England. He was not born until 1633, according to The Associated Press. (RELATED: Did Ilhan Omar Say That ‘All White Men Should Be Put In Chains’?)

The post goes on to claim that 300,000 Irish people “were sold as slaves” from 1641 to 1652. Hogan poured water on that claim in a 2015 article by citing the book “The Irish Diaspora,” which estimated that total migration from Ireland to British North America and the West Indies between 1630 and 1775 only amounted to about 165,000.

“300,000 sold as slaves is wildly exaggerated,” agreed Christopher Maginn, a history professor at Fordham University and co-author of “The Tudor Discovery of Ireland,” in an email to the DCNF.

The post also makes baseless claims about “Irish slaves” being forced to “breed” with African slaves and being treated worse than them. The New York Times reported that these “false” claims are common elements of the Irish slave narrative. Maginn also noted the claim about “forced breeding” sounded “like cheap propaganda” in an email.

Indentured servitude and chattel slavery are different systems. The enslavement of Africans involved lifelong forced labor and treatment as property, whereas indentured servitude required unpaid labor for a fixed time, typically seven years, in exchange for passage across the ocean, shelter and food, according to The Associated Press. Though some Irish indentured servants were poorly treated, they were legally considered people and did not pass on their status to their children, USA Today reported.

Accompanying the lengthy text post is a black-and-white photo showing men crowded into a tall metal structure. Appalachian Magazine reported that the photo appears to depict Italian miners in Belgium around the year 1900. It is often erroneously linked to claims related to Irish slavery, according to Hogan.

Although the Facebook post contains historical inaccuracies, it has continued to propagate on social media. Versions of the post’s claims have cropped up online since at least the 1990s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The narrative of Irish slaves often reemerges when national discussion focuses on racism, USA Today reported.

“Starting with Ferguson and with almost every subsequent police killing of an unarmed black person from late 2014 through 2015, the meme was used to mock and denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement,” Hogan told the SPLC in an interview.

The claims related to Irish people and slavery have circulated this month amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Such protests were sparked after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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