Slavery and the historical record



Regarding Father Gregorio’s Aug. 29 column on racism, “Separating one group from another”:

The enslavement of European “whites” in the Mediterranean and on the African continent exceeded that of the enslavement of Africans in the New World. It was one of the reasons for the founding of the Mercedarian order.

In North America the first imported slaves were of Irish and Scotch nationality and were largely based on their Catholic religion. Prior to the Virginia slave codes, persons of African ethnicity were legally permitted to own persons of European ethnicity. There were cargos of “white” slaves transported through Cape May, N.J., as late as the 1740s — mostly children. In fact “white” slaves were afforded far fewer legal protections than those imported from Africa because African slaves cost more. And I am not referring to “indentured” servants but actual chattel slaves. To ignore the enslavement of people based on their country of origin — in America that would be Scotland, Ireland and the poor of England — is a grave injustice.

The West and the United States did not invent slavery. In fact, the U.S. Constitution is the first government Constitution that outlaws the slave trade. Europe had slavery, known as serfdom, until the 1860s. The amazing thing is not that the West participated in the ancient institution of bartering human beings but that the institution was ended by the West.

Never in history has a country or system lifted more people out of poverty than the United States and free enterprise. Greed is a vice, not an economic theory and all humans are susceptible to it — rich or poor. I can covet my neighbor’s Maserati or I can covet his waterproof tent as we sleep on the street side by side. It’s the same sin of covetousness.

It should also be noted that all workers on the Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese and non-Chinese, were paid the same wage.

Dr. Helen McCaffrey

Adjunct Professor of History,

Atlantic Cape Community College