How much of history can you trust? As a history nerd, I’ve thought about this often (at least 2384 previous times). I usually end up pondering some of my favorite quotes —
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it” — Sir Winston Churchill
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
“History is written by the victors.” — Origin unknown
So even though I study history, I always try to keep the limitations of recording it in the back of my mind.
I was reminded of this once again while following news about the political conventions in social media. Someone posted on Facebook that Irish were also enslaved in the country. How could this be? Why haven’t I ever heard about this until now?
My investigation (which didn’t take long) took me to Slate.com and their posting of September 29, 2015 — “Slavery Myths Debunked” (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/09/slavery_myths_seven_lies_half_truths_and_irrelevancies_people_trot_out_about.html). The myths included slaves were better off than Northern factory workers, blacks saw combat for the Confederacy in the Civil War,… and the Irish were slaves, too.
Actually, “If we’re talking about slavery as it was practiced on Africans in the United States—that is, hereditary chattel slavery—then the answer is a clear no.” It is true large numbers of Irish came here as indentured servants, and many were poorly treated, but that’s a different category entirely.
If you are interested in this time period, I’d recommend you read this entire essay. It really is a kind of sanity check on some of the myths surrounding slavery in this country.
By the way, one “myth” is true — The North benefited from slavery, too. In fact, it played a major role in continuing the slave economy.