Between 1756 and 1778 three cases reached the Court of Session in
Edinburgh whereby runaway slaves attempted to obtain their freedom.
A central argument in each case was that the slave, having been bought
in the colonies, had been subsequently baptised by sympathetic church
ministers in Scotland. The three cases were Montgomery v Sheddan (1756),
Spens v Dalrymple (1769) and Knight v Wedderburn (1778).
In August 1807 an act
was passed abolishing the slave trade in the British empire.
It was an important step in the abolition of slavery and in
the suppression of the slave trade. To commemorate the bicentenary
of the Act, the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) has produced
an online guide for anyone using Scottish archives to research
aspects of slavery and the slave trade. We are also featuring
three court cases which challenged the legal status of slavery
Records relating to all three cases survive in the NAS among the
records of the Court of Session and they provide evidence about
the lives of the individual slaves who featured in the cases and
about attitudes to slavery in Scotland in the eighteenth century.
The first of these cases featured James (or Jamie) Montgomery,
formerly 'Shanker', the slave of Robert Sheddan of Morrishill
in Ayrshire. Jamie Montgomery had been baptised by Reverend John
Witherspoon in Beith. His owner forcibly removed him to Port Glasgow
and placed him on a ship bound for Virginia, but on 21 April 1756
Montgomery escaped to Edinburgh. He was apprehended following newspaper
advertisements about his escape placed by Sheddan and incarcerated
in the Edinburgh tolbooth. Montgomery pursued his claim for freedom
at the Court of Session in Edinburgh but died before the case could
Among the records relating to the case (reference CS234/S/3/12)
are petitions of Montgomery (originally styled 'James Montgomery
Sheddan, prisoner in the City Guard of Edinburgh') and by Robert
Sheddan and answers by each party to the other's petitions.
Sheddan also submitted the bill of sale from Joseph Hawkins, a
slave trader in Fredricksburg, to Robert Sheddan of 'One Negroe
boy named Jamie' in 1750. An image of the bill and a transcript
are shown below.