JACOBITE REBELLION OF 1745 AND SLAVERY
In 1745 Jacobite poet William Hamilton wrote the poem Gladsmuir, to commemorate the Jacobite victory at the Battle of Prestopans over English forces. A stanza of the poem read;
“‘Tis done! my sons! 'tis nobly done!"
Victorious over tyrant power;
How quick the race of fame was run!
The work of ages in one hour:
Slow creeps the' oppressive weight of slavish reigns;
One glorious moment rose, and burst your chains.
In the years surrounding the rebellion, other forms of resistance and rebellion were also widely published in Scottish newspapers;
“That on Friday last, a NEGROE BOY about fifteen Years of Age, deserted the Service of William Crawford, Junior, Merchant in Glasgow, and is supposed to have gone towards Stirling. He spoke very bad English, had a Brown Freeze Coat, and Blue Waist Coat, and is very innknee'd. Whoever will bring back the said Boy to his Master, or give such Information of him, as that he may be apprehended, shall have a sufficient Reward.”
Glasgow Journal, (Glasgow) 9 January 1746. Reproduced from ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain’ database at https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/database/table/
“RUN away from the Royal Infirmary some Days ago, a NEGROE MAN, about 22 Years of Age, pretty tall, newly recovered of the Small-pox, marked on the Shoulder G. M. Whoever shall apprehend him, or give Information so as he shall be recovered, shall receive a Guinea of Reward, and all reasonable Charges paid, upon Application to the Publisher of this Paper. - NB. If he be found in any Person’s Custody after this publick Notification, and not delivered up, they will be prosecute according to the Law.”
Edinburgh Evening Courant, (Edinburgh) 9 December 1746. Reproduced from ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain’ database at https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/database/table/
“That Saturday last the NEGRO, Cesa[r, (for]merly advertised) run away again from Captain [...] of the St. David of London. He is about 6 Fo[ot ...], speaks some English, and had on a Tartan Vest and [...] Coat, and has several Cuts in his Head. Whoever [appre]hends him shall have half a Guinea of Reward from Christopher Seton at Leven, or Baillie Mortimer [...]sart.”
Caledonia Mercury, (Edinburgh), 26 February 1740. Reproduced from ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain’ database at https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/database/table/
“RUN away from Colonel McDowell of Castle-Sempill, upon the 30th of January, a Negro Man, named CATO, alias JOHN; he is middle-aged, pretty tall, ill Legs, with squat or broad Feet: Any Person who apprehends him, or gives any Information of him to Colonel McDowell, or to Mr. Alexander Houston Merchant in Glasgow, shall have a sufficient Reward paid him.”
Glasgow Courant, (Glasgow), 1 February 1748. Reproduced from ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain’ database at https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/database/table/
And a rare Scottish runaway adverts that mention a female enslaved African;
“RUN away on the 7th Instant from Dr. Gustavus Brown’s Lodgings in Glasgow, a Negro Woman, named Ann, being about 18 Years of Age, with a green Gown and a Brass Collar about her Neck, on which are engraved these Words [“Gustavus Brown in Dalkeith his Negro.”] Whoever apprehends her, so as she may be recovered, shall have two Guineas Reward, and necessary Charges allowed by Laurence Dinwiddie Junior Merchant in Glasgow, or by James Mitchelson, Jeweller in Edinburgh.”
Edinburgh Evening Courant, (Edinburgh), 13 February 1727. Reproduced from ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain’ database at https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/database/table/
Hamilton’s cries of freedom and invoking of slave imagery; ‘slavish reigns and chains’ is ironic in light of the fact that persons such as Ann, Cato, Caesar and countless others, captives of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, were at the time of Jacobite Rebellion denied their freedom in Scotland, England and the British Empire.
While the year 1745 and the Jacobite Rebellion would then go on to be memorialized in Scottish history, captured in the works of the Scottish Romantic poets and embedded in the national narrative, a narrative that situates Scots as the oppressed freedom-fighters, the story of these slaves were all but forgotten, a casualty of a national identity based on being the oppressed not the oppressor, the colonized not the colonizer, and the story of their involvement in slavery was suppressed and rather than collaborators in the enslavement of people, they fashioned themselves as great abolitionists an image that still persists today.
SCOTS AND SLAVERY
Historically however, the Scots played a major role in the British Empire as slave traders, plantation owners, overseers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, and financiers. The Scottish were over-represented in slave ownership records and in the eighteenth-century a third of Jamaican plantations were Scottish owned despite Scots being less than 10% of the British population. Highly educated and motivated to migrate, Scots formed networks throughout the empire facilitating the trading of slaves (at least thirty ships sailing from Scottish ports for the sole purpose of trading slaves) and of slave- produced goods. In the 18th century, Glasgow was the largest importer of colonial tobacco in the world and earned the moniker ‘Second-city of the Empire.’ Scotland saw unprecedented growth during the period of slavery, which is directly attributed to its imperial mercantile exploits.
HISTORIOGRAPHY and ARCHIVES
The question then remains why did it take so long for Scotland’s slave history to come to light? In city such as Glasgow with areas named Merchant City, Jamaica St and Plantation, why were no questions asked? When countries in the Caribbean are overwhelming riddled with Scottish place names and the Jamaican phone book reads like a Scottish one, how did Scotland’s slave history drift from academic and civic consciousness?
Slavery was not featured in Scottish historical scholarship until roughly fifteen years ago, despite several works being published on Scottish West Indian merchants, who were sometimes referred to as Tobacco Lords or the Sugar Aristocracy. The enslaved African labour behind the merchant monikers were all but rendered invisible. In the 2014 work Recovering Scotland’s Slave Past, Sir Tom Devine referred to Scotland as suffering a ‘collective amnesia’ in regards to the countries roles in slavery and empire. However, I believe the lack of slave scholarship goes beyond a simple act of forgetting but points to a systematic erasure of black histories and the privileging of certain histories above others. In this matter Scotland does not stand alone, but instead it is a failure of western academia and institutions which according to Professor of Black Studies, Celeste- Marie Bernier; “denies, distorts and obliterates’ black history.
By omitting these figures, museums and institutions have re-shaped history. The truth is that when working in trans-Atlantic slave studies, there will always be gaps in the records, the commodification or thingification as Aimee Cesaire would put it, of enslaved Africans means that the personal story often seems lost, they are presented as chattel, stock, inventory or in the instance of runaway ads, lost property. We know them by cold facts; age, height, colour, skill and worth, but little else. However, these lists can reveal so much more; in 1773 on Hampden estate all 9 nine slave children born that year died of yaws or that over a 20 year period a slave woman named Cleopatra gave birth to four mulatto children, suggesting that she had been the sexual partner of one of the white men on the plantation, based on the dates most likely the overseer, she was also moved from fieldwork to being a seamstress in the estate house hinting at the complicated dynamics of plantation life (Glasgow City Archives, Stirling of Keir Papers, reference# T-SK).
In 1745, stories are mined from these bits of information. Earlier, the ads were referred to as evidence of acts of resistance and rebellion, not simply a call to reclaim lost property, but the act of running away from one’s master is an act of resistance to the institution of slavery. Running away in Scotland in the dead of winter was no easy feat.
Professor Charmain Nelson, who studies runaway adverts in Canada says that in these clippings slave owners are forced to contend with the humanity of the enslaved in an attempt to recapture their property. They have to admit the fact they are not a nameless collective but individuals; some who can speak multiple languages like Jonas, who ran away in Plymouth, contradicting the idea of the ignorant negro. Or that in the case of Cato, they practised resistance by answering to aliases rejecting the names given by their masters in this instance John.
Lastly, a number of runaway slave ads end with wording similar to this; “NB. If he be found in any Person’s Custody after this publick Notification, and not delivered up, they will be prosecute according to the Law.” This suggests that there were people helping enslaved people to escape or perhaps claiming them for themselves when discovered, either way it adds new dimension to the fugitive slave story.
The short-film 1745 tells the fictional story of two enslaved sisters, Emma and Rebecca who attempt to run away from their owner, Master Andrews in the Scottish Highlands. Sisters, Morayo and Moyo Akande, writer and actresses in the film were inspired to create 1745 from 18th century Scottish newspaper clippings advertising runaway slaves. These advertisements are one of the few remnants of the Scotland’s enslaved population. Despite being from the ‘massa’s gaze’ runaway advertisement shed light on what the enslaved wore, languages they spoke, skills they possessed and physical attributes. The Runaway Slaves in Britain project headed by Prof Simon Newman, Dr Stephen Mullen and PhD candidate Nelson Mundell of the University of Glasgow has created a database of all the runaway slave advertisements published in British newspapers making the information more readily accessible to the public. Projects such as Runaway Slaves in Britain creates a space for people to learn more about slavery in Britain, but also to engage with material to further on the narrative, such as 1745.
It is within these seemingly inconsequential details that 1745 is set, mining the adverts for information, expanding and reimagining the clippings to breathe life into runaway sisters Emma and Rebecca. More importantly, they reclaim those brief clinical words and attempt to reconstitute the invisible from the enslaves’ point of view, adding nuance and depth.
Filmed in the Scottish Highlands, the setting seems an improbable place for slave-ownership and even less likely place to stage a daring escape. The setting also points to the fact that slavery is often relegated to the colonial plantations of distant lands, or the port cities of Britain but rarely is it understood the slavery permeated many places and aspects of life, ranging from ‘negro servant’ in the tobacconist shop in Glasgow to Scipio at Culzean Castle in beautiful Ayrshire to the stately country houses in the Scottish Highlands. Slaver-ownership compensation records, compiled by University College London show that slave-ownership ranged from hundreds of enslaved Africans to individual slaves often passed down as gifts or inheritance. The database shows the 709 individuals with Scottish addresses claimed for compensation for the loss of their slaves due to the 1833 Emancipation Act.
Slavery scholarship often focuses on the white slave-owners, primarily due to lack of information on the enslaved, and their lives in our minds often beginning at the slave forts or Middle Passage; their prior lives seemingly inconsequential to the story of slavery. The history of enslaved people transcends beyond the limits of the period of enslavement, it begs us to look at their lives, before, during and after; the former and the latter often obscured and treated with less interest in the historiography. The fates of most of Scotland’s runaway slaves completely unknown, which is echoed at the end of 1745. But more importantly, to think that the aftermath of slavery bears little significance is to ignore the generational trauma and racism that still endures.
To learn more about this subject see…
Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century, https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/
Devine, Tom M. (ed.). Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2015.
Glasgow Museums, Legacies of Slavery in Glasgow Museums and Collections, https://glasgowmuseumsslavery.co.uk/
Hamilton, William. The Poems of William Hamilton, Princeton University: Princeton, 2009.
John W. Cairns (2012) After Somerset: The Scottish Experience, The Journal of Legal History, 33:3, 291-312
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