18th Century Irish Inter-Racial Marriages and Affairs in the Caribbean

In 1775, nineteen-year-old Charles Fitzgerald, naval officer, brother to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and third son of Emily, Duchess of Leinster, wrote to his mother with literary panache that ‘the jet black ladies of Africa’s burning sands have made me forget the unripened beauties of the north’. A few months later he followed this up with the news that she could look forward to ‘a copper coloured grandchild’ (Tillyard 1995:331).

Relations between Irish men and African women were as much a staple of the Caribbean experience as malaria, yellow fever, hurricanes, rum drinking and turtle soup, but it is an area of life which rarely appears on the written record. The earliest emigrant letters hint at this scheme of things. In 1675 John Blake, a merchant settler from Galway admitted to the veracity of his brother Henry’s accusation that he had brought a ‘whore’ from Ireland to Barbados along with his wife, but excused himself on the grounds of domestic necessity; his wife’s ‘weak constitution’ meant that she could not manage everything herself ‘for washing, starching, making of drink and keeping the house in good order is no small task to undergo here’. He could not dispense with the services of the prostitute until the African girl he had bought was properly trained in household matters (Oliver 1909-19, II: 55).

Nini Rogers, “The Irish in the Caribbean 1641-1837: An Overview,” Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, Volume 5, Number 3 (November 2007): 145-156.