|‘Hundreds of thousands of White slaves were kidnapped off the streets and roads of Great Britain in the course of more than one hundred and fifty years and sold to captains of slaveships in London known as “White Guineamen.” Ten thousand Whites were kidnapped from England in the year 1670 alone.’||
They Were White and They Were Slaves
The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America
Michael A. Hoffman
1. Mainly Britain
Among the ancient Greeks, despite their tradition of democracy, the enslavement of fellow Whites – even fellow Greeks – was the order of the day. Aristotle considered White slaves as things. The Romans also had no compunctions against enslaving Whites who they too termed “a thing” (res). In his agricultural writings, the first century B.C. Roman philosopher Varro labeled White slaves as nothing more than “tools that happened to have voices” (instrumenti vocale). Cato the Elder, discoursing on plantation management, proposed that White slaves when old or ill should be discarded along with worn-out farm implements.
Julius Caesar enslaved as many as one million Whites from Gaul, some of whom were sold to the slave dealers who followed his victorious legions (William D. Phillips, Jr., Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade, p.18).
In A.D. 319 the “Christian” emperor of Rome, Constantine, ruled that if an owner whipped his White slave to death “he should not stand in any criminal accusation if the slave dies; and all statutes of limitations and legal interpretations are hereby set aside.”
The Romans enslaved thousands of the early White inhabitants of Great Britain who were known as “Angles,” from which we derive the term “Anglo-Saxon” as a description of the English race. In the sixth century Pope Gregory the First witnessed blond-haired, blue-eyed English boys awaiting sale in a slave market in Rome. Inquiring of their origin, the Pope was told they were Angles. Gregory replied, “Non Angli, sed Angeli” (“Not Angles, but Angels”).
The fate of the hundreds of thousands of White slaves sold to the Arabs was described in one Spanish text as “atrocissima et ferocissima“ (most atrocious and harsh). The men were worked to death as galley slaves. The women, girls and boys were used as prostitutes.
White males had their genitals mutilated in castration attempts – bloody procedures of incredible brutality which most of the White men who were forced to submit did not survive, judging from the high prices White eunuchs commanded throughout the Middle Eastern slave markets.
Escape from North Africa and the Middle East was almost impossible and those White slaves who were caught trying to flee were punished by having their noses and ears cut off, or worse.
“The Norwegian slave trader was an important enough figure to appear in the 12th century tale of Tristan... Icelandic literature also provides numerous references to raiding in Ireland as a source for slaves...
“Norwegian Vikings made slave raids not only against the Irish and Scots (who are often called Irish in Norse sources) but also against Norse settlers in Ireland or the Scottish Isles or even in Norway itself... Slave trading was a major commercial activity of the Viking Age.“ (Ruth Mazo Karras, Slavery and Society in Medieval Scandinavia, p. 49.) The children of White slaves in Iceland were routinely murdered en masse (Karras, p. 52).
In the Calendar of State Papers of 1701, we read of a protest over the “encouragement to the spiriting away of Englishmen without their consent and selling them for slaves, which hath been a practice very frequent and known by the name of kidnapping.” In the British West Indies, plantation slavery was instituted as early as 1627. In Barbados by the 1640s there were an estimated 25,000 slaves, of whom 21,700 were White. (“Some Observations on the Island of Barbados,” Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies, p. 528.)
It is worth noting that while White slaves were worked to death in Barbados, there were Caribbean Indians brought from Guiana to help propagate native foodstuffs who were well-treated and received as free persons by the wealthy planters.
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“White indentured servants were employed and treated, incidentally, exactly like slaves.” (Morley Ayearst, The British West Indies, p. 19.)
“The many gradations of unfreedom among Whites made it difficult to draw fast lines between any idealized free White worker and a pitied or scorned servile Black worker... in labor-short seventeenth and eighteenth-century America the work of slaves and that of White servants were virtually interchangeable in most areas.” (David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, p. 25.)
In 1723 the Waltham Act was passed which classified more than 200 minor offenses such as stealing a rabbit from an aristocrat or breaking up his fishpond, a crime punishable by hanging. Starving youths, fourteen years old, were strung-up on Tyburn gallows for stealing as little as one sheep. When their bodies were cut down their parents had to fight over them with agents of the Royal College of Physicians who had been empowered by the courts to use their remains for laboratory dissection.
The English historian William Cobbett stated in 1836, “The starving agricultural laborers of southern England are worse off than American negroes.” When in 1834 English farm workers in Dorset tried to form a union in order to “preserve ourselves, our wives and our children from starvation” they were shipped into slavery in Australia for this “crime.„ The situation of White factory workers was no better. Robert Owen declared in 1840, “The working classes of Great Britain are in a worse condition than any slaves in any country, in any period of the world’s history.”
In 19th century England tens of thousands of White children were employed as slave laborers in British coal mines. Little White boys, seven years old, were harnessed like donkeys to coal carts and ordered to drag them through mine shafts. In 1843, White children aged four were working in the coal pits. In old English cemeteries can be seen epitaphs on grave stones like one which reads, “William Smith, aged eight years, Miner, died Jan. 3, 1841.”
The root of the holocaust against the White yeomanry of Britain lies in the history of the land swindles perpetrated against them in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.
[Rev. Richard] Oastler was publicly thanked by a delegation of English laborers at a meeting in York “for his manly letters to expose the conduct of those pretended philanthropists and canting hypocrites who travel to the West Indies in search of slavery, forgetting there is a more abominable and degrading system of slavery at home.” (Cecil Driver, Tory Radical: The Life of Richard Oastler, pp. 36-55; lnglis, p. 260.)
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White children worked up to sixteen hours a day and “During that period the doors were locked; children – and most of the mill workers were still children – were allowed out only ‘to go to the necessary’... In some factories it was forbidden to open my of the windows; cotton fluff was everywhere, including on he children’s food, but often, as they had to stand all day, they were too fatigued to have any appetite... The (child) apprentices who were on night shift might stay on it for as long as four or five years... although they were provided with dinner at midnight, the machinery did not stop (lnglis, pp. 80, 163, 164, 262).
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“In Bleak House Dickens was to satirize evangelical ‘telescopic philanthropy’ in the person of Mrs. Jellyby, a do-gooder so absorbed in the welfare of the African natives of Borrioboola-Gha that she fails to notice her own family sinking into ruin. This was precisely Carlyle’s point: with Irish... dying in ditches... it was the worst sort of rose-pink sentimentalism to worry oneself about West Indian negroes.” (Eugene R. August, introduction to Thomas Carlyle’s The Nigger Question, Crofts Classics edition, p. xvii.)
In the late 1830s William Dodd began his exhaustive research into the condition of the English poor. He estimated that in the year 1846 alone, 10,000 English workers, many of them children, had been mangled and mutilated by machinery or otherwise disabled for life. They were abandoned and received no compensation of any kind. Many died of their injuries.
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“Young children are allowed to clean the machinery, actually while it is in motion; and consequently the fingers, hands and arms are frequently destroyed in a moment. I have seen the whole of the arm, from the tip of the fingers to above the elbow, chopped into mince-meat, the cog-wheels cutting through the skin, muscles and in some places, through the bone... in one instance every limb but one was broken.” (William Dodd, The Factory System Illustrated, pp. 21-22.)
“Accidents were often due to... children being set to clean machinery while it was still in motion. The loss of two or three fingers was not exceptional. There were more serious accidents... such as that reported by a Stockport doctor in 1840 of a girl caught by the hair and scalped from the nose to the back of the head. The manufacturer gave her five shillings. She died in the workhouse.” (Cruickshank, p. 51.)
Nineteenth century factory worker William Dodd stated, “Petition after petition has been sent to the two houses of Parliament, to the prime minister, and to the Queen, concerning this unfortunate class of British subjects, but without effect. Had they only been black instead of white, their case would have been taken into consideration long ago.”
* * *
Ruth Holland, commenting on the participation of New England factory owners in the cause of abolitionism and rights for negroes in the south, observed, “It’s a little difficult to believe that northern mill owners, who were mercilessly abusing [White] children for profit, felt such pure moral indignation at [negro] slavery.” (Mill Child, p. 28.)
In May, 1839, a boy, William Wilson, was ordered to clean a flue that was still hot from a fire that had recently been extinguished. “He was grievously burned” and hospitalized “for weeks” during which he was described by a care-giver as a “meek, gentle, little creature... the tears started in his eyes when he was spoken kindly to.” (Society for Superseding the Necessity of Climbing Boys, The Trade of Chimney Sweeping, pp. 2-20.)
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“When Parliament abolished negro slavery in 1808, the flues of its august chambers were being climbed by boys four, five and six years of age, sold... to chimney sweepers for prices ranging from a few shillings to two guineas – the smaller the child, the better the price.” (George L. Phillips, p. 3.)
* * *
Samuel Roberts, in an 1834 essay on the boys used as chimney-sweeps, addressed his indignation toward the upper-class British females who met in their sumptuously appointed parlors to weep with tender-hearted solicitude over the latest accounts from America of oppression to negroes, while in the next room, scarred and burned five year-old English boys enslaved as human brooms, were being forced up the lady’s chimney without a thought for their welfare:
There is a race of human beings in this country, the Chimney Sweepers’ Climbing Boys... which... is more oppressed than the negroes in either the West Indian Islands, or in North America... These objects are all young and helpless. Their employment is ten-fold more horrible than that of any attaching to the (negro) slaves... A far greater number of them are crippled, and rendered deformed for life. A far greater proportion of them die in consequence of hard usage, while the horrible deaths from suffocation, burning, and other accidents, are in this case, beyond measure more numerous. And all this at home, within our knowledge, before our eyes... in our very houses... How many of these poor infants... arrive at years of maturity?... of those who die young, who knows (or cares?) anything about them? The death of any of your favourite dogs would be more lamented. (An Address to British Females, pp. 11-17.)
Michael A. Hoffman, They Were White and They Were Slaves, Independent History & Research Co., Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 1992, 137pp.