The Caribbean Island of Montserrat has a long history with the Irish. It is a small island. This first of a two blog will focus on the early Irish Catholic history of the island. Many North Americans, white and black, are descendants of these the colonial Irish Catholic indentured servants, white slaves, prisoners and settlers.
Montserrat was founded as an English colony in 1632, by Irish Catholic indentured servants from St. Kitts. It became a Catholic colony ruled by Protestants. A second wave of settlers came in 1634; Catholic refugees fleeing persecution in Virginia.
Recruiting schemes successfully brought Irish to the island to grow tobacco. Additional waves of settlers arrived in 1641-45 as the term for many white indentured servants in St. Kitts and Barbados expired. In 1649 the island was used as a dumping ground for Irish slaves and prisoners following the Cromwellian victory in Ireland. By 1666, the population consisted of 3,250 including 300 English, 2,000 Irish and 650 African slaves.
In 1667 many left during war between France and England, both which had colonies in the Caribbean. The Irish Catholics sided with the French, and were sent to Nevis. Montserrat lay in ruins. By 1678 the island was being rebuilt with the economy based on a few large plantations. The census for that year showed 2,682 whites and 992 slaves. About two-thirds of the whites were Irish subsistence farmers. With little opportunity for advancement, the white population steadily decreased.
The wars between England and France (1689-1714) would cause most of the Irish farmers to abandon their holdings and leave. Catholics who remained were subject to harsh laws. The 1756 Census showed a population of 10,283, of whom 1,430 were white and 8,853 black.
In tomorrow’s blog, I will discuss the records of Montserrat.
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