Category Archives: Trinidad

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

 

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’.