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Wednesday 26 November 2014
 
 
 

Slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and Scotland

This guide deals primarily with aspects of the transatlantic slave trade and records in the National Archives of Scotland (NAS). It also mentions some other Scottish archives relating to Scotland's involvement in the trade and its abolition. Some researchers are interested in information about individual slaves or former slaves, while others are interested in conditions or events on particular plantations, slave voyages, or the abolition movement. Research is also carried out in Scottish archives into other forms and aspects of slavery, for example the concepts of free and unfree status of women and serfs in medieval Scotland; transportation to the colonies of rebels during the religious wars and of criminals; bonded labour in the early modern period; and the enslavement of Scots by North African corsairs in the seventeenth century. Bill of sale for slave, 1750

Part of a bill of sale for a boy slave to a Scottish landowner in Virginia, 1750 (NAS ref: CS234/S/3/12).

It is possible to carry out research on some of these subjects in the NAS, which holds the records of Scottish courts and churches, and some estate papers relating to slave-owning plantations. Other aspects of the trade are better researched elsewhere, for example in The National Archives, London, or in other archives and libraries. The following sections deal with aspects of the slave trade and suggest relevant sources of information.

Contents
Enslavement in Africa and slave trade voyages
Slave markets and auctions
Slaves on plantations
Researching specific slaves or former slaves in Scotland
Records of prominent former slaves
The abolition movement
Court of Session cases
Estate and plantation records
Business records of merchants and slave owners
Wills and testaments
Registers of deeds
Pictorial evidence
Maps
Searching NAS, SCAN and NRAS online catalogues
United Kingdom government sources
- Acts, statutes and slave registers
- Manumissions
Websites and bibliography


Enslavement in Africa and slave trade voyages

There is little evidence in the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) of the enslavement and movement of slaves to African ports prior to shipping. Log books of ship voyages normally remain the property of ship owners and very few have found their way to Scottish archives. The NAS holds one letter describing a voyage on a slave trader from Bleney Harper (in Barbados) to William Gordon & Co., Glasgow, May 1731 (NAS ref. CS228/A/3/19). A greater proportion of evidence on the enslavement and movement of slaves can be found in The National Archives (in London) in the records of the African trading companies, Customs Outport, Board of Trade and the Admiralty. For more details see the research guides on the slave trade on The National Archives website (see below under United Kingdom government sources). Where evidence of the slave trade voyages exists in Scotland it is generally through court cases. For example, four cases involving owners of ships engaged in the slave trade, which were heard in the High Court of Admiralty in Scotland are: Daniel v Graham, 1721 (NAS ref. AC9/718), Clark v Inglis, 1727 (NAS ref. AC9/1022), Horseburgh v Bogle, 1727 (NAS ref. AC9/1042) and Alexander v Colhoun & Co, 1762 (NAS ref. CS228/A/3/19). The records of the Horseburgh v Bogle case are important as they give very detailed information about the way in which the slave trade was carried out in the early eighteenth century. There are more than 70 items including financial records, witness statements and other legal papers providing evidence of the export of 'guinea goods' from Britain to Africa, the role of the ship's surgeon as supercargo in purchasing slaves for transportation, and his contract with the Scottish merchants who backed the venture.

Slave markets and auctions

Following the union of parliaments in 1707, Scotland gained formal access to the transatlantic slave trade. Scottish merchants became increasingly involved in the trade and Scottish planters (especially sugar and tobacco) began to settle in the colonies, generating much of their wealth through slave labour. Evidence of the acquisition of slaves from slave traders and other slave owners can be found among the Estate and plantation records and the Business records of merchants and slave owners.

Slaves on plantations
The main source of information in the NAS for events and conditions on plantations is estate papers of landowners in Scotland who owned plantations in the colonies. Letters, inventories and, occasionally, estate plans in these collections are an excellent source for researching the lives of slaves on plantations in the colonies, their living conditions and the general attitude towards slavery and the slave trade. See below under Estate and plantation records and also Pictorial evidence.

Researching specific slaves or former slaves in Scotland
It is usually time-consuming to find information about any individuals in Scotland who lived prior to mid-19th century, but there may be opportunities for researching slaves or former slaves in Scotland. Church attendance for slaves was not allowed in most colonies on the grounds that baptism might have prompted slaves to claim their right to freedom as Christians. Once in Scotland, however, many slaves were allowed to be baptised, and evidence of this should be in old parish registers of baptisms or kirk session minutes. At the point of baptism slaves or former slaves often took the surnames of their masters, which should be borne in mind when searching baptismal registers. Released slaves were also allowed to marry and you may find an entry for their marriage in the old parish registers of marriages. Old parish registers are held at the General Register Office for Scotland. Some of these records are available using the ScotlandsPeople e-commerce website. Kirk session records of the Church of Scotland and most other presbyterian churches can be viewed in the NAS (and in some cases in local archives) (NAS ref. CH2-3), but most are not indexed.

In correspondence (social letters) and household records of families which owned slaves you might find letters or diaries referring to household slaves or accounts for things purchased for them. They sometimes also contain copies of wills, which might reveal if any slaves lived in the household and whether they were bequeathed themselves or were the recipients of the bequests. Lists of slaves are occasionally found in estate collections and these vary in the amount of detail they give, but they usually include the names of the slave, their age, any other family members and sometimes origin and medical condition.

Some former slaves were employed as apprentices with tradesmen. To find out more about the different types of trade records, read our guide to Crafts and trades.

In the late-eighteenth century there was a tax on some categories of servants in Scotland and surviving tax rolls for these are held by the NAS, arranged by burghs and counties and then by household, with the names of the servants and sometimes their jobs (NAS ref. E326/5-6). For more details read our guide to Taxation records.

After their release (or successful escape), some former slaves joined the Army. Muster rolls list new recruits and might mention any former slaves that joined. Searching them can be an arduous and time-consuming task, so you should ideally know the regiment the individual served in and their complete name. For more information on muster rolls, see our guide on Military records.

Until the abolition of slavery, the release of slaves was formalised through a 'manumission', i.e. a legal document granting the slave his or her freedom. Manumissions are contained within the papers of the Colonial Office and Foreign Office, held at The National Archives (TNA) - see below under United Kingdom government sources.

Records of prominent former slaves
Not much is known about how former slaves integrated in Scottish society, how they felt about and utilised their freedom. This is because there are very few first-hand accounts in Scottish archives left by former slaves. However, some individuals were well-known in Scotland at their time, such as George Dale, who was transported against his will from Africa, aged about eleven and ended up in Scotland after an unusual career as a plantation cook and crewman on a fighting ship. In 1789, during the time of the French Revolution, The Society for the Purpose of Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade gathered evidence like George Dale's life story for the anti-slavery abolitionist cause (NAS ref. GD50/235/2). You can read a transcript of this document in our news feature on George Dale.

Another well-known former slave was Scipio Kennedy. He had been brought to Scotland by Captain Andrew Douglas in 1702 from the West Indies, where he had been transported as a young boy from the African west coast. In 1705, Scipio joined the family of the Captain's daughter who married John Kennedy from Culzean in Ayrshire, and it was here that Scipio got his surname. He stayed in this family for an initial 20 years, during which time he was baptised and probably also received some education. Through his baptism, Scipio was free according to Scots law, so that when he decided after 20 years to continue service with his former owner for another 19 years, this was formalised by an indenture, which is held in the NAS (NAS ref. GD25/9/Box 72/9). Little is known about his later life, though he appears once in the kirk session minutes of Kirkoswald on 27 May 1728 (NAS ref. CH2/562/1), accused of fornication with Margaret Gray, whom he later married. We know from references in the old parish registers that they had at least eight children and continued to live in Ayrshire until Scipio's death in 1774.

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 (1774-77). The last case was the only one decided by the Court. James Montgomery (formerly 'Shanker', the property of Robert Sheddan of Morrishill in Ayrshire) died in the Edinburgh Tolbooth before the case could be decided. David Spens (previously 'Black Tom', belonging to Dr David Dalrymple in Methill in Fife) sued Dalrymple for wrongful arrest but Dalrymple died during the suit. Joseph Knight sought the freedom to leave the employment of John Wedderburn of Bandean, who argued that Knight, even though he was not recognised as a slave, was still bound to provide perpetual service in the same manner as an indentured servant or an apprenticed artisan. (see Court of Session cases).

The abolition movement
Many individual Scots were involved in the movement to abolish slavery or helped runaway slaves in Scotland in their quest for freedom. The Church of Scotland and other churches were also involved in the petitioning of parliament to abolish the slave trade in the late-eighteenth century and early-nineteenth century and individual church ministers baptised slaves in order to aid their attempts to gain freedom. The Court of Session cases challenging the status of slavery in Scotland reveal that local people helped runaway slaves – see under Court of Session cases. The NAS and SCAN online catalogues and the National Register of Archives can be used to some extent to search for material about the abolition movement and leading abolitionist figures, such as William Dickson of Moffat and William Wilberforce. See under Searching the NAS, SCAN and NRAS online catalogues below. Researchers into the abolition movement in Scotland should refer to Iain Whyte, Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery, 1756-1838 (Edinburgh University Press, 2006).

Court of Session cases

The Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, heard some cases concerning the commercial and property-owning aspects of the slave trade. Three cases concerning the status of slaves in Scotland also survive among the unextracted processes of the court in the NAS, as follows:

Montgomery v Sheddan, 1756
Among the petitions, declarations and other submissions by Sheddan and Montgomery in Court of Session (NAS ref. CS234/S/3/12) there survives the bill of sale from Joseph Hawkins, Fredricksburg, to Robert Sheddan of ‘One Negroe boy named Jamie’ (9 March 1750). To read more, see the feature on the Montgomery slavery case.

Spens v Dalrymple, 1769
The papers in unextracted processes are NAS ref. CS236/D/4/3 box 104 and NAS ref. CS236/S/3/13. For more information, see the feature on the Spens slavery case.

Knight v Wedderburn, 1774-7
The unextracted processes for this case (NAS ref. CS235/K/2/2) include an extract of process by the Sheriff Depute of Perth against Sir John Wedderburn (1774) and memorials by Wedderburn and Knight. For more information, see the feature on the Knight slavery case.

Estate and plantation records

Scottish families who settled in the colonies maintained contact with their relatives in Scotland, and extensive series of correspondence survive in some Scottish estate collections. In these letters, the work and life of slaves on the plantations is often touched on, and we also learn how slaves rebelled against their captivity, either by absconding from their owners or through organised rebellion. Although most slaves were made to work on their owners’ plantations, individual slaves were often employed in their owners’ households as servants, and would occasionally be mentioned in letters or diaries. It was mostly these slaves whom owners would take with them if they returned to Scotland. Accounts reveal any expenditure made for slaves, such as clothing, food and vaccines but also things like shackles and collars. Estate collections sometimes include household inventories drawn up at the death of the estate owner, which might mention slaves. Estate plans might show how slaves were accommodated. Some examples of plantation records in the NAS are Cameron & Co., Berbice, 1816-1824 (NAS ref. CS96/972), William Fraser, Berbice, 1830-1831 (NAS ref. CS96/1947), Robert Cunnyngham, St Christopher’s, 1729-1735, (NAS ref. CS96/3102) and Earls of Airlie, Jamaica, 1812-1873, (NAS ref. GD16/27/291). The OPAC can be searched by planter’s name, plantation name or by keywords such as ‘slavery’, ‘slaves’, 'negro', 'negroes', ‘plantation’ or a combination of keywords.

Business records of merchants and slave owners

Business records (such as correspondence, accounts and ledgers) give an insight into how the slave trade was operated. Letters between slave traders can reveal how slave markets and auctions were identified and how slaves were transported to the colonies and sold there. Merchants’ correspondence relating to the slave trade often concerns the triangular trade with the colonies but may also include references to the abolition of the slave trade insofar as it affected their business. Letters to and from purchasers tell us about the characteristics customers typically looked for in slaves. Accounts will usually give the sum of money paid or received and may also mention the purchasers' names and the physical condition of the slaves. Although slaves’ names are occasionally included as an ‘identifier’, normally only their first name is given. Examples of business records in the NAS, referring to the slave trade are Buchanan & Simpson, Glasgow, 1754-1773 (NAS ref. CS96/502-509) and Cameron & Co, Berbice, 1816-1824 (NAS ref. CS96/972-983). The CS96 records normally relate to Court of Session cases, whose references may be found in the same catalogue entry. To find relevant business records, you would ideally know the name of the company or individual dealing in slaves, as the entries in the OPAC are arranged by record creator. However, the above examples were identified by using relevant search terms such as ‘slave’, ‘slaves’ and ‘slave trade’.


Wills and testaments

There is evidence from wills and testaments that slaves in the colonies were regarded as ‘moveable property’, i.e. they could be bequeathed after the owner’s death. Copies of original testaments of plantation owners may survive in estate papers or among family papers. If the testament was registered by a court whose jurisdiction covered the plantation itself, the registers might survive in the relevant national archives of that country. Scots who owned land in both the colonies and in Scotland could have their testaments registered in the Commissary Court of Edinburgh and (later) the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh. The registers for both of these have been digitised and are searchable online via the ScotlandsPeople website. See below under Websites and bibliography.

Registers of Deeds

Contracts, indentures, factories and other legal papers concerning the sale of slaves can give details about the transaction, the parties involved, the price paid and other conditions under which the sale was to be finalised. Some of these are among collections of estate and plantation records or family papers (e.g. indenture between John Davies, Antigua, and James Matthew Hodges, Antigua, regarding the sale of a slave, 1833 (NAS ref. GD209/21) and indenture between Eliza Mines, Jamaica, and Cunningham Buchanan, Jamaica, regarding sale of two female slaves, 1809 (NAS ref. CS228/B/15/52)). It is possible that many others might appear in the various registers of deeds in the NAS, which can be very time-consuming to search. Many registers are not indexed, and those which are indexed are only by personal name. For more details on searching registers of deeds see the research guide.

Pictorial evidence

The NAS frequently receives enquiries for images of slaves, the slave trade, the abolition movement, aspects of plantation life and related topics. Almost all of the information in the NAS relating to these topics is in written form. The best source of pictorial illustrations and images in Scotland is Glasgow City Libraries and Archives. A good starting point is the 2002 exhibition ‘Slavery and Glasgow’, which is available online at the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) website.

Maps

Two published maps of the Gold Coast have come to the NAS via private record collections: (1) map of Africa according to Mr. D'Anville with additions and improvements and a particular chart of the Gold Coast, showing European forts and factories, 1772, published by Robert Sayer, London (NAS ref. RHP2069), and (2) map of Africa, improved and enlarged from D'Anville's map, including inset map of the Gold Coast and vignette of African figures, 1794, published by Laurie & Whittle, London (NAS ref. RHP9779). Some access restrictions apply to the second map: consult NAS Historical Search Room staff.

Searching NAS, SCAN and NRAS online catalogues

The NAS online catalogue is at http://www.nas.gov.uk/catalogues/default.asp. It contains many detailed entries at item level, and it is possible to search it using terms such as ‘slave’, ‘slavery’ etc, and by the name of a plantation or plantation owner. It is less likely to yield information on individual slaves and former slaves unless they became well-known.

The Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) online catalogue contains summary details of collections of records in more than 50 Scottish archives. Again this might be useful for searching for records of plantations and their owners, but not many other aspects of slavery. The SCAN website also contains the exhibition Slavery and Glasgow, which displays images of many of the types of material covered by this guide. The SCAN website is at http://www.scan.org.uk.

The online register of the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) is a catalogue of records held privately in Scotland. For more information go to the NRAS pages http://www.nas.gov.uk/nras/default.asp.


United Kingdom government sources

Acts, statutes and slave registers
The Act of 1807 only abolished the transatlantic slave trade, i.e. the shipping of slaves from Africa to the colonies in the Americas. The sale and transport of slaves between colonies were not affected by this legislation. Moreover, in spite of the new law, the slave trade across the Atlantic continued illicitly. In response to this, the British government passed a Bill in 1815, requiring the registration of legally-purchased slaves in the colonies. The system of slave registration was gradually introduced by 1817. The registers are an excellent source for researching individual slaves. The amount of detail they give varies, but you can generally expect to find the owner’s name, the slave’s name, age, colour, country of birth, occupation and further remarks. You should be aware when studying these records that there was some opposition to the registration bill among slave owners, so the registers are not complete. The NAS does not hold slave registers. For most former colonies, you will need to contact the respective national archive services.

In 1816, another Act came into force, requiring an annual return of the slave population in each colony. The returns were obtained by parish and normally record the owner’s name and the number of male and female slaves in their possession; they do not normally include the slaves’ names. These records are a good source for identifying individual slave owners. Returns were taken until 1834.

During the 1820s, the British government began to make provisions for the gradual amelioration of slavery. This development towards its complete abolition in the British colonies is well documented in private and business letters from slave owners as well as speeches and pamphlets by abolitionists (see The abolition movement). The new measures imposed by the government included Acts for the ‘government and protection of the slave population’, passed between 1826 and 1830. These Acts addressed topics such as minimum standards for food and clothing, labour conditions, penal measures and provisions for old and sick slaves. In Jamaica, slaves could no longer be separated from their families, and released slaves were allowed to own personal property and to receive bequests. Murder of a slave was to be punished with death. In Barbados, owners were instructed to have all their slaves baptised and clergymen were required to record births, baptisms, marriages and deaths occurring in the slave population. Slaves charged with capital offences were to be tried in court in the same way as white and free-coloured persons. In Grenada, every slave was to be given a proportion of land adequate to their support and be granted 28 working days per year to cultivate it. In Antigua, owners were required to build a two-roomed house for every female slave pregnant with her first child. A printed abstract of these Acts is held within a private collection in the NAS (NAS ref. GD142/57). For further information see the Parliamentary Archives website. (see below under Websites and bibliography).

Manumissions

Occasionally, owners would decide to release some of their slaves. The release was formalised through a ‘manumission’, i.e. a document granting the slave his or her freedom. Manumissions are contained within the papers of the Colonial Office and Foreign Office, held at The National Archives (TNA). For more details of these and the records of the Office of the Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, 1812-1851, including the central register of slaves in London, see the research guides on the slave trade on The National Archives website (see below under Websites and bibliography).

There are also some individual manumissions contained in estate papers held privately in Scotland. To search these and to find out more about how to access them, see the website of NRAS.


Websites and bibliography

Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) -use the online catalogue to search for records relating to slavery in Scottish archives and view the Slavery and Glasgow exhibition
The National Archives, London (TNA) -consult the research guides on slavery and the slave trade
One Scotland website - includes a list of resources on Scotland and the slave trade
Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) - learning resources on the role of Scottish merchants in the slave trade
ScotlandsPeople - census returns; civil registers of births, deaths and marriages (from 1855 onwards); Old Parish Registers of baptisms and marriages; wills and testaments registered in Scotland
Parliamentary Archives website - includes a micro-site: Parliament and the British Slave Trade

For the website addresses for all of these see above under other websites.

Books -
Eric J Graham, A Maritime History of Scotland 1650-1790 (Tuckwell Press, 2002)
Eric J Graham, Seawolves: Pirates and the Scots (Birlinn Ltd, 2007)
David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735-1785, (Cambridge University Press, 1995)
Alan L Karras, Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800 (Cornell University Press, 1992)
Kenneth Morgan, Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Iain Whyte, Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery, 1756-1838 (Edinburgh University Press, 2006)
Frances Wilkins, Dumfries & Galloway and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Wyre Forest Press, 2007)

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