Category Archives: Jamaica

Reparative Histories

Yesterday morning I was asked to speak on Radio Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’ programme to comment on Professor Frank Furedi’s article that mainly focused on David Olusoga’s programme on BBC2, ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners’. My commentary on ‘Good Morning Scotland’ can be found on I-Player (49m 30s).

I agreed with Professor Furedi’s point about the tabloid press. They sometimes use and abuse the research of academics (not just historians, and sometimes without credit) in order to generate controversial headlines to sell their newspapers. I wasn’t going to defend the red-tops. However, I pointed out that academic historians very rarely do their talking through the tabloid press. As Professor Furedi seemed to lump T.V. programmes together with newspapers, we disagree on the benefits of using broadcast media to highlight the issues surrounding New World slavery.David It is my opinion – particularly given the national publicity over the last fortnight – there is clearly a need for serious, well produced and researched programmes like ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners’. It gave the academics involved on the ‘Legacies of British Slaveownership’ project at UCL the appropriate credit and their work reached a wider audience beyond the academy. And as far as I’m concerned, David Olusoga did not adopt an overly sensationalist approach unlike the tabloids.

I did agree with Professor Furedi’s main point that individuals today cannot and should not be held responsible for what other people did in the past. This seems a fairly simple point. Furedi criticised the T.V. programme as it connected the past with present. Yet, the present circumstances of millions of descendants of the enslaved peoples of the Americas – as well as citizens of the European nations involved – are defined by the historical legacy of New World slavery. So there are much wider issues at stake here than a front page splash on David Cameron’s slave-owning ancestors. Although ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners’ remarkably refrained from mentioning the phrase ‘the rise of capitalism’ that’s essentially what the programme traced; the plunder of Africa, the exploitation of slave-labour in the Americas and the industrial and commercial transformation of Great Britain. The legacy remains today.

  1. In the How Europe Underdeveloped Africa in 1973, Walter RodneyWalter Rodney argued that the long term economic exploitation of Africa – including the forced transportation of up to 20 million Africans to the Americas by European colonial powers – meant Africa was a fractured continent, both economically and politically, in the late twentieth century.
  2. As Eric Williams argued in the classic Capitalism and Slavery, the institution of chattel slavery – and the labour of millions of enslaved Africans – created wealth in Britain which transformed the society and economy, playing a role in creating modern Britain as we know it.Eric Many individuals and elite families profited. However, one of the striking conclusions of the ‘Legacies of British Slaveownership’ project is that many ‘average’ people in Great Britain owned enslaved peoples in the Caribbean and profited from the expropriation of their labour. Also, many less elite sojourners travelled to the West Indies and earned relative fortunes. As well as individual fortunes, institutions and the establishment engaged in systematic profiteering. Let’s not forget the English Parliament ratified the slave trade and subsequently the British state profited over successive centuries with taxes and sugar duties. In Scotland at least, legacy duty on the inventories of deceased slaveowners represented a constant – if yet unquantified – stream of income. So much so, the Crown sometimes pursued the estates of slaveowners for their slice. Joseph Inikori has pointed to a wider commercial revolution in which merchant houses in Britain as well as shipping companies, banking and insurance institutions and museums all profited from New World slavery. Although the extent to which is greatly contested, the industrial revolution in Great Britain was undoubtedly stimulated by the slave trade and plantation slavery.
  3. On the other hand, there is a continuing legacy for the descendants of the c.12 million people who were forcibly transported from Africa to the Americas – as well as the indigenous population – in ways that are still evident and real today. HilaryIn Britain’s Black Debt, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles demonstrates that in the early stages of colonialism in the Caribbean, the European powers subjected indigenous people to genocidal policies of extermination and expropriated the land. The Europeans created slave islands that were never intended as settler colonies – perhaps with the exception of Barbados – in the colonial period. Many estate owners were absentees – especially in Jamaica – whose only involvement was the receipt of annual payments from sugar sales. The young men who travelled to the plantation economies – described as sojourners – intended to earn as much wealth as possible in as short a time as possible before returning to Britain. The development of industries in the colonies was stunted under the mercantilist system in the assumption this would stimulate growth in Britain. There was no educational system put in place. In short, the process of colonisation created economies designed to extract wealth based on the trade of produce grown and harvested via unfree, slave-labour. The legacy today for the descendants of enslaved peoples is poverty, deprived conditions, poor health care and poor access to educational standards, which is further compounded by high external debts owed by some nations. Racism is perhaps the most invidious legacy of New World slavery. This is a perpetual cycle and many are trapped in their situation.

So, whilst Professor Furedi found it unpalatable that ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners’ connected the past with the present, his dismay is nothing compared the conditions of descendants of the enslaved in the Caribbean whose present is defined by a past created by European powers. After discussing what I felt were the real issues at stake – and the programme addressed at least point 2 – I mounted a defence of the discipline of historical studies. Historians strive to produce critical, unbiased research (however idealistic or unrealistic that may be). This is difficult to maintain when you are essentially writing about historical genocide and a nefarious system of exploitation in which your country-men were historically involved.RSSP I’m sure many historians have their own opinions of Thomas Thistlewood, an English overseer in Jamaica who ordered enslaved people to defecate in the mouth of other enslaved people as a punishment. I certainly have my own opinion on the views of Colin Macrae, a Scottish overseer in Demerara who opposed the manumission of slaves in 1827 as, according to him, the plantation economy was perpetuated only by the ‘succession of children’ (see my chapter in the upcoming volume Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past). However, historians do not – or at least should not – produce serious historical analysis that passes anachronistic judgment on individuals such as slaveowners lest they invite accusations of writing polemical work. Through source based historical analysis, historians have a duty – in Leopold Von Ranke’s words – merely to explain ‘how things actually were’ (wie es eigentlich gewesen). Which leads nicely into the final point.

Professor Furedi’s article and yesterday’s programme critiqued the motives of David Olusoga’s ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners’, perhaps the historians involved at UCL and also gauged opinions towards reparations for Caribbean slavery. Professor Furedi stated in the radio programme today (around 56mins) that the BBC2 programme was a prelude for individuals, organisations or the state to provide compensation (eg. reparations). However, the prelude for reparations was evidently the forced transportation and long term-exploitation of millions of Africans in the Caribbean, a status that was only altered by the British Government awarding £20million compensation to slave-owners for the loss of their property, that is, the lives of 800,000 men, women and children. Certainly, CARICOM now base their ten-point plan for reparations in rigorous academic research. We now know the individuals and institutions that benefitted from compensation in 1834, and were evidently involved with the business of slavery beforehand.

In yesterday’s interview on Radio Scotland, there were two questions whether an apology and reparations for Caribbean slavery should be made. I found it striking that I was asked both; should there be an apology and reparations? And in a different approach, I was asked if organisations that profited from Caribbean slavery (such as railways) should pay reparations? Whilst the question should have been asked of both members of the discussion, I set out my position clearly and I’ll elaborate here. The reparations issue is a growing and long overdue debate. However, the legal, financial and even moral questions will be asked and answered by statesmen, politicians, accountants and lawyers. This is essentially a Government to Government process. GrahamHowever, activists, such as Graham Campbell in Glasgow, the general public and the media have a role highlighting issues. Historians also have a crucially important part to play in this process by researching and writing rigorous reparative histories. I have adopted a transatlantic approach to my work on Glasgow-West India merchants, planters and sojourners in the period, 1776-1846. I have researched in Caribbean archives and visited plantations owned by Scots, both of which added a great deal of authority to the work I produce. There are many ways to incorporate this approach into the final product. On a basic level, terminology is all important. Men, women and children were enslaved peoples; they were not defined by this forced status and should not be defined as slaves in modern historiography. Also, slaveowners – such as James Smith of Jordanhill in Glasgow – have previously been described using glorious euphemisms such as ‘West India landowner’ or ‘sleeping partners in a merchant firm’ in modern texts such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). These terms were originally used in nineteenth-century texts –sometimes written by family members – and were designed to obfuscate the true source of their fortune. The relevant individuals should be referred to in modern historiography how they actually were.

Owners of enslaved men, women and children in the Caribbean.

Profiteers from the expropriation of enslaved labour.

Claimants of slave compensation in 1834.

Through collaboration with Dr Nick Draper and others at a UCL group, I have been commissioned by the ODNB to write two articles about prominent Glasgow slaveowners and compensation claimants; James Ewing of Strathleven and Cecilia Dougas of Orbiston. I have the benefit of knowing exactly their connections with the slave plantations of the Caribbean and how much compensation they claimed. This involvement provided the source of wealth which allowed them to purchase landed estates in Scotland and facilitated their rise to elite status. Secondly, I – and some other Scottish historians – recognise the importance of the labour of enslaved peoples to the industrial and commercial development of Scotland. This is a critical issue for Scottish historiography as it has sometimes been sidestepped in the past. Reparations can take many forms. For historians of Scotland and the Caribbean, it is your duty to explain the past in the appropriate transatlantic context.  Whether commentators or the general public find it unpalatable or not is not our concern. We are attempting to explain the past as we see it.

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The Scots Kirk of Colonial Kingston, Jamaica

In April 2014, I spent a month on research leave in the West Indies, the majority of which was spent in Kingston, Jamaica. What a wonderful, enchanting place. But I was there on business.SAM_1209 I learned lots about the long dead Scots who had been there two hundred years before me from archival sources but also from the surroundings. I visited several former plantations owned by Scots, such as Caymanas in St Catherine and Papine in St Andrew (now the University of the West Indies). However, in downtown Kingston, I also spent a really illuminating afternoon in St Andrews Scots Kirk. I have since undertaken extensive archival research on this establishment. I have recently delivered a paper on the Scots Kirk at the Scottish Religious Cultures Networks conference ‘Religion in Scotland: at home and abroad’ at Queens University Belfast in May 2015. It has since been accepted for publication and will most likely become my first post-Ph.D. publication. The Scots Kirk was built, of course, by Scots in the early nineteenth century which was comparatively late in the era of Caribbean slavery. In December 1813, a group of Scots petitioned local dignitaries in Kingston to establish a Presbyterian place of worship, evidently to follow the religion which they had been accustomed to as youths. Some of the most prominent Glasgow-West India merchant firms contributed finance, thus the connections between Glasgow and Kingston were both commercial and ecclesiastical.

'I can see the light'
‘I can see the light’

The Kirk itself was octagonal shaped and based on a grand design. Indeed, opening was delayed by six years to 1819 due to the size and a lack of funding. The Kirk was evidently for the Scots plantocracy and the relationship with the enslaved population of Kingston was a little more complex but you’ll need to wait for the publication for that. Although the original building was damaged by an earthquake, they re-built it in accordance with the plans of the original. As I walked around the Kirk in April 2014, I thought about the many Scots who had been in there in a very different time. I saw many reminders of home. Understandably, Scottish clergy had a prominent role in exporting Scottish Presbyterianism to Kingston.SAM_1231 Like the Reverend James Watson, 19 years a pastor of the Scots Kirk and missionary in Jamaica. Born in Johnstone in 1799, he was one of the few who managed to return home and died in Edinburgh in 1873. I wondered if Watson was an abolitionist, or if he was guilty of what one historian has described as ‘Presbyterian hypocrisy’. I also saw very tangible reminders of the connections with Glasgow and Kingston. Like the memorial to Andrew Scott, born in Penicuik in March 1804. A merchant in Kingston, he died in London and was buried in Glasgow Necropolis. The memorial also referred to his wife, Anna Maria Mayne, who died on the passage from Jamaica to Scotland in 1843. Their children, some of whom were born in Kingston, were also mentioned. SAM_1228No doubt they all worshipped and perhaps were married or christened in the Scots Kirk. Other memorials testified to the elevated status of Scots in Kingston in the post-slavery period. Another Andrew Scott, late merchant and magistrate of Kingston, died at Rothesay in January 1866, aged 42. The monument was erected by his widow and brother, suggesting they had remained in Kingston whilst he went home temporarily. The members of the Scots Kirk remembered him for his excellence as an office-bearer and his ‘unwearied efforts to promote its prosperity and & perpetuity’. SAM_1235And perpetuate it did. St Andrews Scots Kirk still remains an active place of worship today although as far as I am aware, there are no formal connections with the Church of Scotland as it was disestablished in the twentieth century to join with other Caribbean Churches. I still found it amazing that little historical dots of Scots, including their places of exploitation and worship, remained in Kingston over two hundred years later.

Runaway Slaves

It has been a while since I blogged anything related to Scotland and the Caribbean. A lot has changed in the last year. 2014 was a momentous year for all; the Commonwealth Games reminded everyone why Glasgow is the best city in the world, the referendum woke many Scots up to reality, and on a personal level I submitted a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Glasgow. I spent a great three years (and one month) immersed in the lives of Glasgow-West India merchants, planters and sojourners, 1776-1846. I enjoyed the process immensely and I’ll be disseminating the findings very soon. I’ve since moved into a new but related area and I’ll take this chance to plug the new project I’m working on for the next few years.

I’m now part of a research project examining the social history of self-liberated, formerly enslaved black people in Great Britain. The formal title is ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century’. Twitter:  @runawayslavesgb The project is based in History, School of Humanities at the University of Glasgow. This is the perfect project for us all at this stage. On a personal level, I have been criticised to my face (most recently at an N.U.J. conference in the Mitchell Library in October 2013) that my research focused on slave-owners but did not examine the lives of the enslaved themselves. This period of research allows me to rectify that.

There were many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ‘black’ runaways in Great Britain in the Eighteenth Century. Many were of African descent, some were Native Americans and others were from India. There is some debate whether this group were actually enslaved in Britain at all (there were white runaways escaping from servitude too) although it is clear the group under consideration in our project occupied an ambiguous position. In many cases, they were described as ‘slaves’ and were most certainly in bondage. Many had been trafficked from the New World to Great Britain where they were bought and sold as labourers to work without remuneration. Some were kidnapped and sent back to colonies such as Jamaica without their consent. In any case, this ambiguous status was addressed in two landmark British legal cases: Somerset v Stewart in England in 1772 and Knight v Wedderburn in Scotland in 1778. The Mansfield Decision, although hardly equivocal, certainly had an impact at home and abroad. Joseph Knight, an African, was held in servitude in Scotland after he made the journey from Jamaica with his owner, a Scottish plantation owner. After reading of the Mansfield decision in an Edinburgh newspaper, Joseph subsequently challenged his own unfree status in 1774. The resulting legal case laid out a very famous ruling in Scotland four years later:

That the State of Slavery is not recognised by the Laws of this Kingdom, and is inconsistent with the principles thereof and Found that the Regulations in Jamaica concerning slaves do not extend to this Kingdom and repelled the Defender’s Claim to perpetual Service. (National Records of Scotland, CS 235/K/2/2, p.32)

However, these two famous legal cases were in the last third of the Eighteenth Century – runaway advertisements were a common theme in newspapers over the previous hundred years. So, what of the lives of the unknown numbers of men, women and children who became runaways?

Newspaper advertisement reveals lots of details to the historian; age, gender, origins, diseases, bodily markings. One example – albeit in an American context, where there is a mature historiography – provides much detail.

Virginia Gazette, 7 October 1773.
Virginia Gazette, 7 October 1773.

The image itself (thanks to @Limerick1914  for this image) is an advertisement intended to facilitate the recapture of two runaway slaves in Surry County, Virginia in October 1773 – a year after the Somerset Case. The process began with a very public proclamation that the individuals had escaped from bondage. The master evidently valued his enslaved property so much that he advertised detailed descriptions in the Virginia Gazette and offered rewards for their recapture. The reward system ensured there was much work for nefarious hunter-capturers. Although runaways in Great Britain ran away from a very different type of bondage and to a very different type of freedom, the recapturing process would have been similar.

In terms of the runaways themselves, we learn from the advertisement that one of the runaways was female, a twenty seven year old woman named Amy, and another was male, a nineteen year old named Bachus who was born in Africa. Bacchus had evidently been subjected to the infamous ‘Middle Passage’ and had been branded on the hand, most likely on a Virginian plantation. We also learn much about the determination of the owner: he offers an incremental reward and rising expenses dependant on how far the runaways escaped.

Interestingly, we also learn about the mentalité of both slave-owner and the enslaved. According to this advertisement, there was a ‘prevalent…notion’ amongst enslaved people in Virginia that if they escaped and reached Britain ‘they will be free’, a mindset surely influenced by the Mansfield Decision of June 1772. Running away was the greatest act of self-determination, and this vexed the slave-owners as would it deprive them of their chattel property and the profits from the expropriation of labour. The advertisement ended with a typical warning: do not offer runaways passage from Virginia or offer them work within the colony. These advertisements represent both an attempt to regain immediate ownership of the enslaved property and also an attempt to limit the collaboration with the local population which could have prolonged freedom. Their fate – and whether they reached Great Britain at all – is unknown. Watch this space.

 

Further Reading

Cairns, John W., ‘After Somerset: The Scottish Experience’ (2012) Journal of Legal History, vol. 33, pp.291-312

Chater, Kathy, Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales During the Period of the Slave Trade, c.1660-1807 (Manchester, 2009)

Myers, Norma, Reconstructing the Black Past: Blacks in Britain c.1780-1830 (London, 1996)

Shyllon, F., Black People in Britain 1555-1833, (London, 1977)

Shyllon, F., Black Slaves in Britain, (London, 1974)

Walvin, J., Black and White: The Negro and English Society 1555-1945, (London, 1973)

Walvin, J., England, Slaves and Freedom, 1776-1838 (London, 1986)

Another Scotsman in Kingston, Jamaica

Map_of_Jamaica_-_en_svgGreetings from Kingston. I’ve been spending some time at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Kingston. The campus must have a claim to be in the most picturesque setting in the world (except the University of Glasgow in the west end, of course). The University of the West Indies was built on the site of three former sugar plantations, Mona, Papine and Hope. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership website reveals that on the emancipation of slavery in 1834, the compensation for the enslaved people on Mona was claimed by Abraham Watson Rutherford and Sarah Wilkinson; on Papine by James Beckford Wildman and on Hope, the compensation was claimed by Hon. George Neville Grenville and by a Scotsman, Sir John Campbell, 2nd Marquess of Bredalbane, as a trustee on a marriage settlement. And I’ve just today discovered that Papine was owned by Colonel Alexander Grant of Scotland from 1756, and that he named the plantation in Jamaica after a village in Banffshire. Were some of the buildings constructed by Scots?

SAM_1170
1750s acqueduct used to transport water around Papine estate

There are some remains of the built heritage which attest to the locations past. There is a large acqueduct running through the campus, built in the 1750s, which would have transported water around and powered the mill on the sugar works, some of which is still standing. The chapel was a former rum distillery – thus full of regional symbolism – that was transported from Trelawney Parish in the 1950s and recreated as a non-denominational church.

SAM_1171
Former rum distillery at Hampden, now Mona Chapel

I’ve since discovered the rum distillery was formerly on the Hampden plantation, owned by the Stirlings of Keir and Cawder who were involved with the Glasgow-West India firm, Stirling, Gordon & Co. Thus, Mona, a location that was ‘formerly a place of cruelty and suffering’ has been reclaimed and now ‘symbolises West India nationhood’. The message here is clear: education is the way forward. It’s certainly a wonderful setting to be undertaking research and writing on Scots in Jamaica. And I’ve been learning  lot. Since I’ve been here I’ve attended lectures in honour of Mr Kenneth Ingram, the archivist at UWI Mona for a long number of years, given by Professor Barry Higman. I was first attracted to Caribbean archives by Mr Ingram’s manucript collections and I’ve read lots of B.W. Higman’s work over the years. SAM_1194And I’ve exchanged some knowledge in return. I gave a talk today on ‘Scots in the Caribbean: Jamaica, c.1630s-1838’ in the National Institute of Jamaica, which seemed to be quite well received. Very interesting debate followed on Scots who claimed compensation on the emancipation of slavery as well as the implications of the reparations debate for Scotland.

 

A Glasgow-West India Sojourn- Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada

This blog article will be the first of several over the next month documenting a research trip to the West Indies. On 30 March 2014, I flew from Glasgow International to London then onto Port of Spain, Trinidad for a stopover and eventually Kingston. Including stopover, this took over 24 hours. In the eighteenth century, this journey would have taken six weeks and landfall would have usually been made further up the Lesser Antilles such as Antigua or Barbados.

wpid-230px-pg_1063burns_naysmithcrop-1.jpeg
On his way to Jamaica, August 1786

Robert Burns, for example, was on his way from Greenock to Jamaica via Antigua in October 1786 before the Kilmarnock edition of his poetry became commercially succesful and he fortunately went to Edinburgh instead. In the period that Burns didnt go, up to 20,000 young Scotsmen did. All went in search of fame and fortune in the plantation economy of the Caribbean before, they hoped, to return to Scotland to purchase a landed estate. There are several parallels with my sojourn, including departure and arrival points. I am here to uncover evidence of the activites of Scots in Jamaica and Grenada although I am inoculated against the tropical diseases from which so many of them perished (Yellow Fever vaccination is essential if travelling via Trinidad to Jamaica, which I discovered at the very last minute, ten days before travel). Hopefully I’ll be coming home from the Caribbean with treasure of my own although this will be archival material and the less tangible riches of social capital.

SAM_1040
Outside Piarco International Airport, Trinidad

When I arrived in UWI Mona last night, I was told about another Scotsman, whom I am now trying to find. Scots abroad operating in networks has as much resonance today as it did in the eighteenth century although for vastly different purposes. As I arrived in Trinidad yesterday, I saw a large montage of former Prime Minsters. Dr Eric Williams, was, of course, the first P.M. after independence on 31 August 1962. Before this, he was an academic historian and published the influential Capitalism and Slavery, a wonderful text which continues to influence researchers today.

SAM_1038
Eric Williams looking over travellers arriving at Trinidad

Despite Glasgow (and the McDowall’s in particular) featuring surprisingly prominent in the text, the Scottish-West India historiography remains in it’s infancy. I’d like to think Eric would be pleased about the new research underway on Scotland, including my own and Michael Hopcroft at Glasgow Caledonian (@michaelhopcroft).

 

Scots & Caribbean Slavery – victims and profiteers.

In October 2008, author and journalist Joanna Blythman (@JoannaBlythman) attended a tour of Glasgow and the Merchant City that I was running as part of Black History Month.  The tours are a good way to enter into public discussion about Glasgow’s historic role in Caribbean slavery as well as the wider issues such as the lack of acknowledgement in the city today or the economic impact on Scotland. Joanna subsequently authored an opinion piece in The Herald on 1 November 2008 (‘We can’t ignore Scotland’s link to slavery’) in which she very graciously described me as ‘Stephen Mullen, a talented young historian from Strathclyde University’, the institution where I spent four enjoyable years as an undergraduate. WisnaeJoanna also referred to the book I was working on , ‘It Wisnae Us’, a social history of Glasgow’s connections with slavery told through the urban environment,  which was published in 2009.

Joanna’s article in the Herald opened up my research on the Glasgow-West India merchants and planters and  Scots in the West Indies (then in an embryonic phase) to wider audience. This led to a most interesting letter being sent to me with an Aberdeen postmark (simply addressed to ‘Stephen Mullen, Historian, Strathclyde University!), which I have included here:

Jacobite letter
Jacobite letter

[Start of Transcription]:

Jacobites – Slaves exported to the West Indies.

Note that many are from East & N.E. Scotland and England. Most of the Highlanders appear to be Roman Catholics from Invernes.shire. Most of them would be Catholics and Episcopalians.

[List of Jacobites transported to the West Indies in 1747].

Dear Mr Mullen,

I read that you are publishing a book on Slavery and wonder if you will be mentioning the Jacobites transported as slaves to the West Indies. They inter-married with the Africans. However, I doubt if you have any knowledge of these facts as Scottish History is not taught in Scottish schools and Scotch Historians only copy Anglo-Centric [expletive removed] from Unionist Historians. I do not think any of the above would own plantations in the West Indies but no doubt many of them would have [expletive removed] the African women working with them. Yours sincerely, [illegible signature].

[End of Transcription].

Although some of the the language and nature of the contents of the letter was highly inappropriate, I soon started to think more critically about the issues raised. As the author left no contact details to allow me a right to reply, I shall take the liberty of doing so here.

It occurred to me that the author of the letter must have had some knowledge of Scottish history and access to sources, perhaps through a genealogical publication. The letter itself was actually a list of Jacobite prisoners deported after the Hanoverian victory over Charles Edward Stuart’s army at the Battle of Culloden (Blàr Chùil Lodair) on 16 April 1746. The transportations were part of a vicious campaign of retribution by the British Government intended to quell the Highlands in the aftermath of the failed rebellion. One account suggests that of the 3,500 rebel prisoners taken after Culloden, 557 were deported to the New World.

Firstly – and perhaps the only point that myself and the anonymous author agreed upon – is that not enough Scottish history is taught in schools, especially the role of Scots in Empire. However, he (I assume the author was a he) further suggested this led to a historical amnesia amongst the population in general and myself in particular. Although I agreed the Scottish role in the West Indies is not well known, I was then one year into a period of sustained research on Scotland and slavery and was fully aware of the issues raised.

I started to look further into the circumstances of the ship (named in the letter as The Veteran) which sailed on 8 May 1747. I soon discovered (with little effort) that the ship had left Liverpool bound for the Leeward Islands with 150 Jacobites, no doubt to be sold as indentured servants to Scottish and English plantation owners on Antigua, Barbados, St Kitts or Nevis. According to David Dobson, the list of prisoners represents the ‘best description of individual immigrants of the colonial period’. However, The Veteran didn’t actually reach the British West Indies as it was captured by a French privateer, Diamond, off the coast off the Antigua before the prisoners were delivered. French CaribbeanThe French, of course, supported the Stuarts and were sympathetic to the Jacobite cause. The prisoners of The Veteran were taken to the nearby French colony of Martinique where they were freed by the colonial authorities. At least five of the freed prisoners were enlisted as soldiers in French regiments. Thus, the voyage not only assisted the Jacobite cause but also modern historians striving to identify social characteristics of emigrants to the New World. It was therefore ironic that after being accused of having no ‘knowledge of the facts’, the reality was the author was wholly inaccurate in his assertions.

The author was also conceptually as well as factually wrong in the assumed fate of the Jacobite prisoners. The letter was titled ‘Jacobites – slaves transported to West Indies’, which suggested they were destined for life as chattel slaves, the prevalent form of servitude in the British West Indies. An English concept, chattel slavery was established by the Barbados Slave Act of 1661 which ratified enslaved African peoples as property with no right to life. Professor Simon Newman has recently traced the transition from indentured servitude to chattel slavery in Barbados and argued the early development of the plantation economy was dependent on the exportation of vagrants and the poor as well as criminals and political and religious exiles.

A New World of Labour

Thus, the labour force of the embryonic tobacco and sugar plantations was created by forced and voluntary emigration from Scotland, England and Ireland. White indentured servitude was eventually superseded by African slavery from the 1630s which became entrenched in the colonial  legal system after 1661. Chattel slavery subsequently developed into a hierarchical system of exploitation initially based on class and subsequently race which evolved into the most lethal form of slavery known to mankind.

However, indentured servants were always regarded as human beings whilst enslaved persons were viewed as sub-human chattel listed in plantation inventories next to cattle with names such as Fido, Caeser and Jumper. They were treated as beasts of burden to be bought and sold and worked to death on sugar plantations. Mutilation as a punishment was permitted as was murder by hanging, slow burning and starvation in gibbets. In contrast, the penalty for slaves striking a white person was death, unless the assault was to protect a slave’s owner. Furthermore, indentured servants worked for set period (usually three to seven years) and, in theory at least, there was an end to their servitude. By contrast, the Uterine law meant the offspring of slaves were born into the status of their mother, thus thirling successive generations for life to plantations and owners and perpetuating the cycle of racial hierarchy .

Without too much work, it has been quite easy to debunk the myths contained in a factually inaccurate and conceptually wrong letter. This was a prime example of historical whataboutery. The underlying theme seems to be It Wisnae Us- It was the English. Even the ages of the child prisoners transported on The Veteran were underlined for effect in the letter as if to reinforce the depravity of the English retribution. Thus, according to the author, whilst Scots were involved with Caribbean slavery, we were also victims of English imperial tyranny and this should be a qualifier in any book on Scots and slavery.

But should an unrepresentative example be used in an attempt to somehow exonerate much wider involvement elsewhere? Many hundreds (perhaps up to 2,000) of Scots were transported to the West Indies as indentured servants and David Dobson suggested that only 600 prisoners were deported between 1707 and 1763. Some of these might have become plantation owners themselves. Moreover, up to 20,000 Scots economic sojourners travelled voluntarily to the West Indies between 1750 and 1800 in a quest to find fame and fortune [1].

Edward Long, 1795
Edward Long, 1795

Many arrived in Jamaica in particular as noted by Edward Long, a planter-historian in 1774:

Jamaica, indeed, is greatly indebted to North Britain, as very near one third [i.e. 6000 of 18,000] of the [white] inhabitants are either natives of that country, or descendants from those who were. Many have come…every year, less in quest of fame than of fortunes; and such is their industry and address, that few of them have been disappointed. [2]

These figures are broadly consistent with the view of modern historians.

Furthermore, Dr Nicholas Draper of UCL and the Legacies of British Slaveownership project have outlined that Scots were disproportionately represented in the compensation lists (awarded to slave-owners by the British Government for the loss of their chattel slave property) on emancipation in 1834

Archibald Smith senr.
Archibald Smith senr.

Of the £20million compensation, Scots claimed £2million. Individuals in Glasgow were amongst the most concentrated  groups of claimants in Great Britain. Absentee West India planters and merchants in Glasgow, such as Archibald and James Smith of Jordanhill,  owned over 14,000 slaves and made over 100 claims which resulted in a total award of over £460,00. Contemporary estimates suggest this total is worth c.£30m today or even up to £2billion depending on what index is used. There is no question that Scots had sustained involvement as profiteers in the plantation economy from the c.1620s – 1838.

The letter also refers to miscegenation as well as misinformed opinions as to how serious historical research and analysis is undertaken. Do Scottish historians merely copy ‘Anglo–centric shite– from Unionist Historians’? There are several Scottish historians working on this area and there is little disagreement amongst practitioners – whatever political views they hold – that the Union of 1707 opened up the largest common market in the world (at that time) to Scots and they took full advantages of imperial opportunities. It is also widely accepted that Scots were deported as indentured servants. Yet, the inference seems to be that an historian cannot be a Scottish nationalist if their chosen research topic involves uncovering the more unpalatable aspects of the Scottish past. That is one assertion that I profoundly disagree with.

[1] Douglas Hamilton, ‘Patronage and Profit: Scottish Networks in the British West Indies, c.1763-1807’ (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Aberdeen, 1999), p.36-7.

[2] Edward Long, A History of Jamaica Vol. II, (London, 1774), p.287.

Trinidad, Massachussets, Glasgow, Argyll.

This is an overdue account of a day last summer (31 July 2013) spent in the company of Selwyn R. Cudjoe, Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, U.S.

http://www.wellesley.edu/africana/faculty/cudjoe

Selwyn was born and grew up in Tacarigua is a town in the East-West Corridor of Trinidad and Tobago. Many Scots were known to be large plantation owners in Trinidad during the colonial period; the Eccles and Lamonts for example had strong commercial connections with Glasgow. Professor CudjoeSAM_6089 sought to learn more about their legacy when on research leave in Great Britain in the summer of 2013.

Selwyn and I set off from Glasgow Central Train station early in the morning. With little preparation or equipment except the trusty IPhone, we set off for Gourock on the way to Dunoon and Argyll, where many Scots who owned plantations in the West Indies are known to have built sprawling landed estates. SAM_6163As we crossed the upper firth of Clyde by ferry, we discussed how the majority of the thirty two known Scottish transatlantic slave trade voyages left from Port Glasgow and Greenock and would have navigated the same stretch of water on their way to the west coast of Africa.

In Dunoon, we went into the Castle House Museum, which we were amazed to discover had been built as a holiday home by Glasgow merchant James Ewing in 1824.SAM_6097 Ewing has been described as the ‘father of Dunoon’, although his chosen occupation as a Glasgow-West India merchant and plantation owner in Jamaica has remained almost unknown until fairly recently. Indeed, according to the ongoing ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ project at UCL, James Ewing was a large scale claimant of slave compensation from the British Government on emancipation in 1834 and claimed over £9300 (c.£700,000 today) for 586 slaves on plantations in Jamaica.

From Dunoon, we took the coach up the Cowal peninsula in a quest to find the home of John Lamont of Knockdow, the illegitimate son of a gentry family in Argyll who became one of the most prominent plantation owners in Trinidad in the 1800s. We were armed with little information except that he built Benmore House in 1849 and we assumed – correctly as it turned out – there had to be some connection with the internationally famous Benmore Botanic Garden. In the heart of the garden lies Benmore House and although closed to the public, the grandeur of the building was evident. SAM_6133John Lamont was another large scale holder of compensation on emancipation in 1834 and claimed over £15,900 (c.£1.2million today) for 322 slaves, including those resident on Cedar Grove, Palmiste. Did the compensation money filter back to Scotland to be used in the 1849 construction of Benmore? Impossible to tell.

Professor Cudjoe was able to see first hand the legacy of the expropriation of labour from Trinidad in the colonial period and how the profits of sugar and slavery transformed parts of Scotland. In his words, ‘he completed the circle’.