Saturday, July 29, 2006

Scottish white slavery


Was thinking about a passage from Paterson, Book I:
Cromwell, in the middle of the sixteenth century, shipped some thousands of Irish women and children to the Barbadoes to be sold as slaves. Forced by their owners to mate with the others these unfortunates were succeeded by a few generations of Irish-speaking negroes and mulattos. And it is commonly asserted to this day the natives of Barbadoes speak with an Irish brogue.
Williams's latest editor (among others) notes that WCW is quoting Seamus MacCall's Thomas Moore (London, 1935). There seems a pattern, as Susan Howe notes in an interview somewhere, of the English imperium practicing upon its Celtic fringe what it will later try on its subjects of darker hues.

After the invasion of Ireland which still leaves his name blackened among the Irish & those of Irish descent (one news story last year or year before last concerned a Massachusetts town which moved to change its 300-year-old coat of arms because someone discovered that one of its quarters were the Cromwell family arms), Cromwell [shown above in Samuel Cooper's famous "warts & all" miniature] invaded Scotland (1650-1). The northern nation had moved to crown the exiled Charles II king after his father's execution in January 1649, & he landed in Scotland in June 1650 – with little popular support in Scotland, and distrusted by various political & religious powers there – to pose a threat to the Parliamentary government in England.

One of the fuller accounts of the 1650-2 Anglo-Scottish war, which I've just read, is John D. Grainger's Cromwell Against the Scots: The Last Anglo-Scottish War, 1650-2 (Tuckwell, 1997). Grainger is a meat & potatoes writer – there are no flourishes here, just straightforward British literacy & dogged chronological storytelling. Tho it's perhaps worth reading the last few pages to find Grainger – who up until that point has seemed entirely lucid – descending into something like anti-devolution paranoia: "independence for Scotland means inevitable conflict with England... This is the real significance of the last war between England and Scotland. For it is only the last war until now. If the countries separate, there will be another." It's this sort of ham-fisted contemporary application that the grand warhorses of Revolutionary history – Maurice Ashley, CV Wedgewood, rarely fall into. (Perhaps at some point in the future I'll mention the oddities of Antonia F/Eraser's account of Gunpowder Plot.)

Grainger does a maps & all analysis of Cromwell's two great victories in the Scottish campaign, Dunbar & Worcester (the former perhaps his single most amazing tactical success). But I'm intrigued by how much time he spends on the disposition of the Scottish prisoners from those battles. Of the prisoners from Dunbar, some were transported to New England and sold for 20-30 pounds apiece: 60 to the Saugus Iron Works at Lynn; 15 to Berwick, Maine; others to nearby York. The bulk of the "cargo" – some 150 men – are unaccounted for: probably dying on the passage over. After Worcester, a large number of prisoners were shipped to Virginia & Bermuda; 300 were sent to New England (of whom 30 died en route), where they began work at Saugus & "were mostly then sold on in smaller groups to farmers and mill owners all over New England."

17th-century England, unlike 21st-century America, had no formal infrastructure for the long-term detention of prisoners of war, no sprawling Guantanamo on the Isle of Man, say.
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Much of this 17th-century grubbing immediately inspired – tho heaven knows it's a longterm interest – by Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. I may end up reading Leibniz.
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For those of you who want to know more about Cromwell – especially for those seeking a quick internet source for term papers – I hasten to recommend Bob Cromwell's site about his illustrious ancestor.

2 comments:

Steven Moore said...

There was a recent history programme on BBC2 television here in UK where respected (English) historians were claiming Cromwell was in fact very nice to the Irish, that there is no solid evidence that he was anything other, and that folk memories amongst the Irish of babies impaled on pikes, soldiers told that the Irish don't have souls so it's perfectectly OK to kill as many as you like, and being paid by the head (later scalp) is simply irrational anti-English bad-mindedness. My blood boiled I can tell you.

Michael Peverett said...

All very timely - I'm trying to write about Scott's Woodstock at the moment.

Leibniz might not be the brightest fork in the drawer but he would be my choice of philosopher to have round for tea. (We could eat those chocolate wafers that are named after him.) He's very good to read, too.