Back to Twitter.
A certain @nick_nlawrie (who is a declared enthusiast for Donald Trump as leader of the free world!) took offence at — of all liberal souls — The Guardian‘s Michael White. Mr Lawrie essential grief was:
slavery always illegal Scotland. Unlike England who enslaved & murdered millions.
This was repeated several times, never with any justification, and lead on to other excesses:
- slaves in confederate states higher standard living than British working class.
- Scotland has an elite; called the British establishment.
- slavery illegal under scots law. Why no slaves landed in scots ports. Not so England.
- not troll. Is fact. Scotland never had mass slave trade. Unlike England. Accept truth here.
- not one African slave was landed in Scotland. Because it was illegal under scots law.
- slavery was illegal in Scotland under scots law. Doesn’t contradict
- scaremongering self loathing rubbish as though Indy scot would unleash 4th reich.
- The SNP did not have Nazi sympathisers. You’re promoting an offensive lie.
Those may not be in the correct order
Not to forget — a gem among gems — that somehow the US Declaration of Independence sprang from the Declaration of Arbroath.
In all that there are three items worth considering:
- Scotland and slavery (which what I address in this post);
- the uncomfortable historic link between Fascism and Scottish Nationalism;
- that thing about the Declaration of Arbroath.
Scotland and slavery
The Battle of Dunbar (1650) lumbered Cromwell with 10,000 (his own count) Scottish Covenanters and Royalists as prisoners. He reported he had discharge half that number as “starved, sick or wounded”. The Royalist Sir Edward Walker reckoned on 6,000 prisoners, of whom 1,000 were dismissed.
Either way, that leaves 5,000 to be route-marched south. About 3,000 were alive to be incarcerated by Arthur Heslerig at Durham Cathedral. Further deaths (the bodies were found post-WW2 in a trench on the north side of the Cathedral) reduced that to just 1,4oo. In 1651 these were despatched as indentured labour to the American colonies.
In 1666 the City worthies of Edinburgh took Cromwell’s example, and employed Captain James Gibson. With his ship, the Phoenix of Leith, Gibson contracted to take beggars, vagabonds and others not fitt to stay in the kingdome to Virginia.
Few of these transports would have survived the seven-year indenture in the plantations. The few who did became the overseers for the cheaper, more durable, black slaves. Here, then, is one reason for all those Scottish names among the descendants of the slaves.
The Royal African Company, founded in London in 1672, soon had this new trade in humans organised. The Scots merchants, like those of Bristol and Liverpool, found themselves outside the loop. In November 1692 the Leith magistrates consigned 50 lewd women, and a further 30 street-walkers by ship to (ahem!) Virginia. In 1706 Two Brothers of Leith reported a profit on a slaving voyage.
We don’t know how many slaving voyages originated from the Clyde: the Port Books before 1742 are lost, so Scots moralists can claim barely a dozen such voyages start from Scotland. What is unquestionable is that slave-produced raw cotton, sugar, and tobacco were being imported to Greenock. By no coincidence, Abram Lyle, as in Tate & Lyle, was a Greenock man. By the start of the 19th century, a third of the Jamaican sugar plantations were Scottish owned. By the 1730s Ricard Oswald, son of the Dunnet, Caithness, manse was the factor for his cousins’ trade in tobacco, sugar and wine, and traveling the American south and Caribbean. He became a government-contractor and war-profiteer (first a small killing in the War of the Austrian Succession, then £125,000 from the Seven Years’ War), and with this bought 1,566 acres of four Caribbean plantations, and 30,000 acres in East Florida.
Hard lives and (progressively) harder decisions
The comings-and-goings of Scottish traders meant some brought back their black servants: some seventy are recorded in Scotland during the 18th century. Therein Mr Lawrie’s defence of Scottish innocence totally collapses. Several cases came before Scottish courts where black servants had to plead for release from their servitude:
- Robert Shedden brought “Shanker” to Scotland, to apprentice him to joiner, and so improve his price back in Virginia. In April 1756, at Beith, “Shanker’ had himself baptised as James Montgomery. Shodden took the hump, and dragged him back to Port Glasgow to be sent back to Virginia. Montgomery escaped to Edinburgh, and sought his freedom. He was clapped in gaol while the magistrates had extended deliberations, and died before a decision.
- Dr David Dalrymple brought “Black Tom”, a slave, born in West Africa, from Grenada to Methyl in Fife. In September 1769 “Black Tom” was baptised as David Spens at Wemyss. Spend now told his former master “I am now by the Christian Religion liberate and set at freedom from my yoke, bondage, and slavery”. Dalrymple had him arrested, and local lawyers — financed by collections from miners and salters (more of that in a while) — issued writs for wrongful arrest. Before the case could be decided, Dalrymple died.
Next: the Somerset Case. An English matter, but this is in all the schoolbooks as the definitive one: after this no slaves in England. Nope: another example of how textbooks systematically simplify to the point of lies.
- Charles Stewart had brought the enslaved James Somerset from Boston. Somerset made a break for it, was recaptured, and consigned back to Jamaica. Three witnesses approached the Lord Chief Justice, who ordered Somerset be kept while the case was heard. The LCJ’s judgement walked the narrowest of lines between common law and the interests of the traders. His ambiguous ruling was: no master was allowed to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted his service or for any other reason whatever. Read it carefully: it doesn’t make slavery illegal: it did, however, give runaways pretext to take charge of their own future.
- Joseph Knight was an enslaved African, the possession of Sir John Wedderburn in Perthshire. Inspired by the Somerset decision, Knight demanded his service become paid. Wedderburn refused. Knight absconded, and was arrested. The abolitionists, including Dr Johnson and James Boswell, interceded. In 1778 the case came to court at Perth, and was appealed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh — in both the judgement was that the law of Scotland did not allow slavery.
Salters and miners
Both essential industries, and a law of 1606 put coalyers, coal-bearers and salters in a state of perpetual bondage to their employer. Breaking the bond put the said Coalyears, Coal-bearers and Salters to be esteemed, reput and halded as theives, and punished in their bodies. Moreover, all maisters and awners of Coal-heughs and pannes, were empowered to apprehend all vagabounds and sturdie beggers to be put to labour. So: serfdom and press-ganging.
This persisted until 1775 Act. Let there be no doubt, as the Act said:
many Colliers, Coal-bearers, and Salters are in a state of slavery or bondage, bound to the Collieries and Salt-works where they work for life, transferable with the Collieries and Salt-works, when their original masters have no further use for them.
Even then there were conditions attached. It took until 1799 before all salters and colliers were free from the bond (but, even then, only when an apprenticeship had been served, or ten years’ service registered.