Thursday, 11 January 2018

Slavery in Scotland: then and now

The name 'Joseph Knight' meant nothing to me until a couple of months ago when my book group selected James Robertson's historical novel for discussion. I had enjoyed other books by Robertson, but this one had passed me by, despite having received the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award shortly after it was published in 2003. A huge gap in my reading, then, and one which I was only too glad to fill, even if rather tardily.

For those of you who don't know the novel, it is set during the years 1746 to 1803, in other words from the aftermath of Culloden and during the Scottish Enlightenment. The book follows the fortunes of the Wedderburn family of Ballindean in Perthshire and recounts the experiences of John Wedderburn's slave Joseph Knight, whom he had brought to Scotland from his plantations in Jamaica. It is set in the streets and houses of Dundee, Fife and Edinburgh which are associated with the Wedderburns and their friends, as well of course, as in their Jamaican plantations.

The prosperous Wedderburn family is still around today, in both Scotland and the West Indies. The novel paints a vivid picture of the conduct of Scottish plantation owners and the lives of their slaves. It also depicts the range of views on slavery held by some of the most famous figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, some quite surprising. David Hume, for example, was a strong supporter of slavery. Most of the characters in the book are based on real people including the eponymous hero, the Scottish gentry and aristocrats, and famous thinkers and lawyers. Lord Monboddo, who supported John Wedderburn, was a real landowner and lawyer who lived in Monboddo House just outside Stonehaven. James Boswell, with his ambivalent reactions to slavery - not morally acceptable but an economic necessity - also makes an appearance. Rabbie Burns, Scotland's most famous poet,  nearly went to the plantations as a 'negro driver' or overseer.

In an interview in 2011, James Robertson said, "As I gathered information, I became fascinated by the profound humanity of some of the people in the story, which was matched only by the hypocrisy of men in Edinburgh coffee houses debating what constituted a civil society while enjoying the products of slave labour thousands of miles away."

The court case brought by Joseph Knight to gain his freedom here in Scotland was a cause celebre at the time. In 1772, a case won by a slave in England in 1772, Somerset's case, had encouraged slaves in Scotland to believe that they too had a right to freedom.  Knight had lost his first case against Wedderburn in Perth. When, in 1777, he appealed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Wedderburn assumed that Knight would lose again. Wedderburn's lawyers argued that as Knight was his property, he had a right to do with him as he wished. The arguments of Knight's lawyers, principally John Maclaurin, Lord Dreghorn, had a very significant influence on people's understanding of ideas such as what we mean by 'freedom' and whether human beings could be considered 'property'. As you might expect, the case was a major influence on the abolitionist cause.

I found the Joseph Knight case fascinating. The more background reading I did, the more I became aware of how intrinsic to Scottish society, both in the past and still today, was the income derived from the slave trade and, particularly, from tobacco and sugar plantations. The same was true in England, of course, but this case arose in Scotland, so it is Scotland that is very largely the subject of this post. One of the aspects of slavery which surprised me was how widespread its extent and impact was geographically and, indeed, socially.

To begin with, some of the 'examples' of Scottish slavery were quite 'cosy' and at first sight seemed divorced from our lives today. Unsurprisingly, many of the 'Big Houses' were associated with slavery. Scipio Kennedy, for example, captured in Guinea in West Africa around 1700 when he was five or six and taken to the West Indies, was bought by Andrew Douglas of Mains near Milngavie. Scipio was taken to Culzean Castle to serve as slave to Lady Jean Kennedy. He seems to have been treated well. He was eventually granted his freedom and carried on working for the Kennedys as a servant, even being quite generously provided for in Lady Jean's will. The National Trust for Scotland have recently excavated Scipio's quite substantial house. Nevertheless, would Scipio's kind treatment have compensated for his being removed from his family, culture and home? Somehow, I doubt it. How would your five-year-old have felt?

Many well-known Scots, including men involved on both sides of the Joseph Knight case, had black servants, who would have come to Scotland as slaves. The Dowager Countess Stair owned a black slave called Oronoce in the 1740s. Slaves were often given ironic classical names like Caesar or, indeed, Scipio. The famous Glassford portrait in the collection of Glasgow Museums once depicted the family's black servant on the left, though the figure has long faded or been painted out. Hugh Miller, the self-taught geologist, shared a desk with a black boy, one of several in the area, at his school in Cromarty on the Black Isle, for slaves might be taught to read and count, useful skills in their masters' businesses. In Edinburgh, wealthy families used to send their slaves to Jock's Lodge, half a mile from where we live, in order to learn useful skills. Joseph Knight, for example, learnt to cut hair.

As you might expect, a number of these slaves, like Joseph Knight, tried to escape. When that happened, their owners would place advertisements in newspapers seeking information and threatening anyone who tried to help them. In March 1721, an advertisement appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Courant, (now the Edinburgh Evening News) about a runaway slave called Ann, who wore a brass collar around her neck inscribed “Gustavos Brown in Dalkeith, his negro”.

And of course, newspapers were used to sell slaves. On August 30 1766the Courant carried an advertisement offering a 19-year-old woman and her baby boy for sale. Iain Whyte, author of Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery found records for around 70 slaves in Scotland, including personal servants, but also slaves who worked as tradesmen in their masters' businesses. 

A slave called James Montgomery, brought to Ayrshire from Virginia, was dragged to Port Glasgow behind horses when he had the temerity to be baptised. Not surprisingly he died in the Tolbooth before the ship back to Virginia sailed. Another slave, David Spens, also got baptised, this time in Wemyss Parish Church near Methil in Fife. He said, 'I am now by the Christian religion liberate and set at freedom from my yoke, bondage and slavery.' He was protected by a local farmer and local lawyers helped him issue writs of wrongful arrest. Other local people raised funds for his support - churchgoers, miners and salters. Sadly Spens died before his case could be heard.

However, Scotland's main links with slavery are less through those slaves transported here from the West Indies, but more through shipping slaves from Africa to the West Indies and goods back here to Scotland. Above all, Scotland benefited from the astonishingly high returns from plantations and the transformational effect this money had on society. After the abortive Darien expedition in the 1690s, Scotland was near bankrupt. By the mid-nineteenth century, Glasgow was Britain's second city and an industrial powerhouse (See Steven Mullen's Slave 'Merchant City'). Much of the money which made this transformation possible came from the slave trade. As you may imagine, Scotland's role in slavery is a controversial issue. Professor Tom Devine's seminal and challenging collection of essays: Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past: the Caribbean Connection, published in 2015, builds on work carried out by Scottish academics over the last decade. Much of this post is based on this research and on other books and articles listed at the end. They cover all areas of Scotland.

Montrose Museum estimates that 31 vessels registered to Montrose were involved in the trade. The famous Coutts family from Montrose set up a counting house in Edinburgh. In 1692 they founded a bank still used by the rich and, indeed, the Royal Family. One of their numerous sons was sent to Virginia to manage the tobacco business there. Other Montrose merchants took ‘black ivory’, or slaves, from the African coast to the tobacco plantations of Virginia.

Up to four vessels a year sailed from Leith to America, Jamaica and Grenada, part of the 'triangular trade'. They left carrying items like clothes for slaves, tools and household goods, and returned with cargoes such as rum, rice, sugar and spices. Provost William Alexander owned four such ships. The merchant James Gillespie made a fortune from importing tobacco from the slave plantations using the Port at Leith. 

Greenock and Port Glasgow were the main slave trading ports in Scotland, however, as Glasgow street names indicate: Jamaica , Antigua, Tobago and Virginia Streets and the Kingston Bridge. Still today, an area of the grandest Glasgow trading houses is proudly called Merchant City. Thirty ships were involved in the trade from Glasgow. £47 million worth of tobacco passed through its ports every year, more than from London.

Greenbank gardens, Clarkston - potential venue?However, a great deal of the Scottish trade was, in fact, carried out from English ports like Bristol and Liverpool, where Scottish ship owners set up very successful businesses. Indeed, 5000 such ships left from Liverpool. The Mearns History Society has carried out some fascinating research on just one slave trading family, the Allasons who built Greenbank House, Clarkston, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), whose image this is.

In 1763, Robert Allason, who had been a baker in Glasgow before becoming a trader in Port Glasgow, built Greenbank House from the profits of his Caribbean estates. He traded in both slaves and tobacco, using Liverpool as a base. His brother Sandy captained their ship The Beaufort, across the Atlantic three times between 1757 and 1759. Their ships sailed from Liverpool to the Caribbean, via Calabar in West Africa carrying nearly 1000 African men, women and children, 149 of whom died. The Allasons were just one such family business. Money made through shipping was invested in buildings and infrastructure across Scotland, not just in Glasgow. 

From research done at Aberdeen University, we know that Alexander Allardyce of Aberdeen began trading in slaves and then bought plantations in Jamaica. On his return a wealthy man, he became Lord Rector of Aberdeen University and MP for the Aberdeen boroughs. He bought estates in Dunnottar on the outskirts of Stonehaven. The mansion he built there has now been  demolished but Dunnottar Woods, which he planted, remain. His money also bought an elaborate memorial for his wife erected in St Nicholas Church Aberdeen.

William Forbes of Aberdeen was a coppersmith who manufactured sugar boiling pans and rum stills for Jamaica. With his profits he bought the Callendar estate, near Falkirk. The family married into the Allardyce family and joined their slave trading operation in Senegal.

Researchers from Aberdeen have pointed out that you did not have to be a slave owner to profit from slavery. Businessmen sold goods to slave owners in the Caribbean, for example, Aberdeen traders sent salted herring and rough linen cloth for use by slaves. They supplied the machinery required for producing sugar and distilling rum. In fact, some whisky distillers branched out into rum, like William Shand of The Burn and Arnhall near Fettercairn in Kincardineshire (now Aberdeenshire).

Other jobs were also necessary for the slave trade to work. Archibald Dalzel from Kirkliston outside Edinburgh managed the notorious Cape Coast Castle for ten years in what is now Ghana. Up to 1500 slaves at a time were held in dungeons for up to three months waiting for a slave ship before being sent to North America or the West Indies. Dalzel's book, History of Dahomey – An Inland Kingdom of Africa, argued in favour of the slave trade, claiming that it saved Africans from conflict between warring tribes.

It was common for Scots and English merchants to establish their own sugar and tobacco plantations overseas or create relationships with agreed suppliers for plantation goods. A higher proportion of Scots emigrated to the West Indies than from any other of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. About 4,000-5,000 Scots settled there before the Act of Union in 1707 and many more afterwards. Many of them gave their Caribbean plantations the names of their Scottish homes, for example, the Monymusk Estate in Jamaica, owned by Alexander Grant.

Planters could make a lot of money very quickly - if you survived the climate and diseases, that is. Most immigrants came from the gentry and middle classes, including doctors and, of course, sailors. Scotland produced far more doctors than could find work in Scotland, so work on the slave ships and plantations was a common choice. James Robertson from Yell in Shetland performed the important task of mapping the Jamaican plantations. Younger sons of the aristocracy who were unlikely to inherit, often went to the West Indies. Many planters, like John Wedderburn, were motivated by the need to support dependent mothers and sisters. When slavery came to an end, 40% of the claims for compensation came from older women who depended on slave property to provide an income.

A third of the plantation owners in Jamaica were Scots. Seventy per cent of the names in the Jamaican telephone directory are Scottish: Campbell (the most common), Farquhar, McKenzie, McFarlane and Lamond, for slaves usually took their owners' namesMost white planters did not put down permanent roots in the Caribbean, however. They did not build many churches or schools, for example, as they did in India. Instead, they went back to their families in Scotland once their plantations were doing well and could be left with overseers. In Scotland, they built houses with their fortunes. Slavery was a very profitable business.

When slavery came to an end in 1833, the Scots owned more land in the West Indies than the English, and far more than the Irish or Welsh. In 1800, there were 300,000 slaves on the island of Jamaica, and 10,000 Scots. The Scottish colonial elite was very powerful. No wonder so many influential Scots were opposed to emancipation, despite the vigorous abolitionist activity of others of their compatriots. Tory MP Henry Dundas, later Lord Melville, whose statue stands in St Andrew's Square in Edinburgh, gave as his reason for opposing William Wilberforce's abolitionist cause the fact that Jamaica provided a third of the income for the British Empire. Wilberforce had been trying to get his Bill through Parliament since 1790. Every time he put it forward, Dundas got it deferred. Even when it did succeed, the immensely powerful Dundas argued that slavery should be 'gradually abolished'. The trade continued for getting on for 30 years, during which time uncountable African slaves continued to suffer and be killed.

Here is the 18th century Dundas mansion in St Andrew's Square, one of the first to be built in Edinburgh's New Town, which eventually became the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Glasgow's Tobacco Lords were equally, if not more, powerful. Tom Devine describes Glasgow's West India Association as 'one of the most vocal and powerful anti-abolition pressure groups in the United Kingdom, famed for its unyielding and unrelenting opposition to the liberation of slaves in the Empire.'

Interestingly - and movingly - genuine opposition to slavery came from Scotland's own exploited workers. For example, the indentured coal miners of Fife contributed to Joseph Knight's legal expenses. They saw the parallel between their own slave-like conditions and those of the black slaves. Solidarity with the victims of slavery continued to be a feature of campaigns by British workers. Years later, in 1863, Lincoln thanked workers in the cotton mills of Lancashire who, unlike the mill owners, supported his embargo on cotton picked by slaves. He arranged for relief to be sent to them and their starving families who had suffered so bady from the subsequent loss of work.

However, these Scottish and English workers were exceptions. Most people associated with the slave trade and Caribbean plantations made fortunes and these fortunes built many of Scotland's most impressive mansions. The article by Steven Mullen, Slave 'Merchant City', depicts some of the beautiful Glaswegian buildings constructed with slave money, like the Gallery of Modern Art, once the Cuninghame Mansion. William Cuninghame was one of the four Tobacco Lords of Glasgow. Here are TripAdvisor's photographs of this wonderful building. I am not aware that its slaving origins are made much of either in the building or in Glasgow generally, though perhaps that is now changing.

The Church of St Andrew's in the Square, now a Glasgow concert venue, was also built with slave money, as was the splendid Episcopal St Andrew's by the Green. Tobacco merchants had streets named after them: Andrew Buchanan, John Glassford, Archibald Ingram and James Dunlop. 

In 1773 James Wedderburn, one of John Wedderburn's younger brothers, moved back to Scotland and bought an estate at Inveresk, just outside Musselburgh and a few miles from Edinburgh. There with the profits from his extensive sugar plantations, James built Inveresk Lodge and its beautiful garden overlooking the River Esk, now owned by NTS. While in Jamaica, James had fathered several children by the slaves he raped. One of these mixed-race children, named Robert, arrived at Inveresk Lodge to make himself known to his father. Humiliatingly however, James rejected him and denigrated the reputation of his mother. 

Robert Wedderburn wrote about his mother's experiences of abuse and of how she and his grandmother were flogged, in a memoir entitled The Horrors of Slavery. Here he describes being turned away from Inveresk Lodge with 'small beer and a bent sixpence'. Robert had a eventful life thereafter. He became a leading radical on the fringes of the Cato Street Conspiracy and a key leader of the abolitionist movement. His book became very influential.

Brodick Castle Main Building East 01.jpgIn 1810, Susan Beckford, heiress to an enormous fortune derived from Jamaican sugar estates, married into the Douglas-Hamilton family, her husband in due course becoming the Duke of Hamilton. Thus the profits of slavery were handed on to all his successors. In 1844,the Duke at the time tripled the size of Brodick Castle on the Island of Arran (NTS). Susan herself lived at the splendid Hamilton Palace, now demolished. They also built the hunting lodge ate Chatelherault, which still stands.

CC BY-SA 3.0, House in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders, a beautiful Adam mansionwas owned by Ninian Homes who had been sent to Virginia and then Grenada to earn his living. By 1764, he had two plantations worked by over 400 slaves growing sugar and spices. Ninian became Governor of Grenada in 1793 and was murdered in 1795 during an uprising.The novel Joseph Knight describes a slave rising such as this in Jamaica. The final owner was John David Home Robertson, a Labour MP, who made it into a Trust. The house is now a partner of the National Galleries of Scotland, seen here in a photo from Wikipedia.

Alexander Grant, son of a minister, made an enormous fortune in an astonishingly short time from his three Jamaican plantations. With it he built Aberlour House in Banffshire. His possessions in both Scotland and Jamaica were inherited by his niece Margaret Gordon MacPherson Grant who used the money to build St Margaret's Church in Aberlour, the organ in Inverness Episcopal Cathedral, and the Aberlour Orphanage which eventually became the Aberlour Childcare Trust. And there we have one of problems with slave money. It spread throughout Scottish society, some of it used for grandiose vanity projects but some of it used for purposes which benefited a whole range of Scots, some of them among the most poor and the vulnerable. Some of this slave money may have benefited you and me and our families.

In Edinburgh, the fortune James Gillespie made from Virginia plantation tobacco built the school that bears his name. John Newlands, of Bathgate, made a fortune using slave labour in Jamaica. He left thousands in his will to establish Bathgate Academy. Dollar Academy, Fortrose Academy and Inverness (Royal) Academy were all founded or developed with slave money. One hopes that at least the young people currently in these schools learn how they were built. In 1750 Dr Archibald Kerr left his Jamaican estate, 39 slaves and with an annual income of around £220, to the management of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
How do we know so much about the extent of slavery in Scotland? When the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, the 46,000 British slave owners were given compensation for the loss of their 'property', ie the slaves on their estates. The government put £20 million by for this: about £2 -2.5 billion in today's' money. It was the largest payout to a single industry interest in the UK's history until the financial bailout in 2009. As there was no income tax at the time, the money came from the Consumption Tax, which , in effect, means that the poor paid for the 'lost property' of the rich. University College London (UCL) has set up the Legacy of British Slave-Ownership database which records which plantation owners received compensation. People in Edinburgh were twice as likely to own a slave as a person in Glasgow or London during the same period. 

Plantation owners from the Montrose area included a James Cruikshank of Langley Park. Patrick, his brother, formerly of Glenskinno near Hillside, was given compensation of £23,000 by the UK government for the 800 slaves on his estates. 

The Edinburgh Slavery Map developed by Edinburgh University, draws on the UCL data. In Edinburgh, one in 1,238 residents had connections to plantations compared to London where it was one in 1,721 people in the that much larger city. The whole of the New Town was built with profits from slavery. The Edinburgh map shows that the house next door but one to Bute House, the First Minister's residence in Charlotte Square, belonged to a slave owner.  One of the biggest single payments from the Slave Compensation Commission went to Peter McClagan of Great King Street who in 1836 received £21,480 10 shillings and 10 pence for 407 slaves at a plantation in British Guiana, approximately £1.7million in today’s money. A slave owner, John Blackburn of Queen Street, submitted three claims for 638 slaves in Jamaica. 

John Gladstone was a merchant and slave owner whose son was William Ewart Gladstone, the British Prime Minister. John Gladstone owned over 2,508 slaves in Jamaica and Guyana for which he received £106,769 in compensation, the equivalent in today’s money of £83 million, the biggest recorded pay-out. Once he received his money, Gladstone expelled most of his African workers and imported a large number of indentured servants from India, tied to him by their debt, having falsely promised to provide them with schools and medical treatment. Gladstone didn't pay them any wages as he said they were paying off their debts: just another form of slavery.

With his compensation money, Gladstone bought Fasque House, near Fettercairn in the County of Kincardine. During the winter he and his family lived at 11 Atholl Crescent in Edinburgh. He also used his slave compensation for various good works. He endowed St Thomas’s Church in Leith, now a Sikh Temple, a manse next door, a free school for boys and one for girls, a "house for female incurables", and a public rose garden. In 1846 Sir Robert Peel, the outgoing Prime Minister, made Gladstone 1st Baronet, of Fasque and Balfour.

However, compensation was also claimed by middle class people who lived in Edinburgh streets like Forth Street, Albany Street, India Street, Gilmour Place, York Place and Gayfield Square. Indeed, slave owners lived across Scotland. The document Scotland and Glasgow records of slave compensation demonstrates quite how many people benefited from slavery.

And by how much did they benefit? The businessman George Rainy of Inverness was paid £146,295, the equivalent of £124 million in 2017, to free 2794 slaves from his 30 plantations in British Guiana. Merchant George Parker, from Ayrshire, was paid £91,000 for his 1741 slaves on nine sites in British Guiana: £77 million today. Boyd Alexander, of Mauchline, Ayrshire received £43,259 (£36.7 million) and David and Alexander  Lyon of Balintore Castle, Forfarshire received £46,854 (£39.8 million).

Dr Ima Jackson, a slavery researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University said: “The people in Scotland who were compensated are our establishment as we know it today."

Even the Church benefited, not just through the acquisition of buildings. Leaders of the Free Church were major beneficiaries. The Marquis of Breadalbane shared £6,630 for the 379 enslaved people of the Hope Estate in Jamaica; Francis Brown Douglas, advocate, received almost £3,700 for one estate in St Vincent and a share of the compensation for a second. The Free Church itself received financial support from the Southern slave states of America. 'Send back the Money!' was a vigorous campaign to free the Church from its links with these states, promoted by people like Thomas Chalmers, church minister, professor and social reformer and Frederick Douglass, escaped slave and famous American abolitionist leader.

So, where do we go with all this Scottish evidence? We live in the houses built by slavers. Our children go to the schools they constructed. We use the hospitals erected using money earned from the dead bodies of their African, Caribbean and American victims. The profits of slavery have been passed down through the wills of generation after generation of Scottish people, middle class as well as aristocracy. The view of many Scottish academics is that this aspect of Scottish history has not just been forgotten: it has been deliberately erased.

Should we knock the buildings down? I think the answer is obvious: No. The great mansions of Edinburgh and Glasgow are architectural treasures. They are part of our urban landscapes. What about the Codrington library of All Souls, Oxford, built with the blood of the slaves of Barbados? What about Bristol's concert hall, the Colston Hall, named after Edward Colston, who founded a school there in the early 18th century using his slave wealth and his investments in the Royal African Company set up for London merchants under the Stuarts? Campaigners, many from the city’s Afro-Caribbean community, have called for the hall’s name to be changed.

The Royal Family were involved in slavery from early on. In England, the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I had given financial backing to slave-trading voyages. After the Union of the Crowns, the Stuart King James VI/1 first set up royal approval for the Company of Adventurers of London Trading to the ports of Africa (a joint stock country whose business was slavery), and the Duke of York, the brother of King Charles II arranged to send 3,000 slaves annually from Africa to Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean, each branded with his own initials, DY - Duke of York. When our own Queen Elizabeth visited the Caribbean early in her reign, she stayed on the sugar plantation which had been owned by her cousin's family, Lord Harewood, since the 1780s.

There have been campaigns to demolish the statues of Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town and Oxford. In a different context there have been periodic campaigns to demolish the statue of the Duke of Sutherland, who ruthlessly cleared his estates of his Highland tenants and members of his clan. There have been similar debates about what to do with the Statue of Dundas in Edinburgh's St Andrew Square. The latest I read is that the Council is considering erecting a plaque about Dundas' role in delaying Abolition. I hope they do so.

Knocking these buildings and memorials down is not going to resurrect the dead.

Should we rename the streets? Several journalists, mostly in Glasgow, have proposed this solution. Some have suggested that the names should be replaced with those of abolitionists. My view is that we should not do this. I don't think you can sanitise history by wiping it out. Do we really want our descendants to forget Scotland's involvement in slavery? Far better is the suggestion that these streets and buildings should have plaques which point out their origins. Education, in other words.

Education about slavery is a mixed picture in Scotland. The National Trust has produced good quality booklets about the links between its buildings and slavery. It worked with Learning and Teaching Scotland to produce resource packs for teachers. However, when I did a quick search on the Education Scotland website, I could not find any relevant materials, though I might not have been using the right search terms.

A recent challenge to the Scottish Government about the extent to which Scottish children and young people learn about slavery received a minimal response indicating that students could learn about it at Levels 4 and 5, ie in their late teens. Given that many Scottish students have sadly dropped history by this stage, it is not much help. Yet a study of the slave trade must be intrinsic to the development of an awareness of the impact of colonialism and the creation of the society in which we live. You still read comments on the internet about the beneficial aspects of colonialism. The only way this ignorance can be combated is through a balanced approach to education which addresses all the issues, both positive and negative.

In London, primary schools learn about the slave trade, read positive books about Africa and the Caribbean and carry out units of work as part of the curriculum. Indeed, when you wander the streets there are many plaques and information boards recording the relevance of slavery for the area. Even in douce Telegraph Hill Park there are boards about slavery, produced by and for children. One reason for this difference between England and Scotland may be the relative lack of immigration to Scotland from the Caribbean and hence the lack of pressure from the community to do something about it. Most Scots probably want to forget the role of their ancestors. However, there is a good story to be told about abolition as well as the inevitable shame of the terrible practices which preceded it.

Another very puzzling aspect of the poor levels of interest about slave history in Scotland is the lack of any slavery museum. Liverpool has a designated and extensive museum. Bristol has set up slavery exhibitions in a slave trader's house. The Museum of London has a floor devoted to the slave trade from London ports. I love the National Museum of Scotland but, despite the number of artefacts from Scotland's Big Houses, there is no exhibition on the extent and impact of the slave trade. Try googling 'slavery'. I did. Zilch.

Again it is journalists who have been making the educational case for something to be done in Glasgow, Greenock and/or Edinburgh. Montrose Museum has done something, after all. In fact, journalists for all Scotland's quality newspapers - and even for the National - have written extensively on the subject of the slave trade as it was carried out across the country and the impact of plantation money. I found their articles fascinating and well informed. I have listed a number of them below. They base their articles on the extensive work carried out in Scottish universities, principally Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. However, do not underestimate the opposition which some of their findings have received. (See The myth of Scottish slavesSteven Mullen)

What about reparations and apologies for our devastation of Africa and the Caribbean? Many current writers have made a case for such reparations or, at least, for international aid to be regarded as reparation. I am not too sure about this. I am not too sure that we can ascribe responsibility and guilt to the current population of these islands for the monstrous actions of their great great great grandparents.

Slavery, sadly, has always existed. The English were enslaved by the Romans and the Vikings. The Russians still had serfs until relatively recently. The Turks had slaves. Arabs and Nigerians still have slaves. Migrants are currently being sold in slave markets in Libya. Indentured and indebted workers in India are, to all intent and purposes, slaves. Justifications for slavery have been made using references in the Bible, from Leviticus to St Paul. Major churches have been, and still are founded on these teachings, for examples, the Southern Baptist churches of the USA and the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. And, particularly horribly, African tribes took their defeated neighbours as slaves which their chiefs then sold to Europeans traders. Yes, I admit, internal slavery in Africa was not as highly developed a business as it was among the Europeans but the international trade would have been very difficult to pursue without their cooperation.

Sometimes when I have circulated an article about events far away in time or place, people have said to me, 'Well, what do you expect us to do about this?'

I don't. It is difficult for individuals to change things beyond their sphere of influence, except through some sort of international campaign. However, I don't think that is the point. The point is that we have a duty to KNOW. Above all, we have a duty to change what WE do HERE and NOW.

When we rented out our Edinburgh flat a few years ago, the agent discovered mattresses stacked in the bedrooms. He cancelled the tenancy and both he and I assumed that it was subletting - not allowed, but not surprising. In actual fact, with hindsight, I now know it was slavery. The young East Asian couple who rented it could not possibly had afforded it, though the agent had checked the financial backing as far as he could. They were housing forced workers.

A year ago, I had my nails done at a salon just up the road. I went twice but never returned. Why? Work was carried out by four or five young Chinese or Vietnamese women who sat in a row, eyes down and did not exchange a word. All talking was done by the man in charge. They were a miserable crew, quite unlike the staff at a normal hairdressing salon or beauty parlour. Trafficking and slavery. I now know that I should have reported what I observed. I know what I should do now, for the salon is still there. (Contact the Modern Slavery Helpline in Scotland)

There is slavery today in Edinburgh. There is slavery today in Glasgow. But, above all, there is slavery across Scotland. Some of the most shocking stories have come from places you would not connect with slavery: Livingston, Clackmannanshire and Appin in Argyll.

STV reported that the Scottish Government has identified 150 potential victims across all but five of the 32 council areas. The information below is taken from their report. And yet, more than half of Scots do not believe that human trafficking is a problem.

Victims include adults and children. They are sexually exploited or forced to work as servants or labourers. Almost 100 suspected victims have been intercepted at Glasgow Airport in the last nine months. There were 80 raids alone on premises during the early months of last year. The number of victims is rising. Of the 34 people rescued between April and June last year, at least six were trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including one child. The majority of trafficking victims in Scotland are from Vietnam, while others are from countries including Nigeria, China, Poland, and India.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson branded trafficking an "appalling abuse of human rights. This horrific crime affects the most vulnerable in society and has wide-reaching consequences for its victims. Generating awareness that the exploitation of adults and children is happening in Scotland today is key to bringing it to an end. This important campaign is part of a series of measures being implemented to eliminate this terrible crime. No one should ever be bought or sold."
Slavery may be an old old story. However, it is something we can do something about today.
  1. Joseph KnightJames Robertson, Fourth Estate, 2003
  2. Scotland's Empire: The Origins of the Global Diaspora, T M Devine, Penguin, 2003
  3. Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection, ed T M Devine, Edinburgh University Press, 2015: "For more than a century and a half the real story of Scotland's connections to transatlantic slavery has been lost to history and shrouded in myth. There was even denial that the Scots, unlike the English, had any significant involvement in slavery. Scotland saw itself as a pioneering abolitionist nation untainted by a slavery past. This book is the first detailed attempt to challenge these beliefs." 
  4. Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire, Andrea Stuart, Portobello Books, 2012. The story of the Ashby family, their slaves and sugar plantation, Plumgrove in Barbados, from the late 1630s to the present generation.
  5. The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire and War, Matthew Parker, Windmill Books 2011.
  6. Send Back the Money!: The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery, Iain Whyte, James Clark & Co, 2012
  7. The horrors of slavery and other writings, Robert Wedderburn, 1824, republished Edinburgh University Press 1992. It records Wedderburn's life, history, ideas, and his work as a leader in the movement to abolish slavery in the West Indies.
  8. Black Ivory: Slavery  in the British Empire, James Walvin, 2nd edition 1992/2001, Blackwells
  9. The horrors of slavery, John Kenrick, Cambridge 1817 (available as a free book from Kobo) Part 1: extracts from the speeches of Wilberforce and others. Part 2: extracts from 'authentic sources demonstrating that slavery is impolitic, antirepublican, unchristian and highly criminal and proposing measures for its complete abolition through the United States'.
  10. Scotland and the Slave Trade, Scottish Executive 2007
  11. Scotland and the Slave Trade, National Trust for Scotland, resource pack, 2011 (Refers to Greenbank House Glasgow, Culzean Castle and Brodick Castle Arran)
  12. Slavery and the British Country House, Madge Dresser 2013 (not read)
  13. The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, 1789, Gutenberg e-book
  14. The Africa Trade from the Ports of Scotland 1706-66, Mark Duffill, Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slavery and Post-slavery Studies, Vol 25 2004 Issue 3, published online 5 August 2006
  15. The Axe laid to the Root: the Story of Robert Wedderburn, Martin Hoyles, Hansib, 2004
  16. Slavery and Sugar, Michael Morris, How Glasgow Flourished, Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Museums, 28 September 2016 (a series of podcasts and blogs originating in the exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum in 2014)
  17. Joseph Knight: Scotland and the Black Atlantic, Michael Morris, International Journal of Scottish Literature, Issue 4 Spring/Summer 2008
  18. The Scottish Enlightenment and the Politics of Abolition, PhD thesis, University of Aberdeen, Glen Doris, 2011 uploaded to 'Summary: This thesis examines the relationship between the Scottish Enlightenment philosophy and Abolitionist activism under the leadership of William Wilberforce and the London Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. This work asserts that Scottish philosophers opposed legislative abolition, and that Henry Dundas's 'gradual amendment to Wilberforce's popularly supported 1792 Slave Trade Abolition bill was partly motivated by ideological fear of radical change rather than purely self interest. This amendment has been acknowledged by many as the reason the Slave Trade was allowed to continue despite public disapprobation, until 1807.
  19. After Somerset: the Scottish Experience, Cairns, JW, Journal of Legal History, 2012, vol 33, no. 3, pp. 291- 312, The Edinburgh Research Explorer, the University of Edinburgh
  20. Hume’s Revised Racism Revisited, Aaron Garrett, Hume Studies Volume XXVI, Number 1 (April, 2000) 171-178.
  21. Slave 'Merchant City, Runaway Slaves in Britain, Steven Mullan, 25 August 2016
  22. Slavery In The Coal-Mines Of ScotlandBy James Barrowman, Mining Engineer, Presented at Annual General Meeting of the Federated Institution of Mining Engineers, 14 September 1897 "Primarily designed to prevent desertions, the Act .... authorized a coal-owner to retain his colliers as long as he had work for them. From the fact that many collieries were then in constant operation, and that some have worked continuously to the present day, it is apparent that the colliers attached to works of a permanent character were bound for life, and from generation to generation."
  23. Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass, 1845.
  24. The Negro's Complaint, William Cooper, 1788 (poem)
  25. The Slave's LamentRobert Burns, 1792 (poem)
  26. Robert Burns and SlaveryClark McGinn, 2015
  27. '"Negro-driver" or "Illustrious Exile": Revisiting Illustrious Exile: Journal of my Sojourn in the West Indies(2006)', Andrew O. Lindsay, Occasional Paper, International Journal of Scottish Literature
  28. Early Black European Lives: Joseph Knight (Scotland), The Woyingi Blog, 31 October 2011
  29. The history of Dahomy, an inland kingdom of Africa; compiled from authentic memoirs; with an introduction and notes, Archibald Dalzel, formerly Governor at Whydah, and now at Cape-Coast-Castle
  30. The Will of James Kerr 1785, Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library (bequests of plantations and slaves to beneficiaries in Scotland and Jamaica)
  31. Robert Allason & Greenbank, Stuart Nisbet & Tom Welsh, ISBN: 871215 07 2, 1992


  1. We Scots must face up to our slave trading past, Kevin McKenna, The Guardian, 22 November 2015
  2. The slave trade made Scotland rich. Now we must pay our blood-soaked debts, Stephen MacLaren, The Guardian, 13 January 2017
  3. The Guardian view on Britain's slavery inheritance: reflect and atone, Editorial, The Guardian, 30 September 2015
  4. Welcome to the Caribbean, Prince Harry. Will you dare to speak out about slavery?, Malinin Mohabir and Jermain Ostiana, The Guardian, 21 November 2016
  5. Back in the Day: No sugaring the pill of our country's slave trade role, Hamish MacPherson, The National, 7 March 2017
  6. Should Glasgow's slavery streets be renamed?, Alison Campsie, The scotsman, 20 February 2017
  7. How family tree search revealed slavery roots in 18th-century Ayrshire, Jonathan Sharp, The Scotsman, 6 May 2012
  8. Edinburgh's slavery map offers glimpse into city's dark past, Sam Shedden, The Scotsman, 20 August 2016
  9. Secret £2.5bn pay-off to Scotland’s slave owners: Effects of money can still be felt today, Connor Boyd, Sunday Post, 6 November 2017
  10. Slavery - a real piece of Highlands' heritage, David Alston, Inverness Courier25 September 2007,  updated 25 November 2011
  11. Scotland's slaving history revealed, Sandra Dick, Edinburgh Evening News, 22 October 2013
  12. Highland's 'forgotten' slave past, Steven Mackenzie, BBC News, 26 July 2007
  13. Scotland's slave trade and Montrose's key role, Alison Campsie, The Scotsman, 8 April 2016
  14. Glasgow's Dark Secret, The Scotsman, 20 March 2007
  15. Mystery slave found in portrait, BBC News, 19 March 2007
  16. Shame of city's slavery profits, The Scotsman, 28 December 2017 (?)
  17. Slave trade Scottish statue row erupts in wake of Charlottesville riots, Mark Aitken, The Daily Record, 27 August 2017
  18. The Scottish Slavery Map: Plotting out Scotland's past, Nathanael Williams, Common Space, 4 August 2016
  19. Scotland and Slavery, Annie Brown/Ian Thomas, 19 August 2015, Black History Month
  20. Scotland & Slavery, Annie Brown, 24 March 2007, updated 30 June 2012, Daily Record,
  21. Forget 'a man's a man for a' that' - Burns planned to make fortune from slave trade, The Herald, 19 January 2008
  22. Robert Burns and Slavery, Gerard Carruthers, Robert Burns Lives!
  23. Robert Burns and the fight to end slavery, Steven Brocklehurst, BBC news website, 25 January 2017
  24. Robert Burns and the Slave TradeBurns Museum blog, 22 May 2014
  25. Human trafficking victims found throughout Scotland, Chris Foote, STV News, 29 August 2017
  26. Almost 100 'trafficking victims' spotted at airport, STV, 24 August 2017 
  27. The myth of Scottish slavesSteven Mullen, 4 March 2016, The Sceptical Scot


  1. Slaves and Highlanders, David Alston,
  2. Mapping SlaveryNational Library of Scotland:
  3. The first Scots in Jamaica, Flag Up Scotland
  4. Robert Wedderburn, Spartacus Educational
  5. The Tobacco Lords, Wikipedia entry. Glasgow merchants who in the 18th century made enormous fortunes by trading in tobacco. They adopted the lifestyle of aristocrats, building great houses and splendid churches.
  6. Scotland and Glasgow in the records of slave compensation Reports for the Legacies of British Slave-ownership workshop, Glasgow, 4 September 2010. 
  7. Legacies of British Slave Ownership: John Wedderburn of Ballindean, University College London (UCL)
  8. Legacies of British Slave Ownership, James Wedderburn Colvile, Inveresk Lodge, UCL
  9. Legacies of British Slave Ownership: Richard Alexander Oswald, Auchincruive House (Oswald Hall), Ayrshire, MP for Ayrshire, UCL
  10. Legacies of British Slave Ownership, Hon. George Gun Munro of Grenada, Donor to Fortrose Academy
  11. John Knox House and the Legacies of British Slave Ownership, blog by R. J. Morris, Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History, University of Edinburgh, UCL
  12. Legacies of British Slave Ownership: Miss Colin Campbell Lloyd (nee Baillie), granddaughter of factor of forfeited Stewart Estates in Argyll, UCL
  13. Legacies of British Slave Ownership: John-Rennie-Strachan-Carnegie, Seaton House, Forfar in Angus, UC
  14. February 21 1729: Slavery comes to Perthshire, Perthshire Diary
  15. Scotland and the Slave Trade, resources at the National Library of Scotland
  16. Slavery and the Slave Trade, National Records of Scotland
  17. The status of slaves in Britain, Dr Alan Rice,
  18. Uncovering Mearns History, Mearns History Group (about Greenbank House and Robert Allason)
  19. Scotland Slavery Map website
  20. A North East Story: Scotland, Africa and Slavery in the Caribbean, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire Council, City of Aberdeen Council


  1. A comprehensive and fascinating analysis of Scotland's dark past. Greatly appreciated as I study Modern Scottish History at the University of Dundee having already achieved an MLitt in Scottish History. Excellent and accessible resources.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I am pleased you found the post interesting.