Authored by
Carissa Chew
Illustrated by
Annie Adam




    


Authored by
Carissa Chew
Illustrated by
Annie Adam


SCOTLAND & SLAVERY

How Scotland benefited
from the slave trade


Written by Carissa Chew. Published Saturday 03 October 2020.






In the past few months, the 42-metre-high statue of Henry Dundas (1742-1811) standing in St Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh has become the subject of renewed controversy. Responding to discussions spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement taking place across Scotland and the world, the City of Edinburgh Council commissioned for a new plaque to be installed on the monument in July 2020. This new sign correctly identifies Dundas, the former Secretary of State, as a colonial expansionist and leading figure in the Atlantic slave trade.

In 1792, Dundas used his political power to amend the abolition bill proposed by British politician William Wilberforce, thus deferring the end of the legal slave trade within the British Empire by 15 years. In delaying abolition, Dundas enabled a further half a million or more enslaved Africans to be transported across the Atlantic before the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was instated (ownership of ‘slaves’, however, was not made illegal within the British Empire until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 and formerly enslaved Africans were required to provide free labour under the system of ‘apprenticeship’ until 1838). Popularly remembered as ‘the most powerful man in Scotland’ at the end of the eighteenth century, the uncomfortable truth about Dundas’ involvement with slavery is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Scotland’s relationship with the slave trade.









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TOP LEFT: EDINBURGH BLM PROTEST 7 JUNE 2020. PHOTO BY OT PASCOE. TOP RIGHT: SIGNS AT THE EDINBURGH BLM PROTEST 7 JUNE 2020. PHOTO BY LEWIS TWIBY. BOTTOM ROW: HENRY DUNDAS STATUE AT ST. ANDREW’S SQUARE, EDINBURGH TAKEN IN AUGUST 2020 FEATURING ‘GEORGE FLOYD’ GRAFITTI AND A PREVIEW OF THE NEW PLAQUE. PHOTOS BY DARA MINOGUE.


As the chair of Black Studies at the University of Edinburgh Dr Celeste-Marie Bernier has remarked: ‘Slavery bleeds in every building, in every brick, in every town across Scotland’. Glasgow’s Merchant City, for example, was built from the wealth of tobacco lords and cotton kings, with many of its streets still bearing the names of renowned businessmen who profited from the slave trade. Port Glasgow was also central to the transatlantic trade and universities across Scotland profited from the investment of benefactors whose fortunes at least partly derived from slavery. Auchincruive in Ayrshire, Greenbank Gardens in Clarkston, and both Glasgow’s Pollock House and the Gallery of Modern Art are also the former properties of plantation-owners. The ornate eighteenth-century Georgian architecture of Edinburgh’s New Town was likewise built with the wealth accumulated by Scottish slave-owners, who were generously compensated for their ‘loss of human property’ following the 1833 Abolition Act.

Despite only constituting 10% of the British population, Scots claimed approximately 15-16% of the absentee compensation awards offered in 1833, illustrating that Scotland had the greatest per capita stake in the Atlantic slave trade within the United Kingdom. Notably, John Gladstone of Leith, father of former British Prime Minister William Gladstone and the owner of some of the largest plantations in British Guyana and Jamaica, received what would today be worth £83 million as compensation for the loss of his 2,039 enslaved Africans. Glaswegian slave-owners, who collectively owned approximately 14,000 enslaved Africans, were amongst the most concentrated groups of claimants across the UK. The approximately £17 billion sum in today’s money that the British government borrowed in order to compensate enslavers was so large in fact that it was being paid off by British taxpayers until 2015.

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PROPERTIES OF FORMER SLAVE-OWNERS IN EDINBURGH’S NEW TOWN. THE LEGACIES OF BRITISH SLAVE OWNERS PROJECT, UCL.


The idea that ‘slave-owners didn’t wear kilts’ is partly rooted in the way that Scotland has, in popular memory, celebrated its role in aiding the abolitionist movement. It is a point of national pride that major Scottish personalities like Thomas Pringle, Zachary Macauley, and William Dickson played an influential role in the campaign to abolish the Atlantic slave trade. Scots such as Sir John Kirk and Alexander Low Bruce also helped to end the trade on the East African coast. In the 1830s, moreover, African American men who had been emancipated from slavery were admitted into Scottish universities despite having been denied the opportunity for education in the USA. Anti-slavery societies were also founded in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Paisley, with separate Ladies’ Emancipation Societies also being established in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In 1833, approximated 162,000 women in Edinburgh signed a petition to end slavery and Scottish women such as Eliza Wingham and Jane Smeal rose to prominence campaigning for abolition in the USA. The Glasgow Female New Association for the Abolition of Slavery invited the renowned abolitionists Harriet Beecher-Stow and J.W.C. Pennington to give a series of lectures in the city. Ida B. Wells-Barnett also delivered a speech denouncing slavery and ‘Lynch Law’ at the Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society meeting held in 5 St Andrew’s Square. In the popular imagination, Scotland has been framed as a centre for the abolitionist cause and the nation boasts that it attracted an array of famous African American campaigners also including Ellen and William Craft, Olaudah Equiano, William Wells-Brown, and, perhaps most notoriously, Frederick Douglass.



THE ‘STRIKE FOR FREEDOM’ TREASURES EXHIBITION, WHICH WAS DISPLAYED AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND FROM 4 OCTOBER 2018 TO 16 FEBRUARY 2019, COMMEMORATED THE 200 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS’S BIRTH, CELEBRATING THE AFRICAN AMERICAN ABOLITIONISTS’ HISTORIC CONNECTIONS TO THE SCOTTISH CAPITAL. ARRIVING IN EDINBURGH IN JANUARY 1846, DOUGLASS NOTORIOUSLY REMARKED: EVERYTHING IS SO DIFFERENT HERE FROM WHAT I HAVE BEEN ACCUSTOMED TO IN THE UNITED STATES. NO INSULTS TO ENCOUNTER – NO PREJUDICE TO ENCOUNTER, BUT ALL IS SMOOTH. I AM TREATED AS A MAN AN EQUAL BROTHER.’ LEFT: PORTRAIT OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, 1815. ORIGINAL SOURCE UNKNOWN. RIGHT: ‘STRIKE FOR FREEDOM’ DISPLAY, NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND. PHOTO BY CARISSA CHEW.


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T
he misconception that Scotland was not involved in British slave trading activities stems from the fact that Scottish merchants were largely prohibited from operating within the English trading ports until the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England. As a result of restrictive seventeenth century English Navigation Acts, there are only 31 recorded Scottish ‘slave voyages’ between 1706 and 1766 (accounting for the transportation of approximately 5,000 enslaved Africans).

Although the number of Scottish slave voyages was comparatively small, Scots nevertheless invested in voyages departing from Liverpool and London and played a prominent role as enslavers and plantation-overseers and also as book-keepers, governors, physicians, merchants, and attorneys whose activities supported the inhumane trade. Before 1830, in fact, resistance to abolition was more geographically widespread in Scotland than in England. Influential Scottish thinkers like Archibald Dalzel, author of History of Dahomey, and James Macqueen, editor of Glasgow Courier, were the owners of ‘slave depots’ and plantations and used their political influence to passionately defend the slave trade. David Hume, the renowned philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, also offered justification for the inhumane practice through his statement ‘I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites […] No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences’.

In the 1690s, Scotland tried and failed to establish its own plantation colony in the Isthmus of Panama (the ‘Darien scheme’). Before 1707, moreover, Scots repeatedly attempted to circumvent the English monopoly on the slave trade by allying with Dutch and Scandinavian merchants on both the West and East African coasts. Until slave-owning was made illegal in Scotland in 1778, it was fashionable for Scottish families to keep African captives (sometimes called ‘house slaves’ or ‘servants’) in their homes as a status symbol. There are 70 records of enslaved Africans in Scotland in the eighteenth century, with Scottish newspapers also having advertised the sale and reward for the re-capture of Africans who had escaped bondage. Ordinary Scots profited directly and indirectly from the violent, racist, and oppressive system of chattel slavery, by which enslaved Africans were denied the status of human beings. Even the revered poet Robert Burns had originally planned to move to Jamaica to become a ‘negro-driver’ in 1786.




THE PORTRAIT OF THE GLASSFORD FAMILY IN THE PEOPLE’S PALACE IN GLASGOW REVEALS AFRICAN ‘HOUSE SLAVES’ WHOSE PRESENCE WAS SUBSEQUENTLY ‘PAINTED OUT’ OF THE PICTURE. JOHN GLASSFORD’S FAMILY PORTRAIT, GLASGOW MUSEUMS COLLECTION 2887.


Between 1709 and 1711, Scottish merchants launched eight separate protests against the UK Parliament’s suggestion that the Royal African Company should be restored their monopoly over the slave trade. After the Act of Union had granted Scots unrestricted access to the previously English-held slave-trading markets after all, Scottish merchants had seized the opportunity to join the triangular trade routes. By the late 1700s, a third of Jamaican plantations were owned by Scots, a legacy which is reflected in the prominence of Scottish surnames on the island today. 

There was also a significant Scottish presence in British Guyana, which is not only evidenced in the dominance of Scottish place names in the region – such as Inverness, Belladrum, and Cromarty – but also in the emergence of a mixed-race population. Scots were also disproportionately represented amongst the British in Virginia, Trinidad, Grenada, Tobago, St Kitts, and St Vincent. After slavery was abolished in the British Empire, many Scots also continued to own African captives in the Dutch colony of Surinam, receiving 75% of the Dutch compensation that was awarded to Brits when the Netherlands abolished slavery in 1863.


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ALTHOUGH BARBADOS WAS DOMINATED BY THE ENGLISH, THE BEST-KNOWN EMBODIMENT OF SCOTTISH RACIAL INTERMIXTURE AND THE POWER IMBALANCE INHERENT WITHIN THESE KINDS OF RELATIONSHIPS IS THE INFAMOUS RACHAEL PRINGLE POLGREEN OF BARBADOS. RACHAEL, WHO EARNED A SMALL FORTUNE RUNNING A BROTHEL, WAS SUBJECTED TO SEXUAL ABUSE BY HER FATHER WILLIAM LAUDER, A SCOTTISH SLAVE-OWNER. SURVIVING IMAGES OF RACHAEL DEPICT HER IN AN OVERSEXUALISED MANNER. LITHOGRAPH BY THOMAS ROWLANSON, 1796.


Between 1728 and 1807, Scottish enslavers held tens of thousands of enslaved Africans at Bunce Island, which is located just off the coast of Sierra Leone. Hundreds of African captives were kept there in pens in appalling conditions before they were shipped across the Atlantic, a journey which killed up to 50% of the Africans on board. The Scots transformed Bunce Island into a mini-Scotland, establishing a castle and a golf course there where they dressed up their African caddies in their clan tartan. The grim reality of the Scottish presence on Bunce Island was erased when the British removed all records of slavery on their departure in 1807.




LEFT: GLASGOW-MADE MACHINERY UNCOVERED ON THE PLANTATION OF DR JAMES BALFOUR IN SURINAME. PHOTO FROM THE SCOTSMAN. CENTRE: RUINS OF BUNCE ISLAND HOUSE. PHOTO BY MATTHEW OLDFIELD. RIGHT: CGI RECONSTRUCTION OF THE BRITISH FORT AT BUNCE ISLAND. IMAGE BY BUNCE ISLAND: VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY PROJECT.


By 1815, moreover, 65% of Scottish exports found their market in the ‘West Indies’. One of Scotland’s most lucrative exports in the eighteenth century was a coarse linen known as ‘slave cloth’, 90% of which was exported to the Americas and Caribbean where it was used to make cheap clothing for enslaved plantation labourers. Salted herring from the Highlands also found its main market in the ‘West Indies’ plantations. By 1790, Scotland was profiting approximately £50 million (in today’s currency) from its trade with the Caribbean and American South. Scotland also dominated the Virginian tobacco market, with Glasgow importing over 50% of all forced labour-grown tobacco from the Americas by 1720. The ill-gotten wealth of the slave trade undoubtedly fueled Scotland’s industrial growth.

If Scotland is to commemorate its role in the abolitionist movement, therefore, the nation must also confront how both its past and present deeply intersect with the history of the Atlantic slave trade.



WANT TO KNOW MORE
ABOUT SCOTLAND & SLAVERY?




CHECK OUT THESE PROJECTS:






The Legacies of British Slave Ownership

UNIVERISTY COLLEGE LONDON


Our Bondage and Our Freedom

UNIVERISTY OF EDINBURGH


Strike for Freedom

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND


@Glasgow_Sugar on Twitter

STEPHEN MULLEN


↗  @Fd_Scotland on Twitter

Runaway Slaves

UNIVERISTY OF GLASGOW


Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland

HANNAH MURRAY





SCOTLAND & SLAVERY
EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES




BOOKS


DEVINE, T.M., EDITOR. RECOVERING SCOTLAND’S SLAVERY PAST: THE CARIBBEAN CONNECTION. 2015.

WHYTE, IAIN. SCOTLAND AND THE ABOLITION OF BLACK SLAVERY, 1756-1838. 2006.


WHYTE, IAIN. ‘SEND BACK THE MONEY!’: THE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND AND AMERICAN SLAVERY. 2012.

MAGIC TORCH COMICS. AYE, IT WIS AABODY: A STORY OF SCOTLAND’S ROLE IN THE SLAVE TRADE. 2019.

DOBSON, DAVID. SCOTTISH EMIGRATION TO COLONIAL AMERICA 1607-1785. 1994.

COOKE, ANTHONY. THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SCOTTISH COTTON INDUSTRY, 1778-1914. 2010.

MULLEN, STEPHEN. IT WISNAE US: THE TRUTH ABOUT GLASGOW AND SLAVERY. 2005.

HAMILTON, DOUGLAS. SCOTLAND, THE CARIBBEAN AND THE ATLANTIC WORLD, 1750-1820. 2005.

RICE, C. DUNCAN. SCOTS ABOLITIONISTS, 1833-61. 1981.

MORRIS, MICHAEL. SCOTLAND AND THE CARIBBEAN, C.1740-1833. 2015.


BOOK CHAPTERS


HANDLER, JEROME. ‘JOSEPH RACHELL AND RACHEL PRINGLE-POLGREEN: PETTY ENTREPRENEURS’. IN WEST INDIAN BUSINESS HISTORY: ENTERPRISE AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP, EDITED BY B. W. HIGMAN AND KATHLEEN MONTEITH. 2010.

FUENTES, MARISA J. ‘POWER AND HISTORICAL FIGURING: RACHAEL PRINGLE POLGREEN’S TROUBLED ARCHIVE.’ IN HISTORICISING GENDER AND SEXUALITY, EDITED BY KEVIN P. MURPHY AND JENNIFER M. SPEAR.  2011.


JOURNAL ARTICLES


DUFFILL, MARK. ‘THE AFRICA TRADE FROM THE PORTS OF SCOTLAND.’ SLAVERY & ABOLITION: A JOURNAL OF SLAVE AND POST-SLAVE STUDIES 25.3 (2004), 102-122.


ALSTON, DAVID. ‘SCOTTISH SLAVE OWNERS IN SURINAME: 1651-1863.’ NORTHERN SCOTLAND 9.1 (2018), 17-43.


THESES


GILLESPIE,CAIT. ‘THE END OF AMNESIA? SCOTLAND'S RESPONSE TO THE 2007 BICENTENARY OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE AND THE QUEST FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE.’ MA THESIS, UNIVERSITY OF LEIDEN, 2017.


ONLINE ARTICLES


ALSTON, DAVID. ‘SCOTS WERE NOT A “JUNIOR PARTNER” IN THE EMPIRE AND SLAVE TRADE.’ THE PRESS & JOURNAL. 10 JUNE 2020.

‘EDINBURGH’S DUNDAS STATUE TO BE DEDICATED TO SLAVERY VICTIMS.’ BBC. 11 JUNE 2020.

HOFFMAN, NOAH. ‘NEW SIGNS APPEAR AROUND EDINBURGH’S MELVILLE MONUMENT OUTLINING HENRY DUNDAS’ INVOLVEMENT IN THE SLAVE TRADE.’ EDINBURGH NEWS. 13 JULY 2020.

OLUSOGA, DAVID. ‘THE TREASURY’S TWEET SHOWS SLAVERY IS STILL MISUNDERSTOOD.’ THE GUARDIAN. 12 FEBRUARY 2018.

‘SLAVERY, CIVIL WAR AND THE FREDERICK DOUGLASS FAMILY.’ NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND.

‘HOW SLAVERY MADE THE MODERN SCOTLAND.’ THE HERALD SCOTLAND. 4 NOVEMBER 2018.

‘SLAVERY MUSEUM TO BE SET UP IN GLASGOW.’ THE HERALD SCOTLAND. 4 NOVEMBER 2018.

MULLEN, STEPHEN. ‘THE MYTH OF SCOTTISH SLAVES.’ SCEPTICAL SCOT. 4 MARCH 2016.

‘EDINBURGH MUSEUM WILL NOT REMOVE GOLLIWOGS - DESPITE COMPLAINTS.’  EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS. 25 FEBRUARY 2018.

CAMPSIE, ALISON. ‘THE EERIE ABANDONED SUGAR PLANTATIONS AND ITS “MANICAL” SCOTS OWNER.’ THE SCOTSMAN. 5 MARCH 2020.

SINGH, YVONNE. ‘HOW SCOTLAND ERASED GUYANA FROM ITS PAST.’ THE GUARDIAN. 16 APRIL 2019.

SINGH, YVONNE. ‘THE FORGOTTEN WORLD: HOW SCOTLAND ERASED GUYANA FROM ITS PAST.’ ADDA STORIES. 21 MARCH 2019.

MULLEN, STEPHEN. ‘WHO PROFITED FROM SLAVERY (SCOTLAND’S HIDDEN SHAME?): DAVID LIVINGSTONE AND BLANTYRE MILL. GLASGOW WEST INDIES. 24 NOVEMEBER 2018.

THE HIGHLAND SLAVE OWNERS IN 17TH CENTURY SOUTH AMERICA.’ THE SCOTSMAN. 20 FEBRUATY 2019. DONNELLY, BRIAN. ‘HOW SLAVERY SHAPED EDINBURGH’S NEW TOWN.’ THE HERALD. 28 JULY 2018.

JOHNSON, ELIZABETH OFOSUAH. ‘FROM AFRO-BARBADIAN SLAVE TO WEALTHY BROTHEL OWNER IN 1700S, HOW RACHEL PRINGLE POLGREEN ROSE TO PROMINENCE.’ FACE 2 FACE AFRICA. 23 JULY 2019.

NIELSEN, EUELL A. ‘RACHEL PRINGLE POLGREEN (1753-1791). BLACK PAST. 2 AUGUST 2017.

LAMBOURNE, MOLLY. ‘EDINBURGH’S HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION WITH THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE.’ THE STUDENT. 23 JANUARY 2019.

MCLAREN, STEPHEN. ‘THE SLAVE TRADE MADE SCOTLAND RICH. NOW WE MUST PAY OUR BLOOD-SOAKED DEBTS.’ THE GUARDIAN OPINION. 13 JANUARY 2017.

NEWTON, MELANIE. ‘HENRY DUNDAS, EMPIRE AND GENOCIDE’. OPEN DEMOCRACY: OPINION. 30 JULY 2020.

WILLIAMS, NATHANIEL. ‘THE SCOTTISH SLAVERY MAP: PLOTTING OUT SCOTLAND’S PAST.’ SOURCE. 4 AUGUST 2016.


PODCASTS/DOCUMENTARIES


‘SCOTLAND’S LEGACY OF SLAVERY AND SEX ON THE PLANTATIONS OF GUYANA.’ BBC GOOD MORNINGSCOTLAND. DEVELOPED BY ARLEN HARRIS. MARCH 2019.

‘TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: THE SCOTTISH CONNECTION’. PODCAST SERIES BY THE UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW.

‘ULLAPOOL BOOK FESTIVAL  - DAVID ALSTON, THE HIGHLANDS AND SLAVERY.’  LOCHBROOM RADIO. MAY 2017.

THE SCOTTISH HISTORY PODCAST. EP 10: ATLANTIC SLAVERY AND SCOTLAND. STITCHER. 5 JANUARY 2016.

HAYMAN, DAVID. ‘SLAVERY: SCOTLAND’S HIDDEN SHAME’. BBC TWO. 2018.

‘EPISODE 1: LEGACIES OF SLAVERY IN GLASGOW MUSEUMS AND COLLECTIONS’. GLASGOW MUSEUM PODCAST.


FICTION


DOLAN, CHRIS. REDLEGS. VAGABOND VOICES, 2012.

PLEECE, WARREN. FREEDOM BOUND. BASED ON RESEARCH BY SIMON P. NEWMAN AND NELSON MUNDELL. BHP COMICS.

1745. FILM DIRECTED BY MORAYO AKANDE, 2017.


PROJECTS/EXHIBITIONS


‘FREDERICK DOUGLASS: INTERACTIVE MAP.’ NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND.

‘SCOTLAND AND THE SLAVE TRADE: RESOURCES AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND.’ NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND.

BUNCE ISLAND: VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY PROJECT.

‘OUR BONDAGE & OUR FREEDOM: FREDERICK DOUGLASS & FAMILY ~ THEIR STRUGGLES FOR LIBERTY 1818-2018.’ THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH, SCHOOL OF LITERATURES, LANGUAGES AND CULTURES.

BERNIER, CELESTE-MARIE. ‘SORROW IMAGES IN THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS.’ PUBLIC LECTURE GIVEN AT NATIONAL LIBRARY, 31 JANUARY 2019.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS IN BRITAIN AND IRELAND. MAPPING PROJECT BY HANNAH MURRAY.

LEGACIES OF SLAVERY IN GLASGOW MUSEUMS AND COLLECTIONS.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS IN SCOTLAND.

‘SCOTLAND, AFRICA AND SLAVERY: A NORTH EAST STORY.’ UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN.

DAVID ALSTON’S SLAVES & HIGHLANDERS PROJECT.

RUNAWAY SLAVES PROJECT. UNIVERISTY OF GLASGOW.

DEWJEE, AUDREY. ‘SLAVE “MERCHANT CITY”’. RUNAWAY SLAVES IN BRITAIN. UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW.

SCOTLAND EXECUTIVE. SCOTLAND AND THE SLAVE TRADE: 2007 BICENTENARY OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE ACT. EDINBURGH, 2007.

‘SCOTLAND & THE SLAVE TRADE.’ NATIONAL TRUST SCOTLAND.

WILKINS, FRANCES. DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY AND THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE. USABLE PAST, 2007.



Carissa Chew, author & owner
historiesofcolour@gmail.com



Annie Adam, illustrator
annieadam.graphics@gmail.com



© Carissa Chew 2021
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com


Carissa Chew, author & owner
historiesofcolour@gmail.com



Annie Adam, illustrator
annieadam.graphics@gmail.com


© Carissa Chew 2020