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Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl
By Kate McCafferty

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Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl
By Kate McCafferty
ISIS Large Print, (2004)
ISBN: 0-7531-7213-5
Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 3, 2005

Lost in the pages of history is the fact that from the mid 1500's to the mid 1600's thousands of Irish men and women where forcibly removed from their homes by the British and sent into slavery to work on plantations in Barbados. Technically, these individuals were not slaves. Rather, they were deemed to be indentured servants who simply had to serve a set period of time after which they would be automatically free. Reality, however, was far different. These were people who were forcibly removed from their homes and sent across the sea, and then once indentured to their 'masters' they could be used and abused without recourse. Worse, their 'masters' could extend their indenture for almost any reason.

By comparison, most of the indentured servants that arrived in the British American colony came voluntarily, knowing that they would have to work a fixed period of time in exchange for their employer paying their passage to the Americas. In most cases, these indentured servants were a treated well and many men received a grant of land when their indenture was over. The Irish that were sent to Barbados were forced into indentured servitude, without any benefit to themselves. Worse, they were treated, from their arrival, in the same manner as those enslaved in Africa - including being bought and sold like cattle.

Kate McCafferty has used this historical incident as the backdrop for her new novel, Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl. Although a work of fiction, McCafferty provides a telling and far-reaching overview of the reasons that the British chose to send these thousands of unwilling workers to Barbados and why their treatment there differed so greatly from that of British indentured servants working in the American colony to the north.

McCafferty uses, as the backdrop for the story, a failed slave revolt that had been carried out by a group of Irish and African slaves. Married to the rebel leader of the African slaves, Cot Daley is taken into custody after the revolt was quashed and incarcerated in Speightstown Goal. Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl is set in 1675 and it purports to be the testimony that Daley gave to Peter Coote, the prison's doctor, concerning her life's history. Born in Galway Ireland, Daley was only ten-years-old when she was captured and sent to Barbados. The bulk of Daley's testimony naturally concerns her life on the Island and included vivid descriptions of the hardship she endured and the atrocities she witnessed.

This is a compelling story that provides a glimpse of what life might have been like for those forced to labor for the British plantation owners in Barbados throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. McCafferty's choice of telling this tale almost exclusively through Daley's testimony is a bit off-putting as it greatly narrows the focus of the tale. I also find it improbable that someone in Daley's position and with her education would have been as articulate or informed as McCafferty has her. Nonetheless, this is a highly charged and fascinating story that I recommend, both on its historical content and for its literary merits. McCafferty writes in a graceful prose that is as impassioned as it is artistic.


For those interested in the historical aspect of this story, you may also find the following article of interest:
Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of ISIS Large Print.


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