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Scottish Slavery

"It wisnae us"

At the beginning of the 18th century, Glasgow was a poor town and Scotland, an isolated country. The 1707 Act of Union opened up trading opportunities and entrepreneurs seized their opportunity. The economic boom in the 18th and 19th century was built on profits from the West Indies, "...ultimately, profits built from slavery." according to James Cant, a Scottish historian re-examining the emergence of Scotland as an economic powerhouse. "We look at the agrarian revolution in Scotland, the scientific development, and we look at entrepreneurial excellence in Scotland. We never looked at the other side of the ocean to where the raw material and the wealth were truly coming from."

Iain Whyte, author of Scotland and the Abolition of Slavery, insists we have at times ignored our guilty past. He said: "For many years Scotland's historians harboured the illusion that our nation had little to do with the slave trade or plantation slavery. We swept it under the carpet. This was remarkable in the light of Glasgow's wealth coming from tobacco, sugar and cotton, and Jamaica Streets being found in a number of Scottish towns and cities. For many years, the goods and profits from West Indian slavery were unloaded at Kingston docks in Glasgow."

One of Scotland's foremost philosophers of the Enlightenment, David Hume, declared:
"I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences."

Slavery has been dubbed "the most profitable evil in the world". It is estimated that 20,000,000 African people were bought or captured in Africa and transported into New World slavery. 75% of all Africa's exports in 18th century were enslaved human beings. Only about half survived to work on the plantations, with a slave's life expectancy averaging a mere four years. Young Scotsmen rushed to the West Indies to make quick fortunes as slave masters and administrators. Many Scots overseers were considered among the most brutal. There are many examples of mistreatment and abuse of enslaved Africans by Scots. The conduct of these Scots was often shocking – but this should not be surprising because we know that "under certain conditions and social pressures, ordinary people can commit acts that would otherwise be unthinkable".

It did not become illegal to own a slave in Scotland until 1778. Until then it had been fashionable for wealthy families to have a young black boy or girl servant. Scottish newspapers, such as the Edinburgh Evening Courant and the Caledonian Mercury from the 1740s to the 1770s, carried adverts offering slaves for sale or rewards for the capture of escaped slaves.

Many of our industries, our schools and our churches were founded from the profits of African slavery. Scottish capitalists reaped the fruits of their labour in the colonies in the sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations. These industries saw Glasgow and much of the country flourish, were built on the backs of slaves. The profits slaves helped to create kick-started the industrial revolution in Scotland and brought it's merchants and traders great wealth. Familiar names such as Tate and Lyle was built on slavery. James Ewing of Glasgow who owned Caymanas sugar plantation in Jamaica built the Necropolis.

Scotland dominated the Virginian tobacco market. By 1720 Glasgow imported over half of all the American slave-grown tobacco. The "Tobacco Lords" made their fortunes in the colonies before returning to Scotland, many building large mansions. Tobacco made up over one third of Scotland’s imports and over half its exports. This trade was fantastically profitable and tobacco traders became some of the richest men in the world. Landowners had an interest in the tobacco trade and had the money to invest in ships. The noveau riche behaved outrageously with their new-found fortune. The Trongate in Glasgow’s Merchant City was their own private street. It was paved. They did not want to walk on muddy roads with the riff-raff as it would ruin their outfits. Poor people were beaten if they used the Trongate. Buchanan Street was named after a tobacco merchant called Andrew Buchanan.

The "Wee" Free Church was founded in 1843 . It raised some funds from slave-owning Presbyterian churches in the United States. Many people felt that the Free Church was therefore sympathetic to the slave-owners and opposed to the emancipation of the slaves. "Send back the money" became a popular rallying cry. The Church of Scotland did not petition Parliament to end the Slave Trade or Slavery.

Even schools have a dark history. Bathgate Academy was built from money willed by John Newland, a renowned slave master and Dollar and Inverness Academies had a similar foundation of being funded by West Indies profits.

A host of other buildings and institutions Glasgow The Gallery of Modern Art (Stirling Library) was originally built by tobacco merchant William Cunningham as his home. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Harmony House, Inveresk Lodge, were either bought or built using money acquired from slavery.

In St Andrew Square in Edinburgh there is a monument toHenry Dundas, who prolonged British slavery in the Caribbean by stopping MPs voting for its abolition. He also tried to reverse the independence process in Haiti as he feared similar rebellions damaging the economics of British slavery. He selected governors for the slave islands and, as governor of the Bank of Scotland, loaned money to shore up the slave business of his friends. When Wilberforce tried to secure the abolition of the slave trade, Dundas frustrated the process and forced him to add two notorious words to his Bill "gradually abolished". These two words ensured that slavery lasted 31 more years. To achieve abolition,£20 million was also paid in compensation to slave plantation owners in the West Indies - over 40% of the national budget, the equivalent of around £1.12 billion.

Alexander Allerdyce of Aberdeenshire was a slave trader. He took more African slaves to Jamaica than the entire population of Aberdeen at the time.

John Glassford owned 25 ships in nine trading posts in Maryland and eleven in Virginia. By 1775, Glassford controlled more than half the Clyde. He helped finance the Forth and Clyde canal. He set up the Fowlis Academy, a school for art and design.

By 1800 there were 10,000 Scots in Jamaica. Scottish surnames such as Douglas, Robinson, Reid, Russell, Lewis, McFarlane, McKenzie, McDonald, Grant, Gordon, Graham, Stewart, Simpson, Scott, Ferguson, Frazer and Farquharson are common in Jamaica. Many of the slave plantations were given Scottish names such as Monymusk, Hermitage, Hampden, Glasgow, Argyle, Glen Islay, Dundee, Fort William, Montrose, Roxbro, Dumbarton, Old Monklands and Mount Stewart. In 1817 Scots owned almost a third of all the slaves in Jamaica.

Enslaved Scots

Startling as it may sound, the slavery of the native Scot continued longer than that of the black slave. In 1606, an Act was passed, which ordained that no person should fee, hire, or conduce any salters, colliers, or coal-bearers without a sufficient testimonial from the master whom they had last served, and that any one hiring them without such testimonial was bound, upon challenge within a year and a day by their late master, to deliver them up to him, under a penalty of £100 for each person and each act of contravention, the colliers, bearers, and salters so transgressing and receiving wages to be held as thieves and punished accordingly. The colliers and salters were unquestionably slaves. They were bound to continue their service during their lives, were fixed to their places of employment, and sold with the works to which they belonged. It had been the rule for the collier and his family to live and be cared for and die on the estate on which he was born. Up till the year 1661, colliers and salters were the only workers to whom the Act applied, but in that year an addition made embracing other colliery workers - named watermen, windsmen, and gatesmen. An Act passed in 1672, for the establishment of correction-houses for idle beggars and vagabonds, authorized "coal-masters, salt-masters, and others, who have manufactories in this kingdom, to seize upon any vagabonds or beggars wherever they can find them, and to put them to work in the coal-heughs or other manufactories, who are to have the same power of correcting them and the benefit of their work as the masters of the correction-houses.

So completely did the law of Scotland regard them as a distinct class, not entitled to the same liberties as their fellow-subjects, that they were excepted from the Scotch Habeas Corpus Act of 1701. In 1775 their condition attracted the notice of the legislature, and an act was passed for their relief . Its preamble stated that "many colliers and salters are in a state of slavery and bondage" and that their emancipation "would remove the reproach of allowing such a state of servitude to exist in a free country." But so deeply rooted was this hateful custom, that Parliament did not venture to condemn it as illegal. It was provided that colliers and salters commencing work after the 1st of July 1775, should not become slaves; and that those already in a state of slavery might obtain their freedom in seven years, if under twenty-one years of age; in ten years, if under thirty-five. The Act imposed so many conditions to be observed by those to be freed, such as they were obliged to obtain a decree of the Sheriff's Court that little advantage was taken of it. Moreover, many of the masters were not disposed to give up their old rights without a struggle, and they sought to retain their hold on the workers by advancing money which the poor colliers were too ready to accept and with the advances being kept up as debts against them the colliers were rarely in a condition to press their claims to freedom. Hence the act was practically inoperative. But eventually in 1799, their freedom was established by law


The White Slave Cargo

White servants came to the Colonies and the Caribbean before most of the African slaves. Large numbers of Scottish people were sent to the colonies largely against their will in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mainstream histories refer to these labourers as indentured or bonded servants, not slaves, because many agreed to work for a set period of time in exchange for land and rights. However, the term slavery applies to any person who is bought and sold, chained and abused, whether for a decade or a lifetime. Excerpts from wills show how white servants would be passed down along with livestock and furniture. During that indenture period the servants were not paid wages, but they were provided food, room, clothing. Indentures could not marry without the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishment (like many young ordinary servants), and saw their obligation to labour enforced by the courts. To ensure uninterrupted work by the female servants, the law lengthened the term of their indenture if they became pregnant. One could buy and sell indentured servants' contracts, and the right to their labour would change hands.

Many early settlers died long before their indenture ended or found that no court would back them when their owners failed to deliver on promises. And many never achieved their freedom with many of the labourers dying before their 4 to 7 years were complete due to the harsh conditions and the often brutal treatment by the plantation owners. Those that survived often remained in the Caribbean and became managers and overseers.

Convicted criminals and political prisoners, including religious nonconformists, were also sent to the colonies as a workforce. In the late 17th century the religious turmoil in Scotland produced a regular supply of indentured labourers.Covenanters and Scottish royalists captured by Cromwell after battle were sold as indentured labourers to the West Indies. In 1666 the city fathers of Edinburgh shipped off "beggars, vagabonds and others not fitt to stay in the kingdome" to Virginia in the Phoenix of Leith under Captain James Gibson. The Scots Privy Council also saw indentured labour as an opportunity to get rid of undesirables and those guilty of certain crimes, and they regularly sent people to Virginia as a punishment rather than keep them in jail.

Ultimately indentured labour did not bring the profit desired. For example, the cost of indentured labor rose by nearly 60 percent throughout the 1680s in some colonial regions. A cheaper source of labour was sought and the plantation owners quickly realised the potential profit that could be made from buying and selling Africans, grasping the opportunity of using a malleable renewable labour force. When slaves arrived in greater numbers after 1700, white labourers became a privileged status and assigned to lighter work and more skilled tasks.

Wage Slavery

It was only when economists like Adam Smith suggested slavery hampered freedom of enterprise that the argument took hold that it was no longer financially viable. It was about economics. Now it was the turn of wage slavery to chain people.

Those who defended the slavery and indentured labour described how owners had to feed, clothe and shelter their enslaved workers and how this made them better off than labourers in the factories in Europe since the factory workers' very small wages hardly kept them in food and clothes and shelter. Capitalist factory-owners needed a flexible labour force and a reserve of workers they could draw on in times of expansion and who could be discarded in times of slump. They did not want to own their workers, precisely because they wanted, when business took a downturn, to be free of any obligation to maintain them as they would have had to with chattel slaves. They favoured “free” labour. They were only interested in buying their workers’ ability to work for a limited period. “Free” labour meant more than that the worker was just not a chattel slave. It meant that he or she was also not tied to the land either as a peasant or a serf. It means that the only productive resource they own is their ability to work, their labour-power, which they are “free” to sell to some capitalist employer or other. Socialists regard labour as free only where the labourers themselves individually or collectively own and control the means by which they labour (land, tools, machinery, etc.).

The legal, social and political status of wage-slaves is superior to that of chattel slaves. However, when we compare their position in the labour process itself, we see that here the difference between them is not a fundamental one. A wage or a salary is the price of the human commodity labour power, the capacity to work. Because workers are compelled to work for their employers for a duration of time, being exploited, the wages system is literally a form of slavery and the working class are wage slaves. We are all compelled to obey the orders of the “boss” who owns the instruments of production with which we work or who represents those who own them. In a small enterprise the boss may convey his orders directly, while in a large enterprise orders are passed down through a managerial hierarchy - overseers. But in all cases it is ultimately the boss who decides what to produce and how to produce it. The products of the labour of the (chattel or wage) slaves do not belong to us. Nor, indeed, does our own activity.

Another obvious difference between chattel slavery and wage slavery is that as a chattel slave you are enslaved – totally subjected to another’s will – at every moment from birth to death, in every aspect of your life. As a wage-slave, you are enslaved only at those times when your labour power is at the disposal of your employer. At other times, in other aspects of your life you enjoy a certain measure of freedom. The wage-slave has some scope for self-development and self-realisation that is denied the chattel slave. Limited to be sure, for the wage-slave must regularly return to the world of wage labour.

According to Engels: "The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence."

It is sometimes objected that wage workers are not slaves because they have the legal right to leave a particular employer, even if in practice they may be reluctant to use that right out of fear of not finding another job. All that this proves, however, is that the wage worker is not the slave of any particular employer. For Marxists, the owner of the wage-slave is not the individual capitalist but the capitalist class. Whether we choose the wages system or not, we are in reality bound to it. We are not by law bound to a single individual, but, in fact, to the capitalist class as a whole. You can leave one employer, but only in order to look for a new one. What you cannot do, lacking as you do access to the means of life, is escape from the thrall of employers as a class – that is, cease to be a wage-slave.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, born on a Maryland plantation in 1817 makes it clear in his book My Bondage and My Freedom:
"In the country, this conflict is not so apparent; but, in cities, such as Baltimore, Richmond, New Orleans, Mobile etc; it is seen pretty clearly. The slave-holder with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, labouring white men against the blacks, succeeds in making the said white men almost as much a slave as the black slave himself. The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from his, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers"

With slavery the workers themselves become commodities, they have no rights and are legally the property of the person who controls them. With the wage system the labour power of the worker becomes one of the main commodities in the marketplace. Capitalist social relations emerged with the expropriation of common land by the aristocracy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Enclosures destroyed the lives of thousands of peasant families, turning them into propertyless vagabonds. Deprived of their land, their homes, their traditional surroundings and the protection of the law, the expropriated peasantry were left to sell the one thing they possessed - their ability to work.

The Chartist, Ernest Jones, dismissed the demand for "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work", which was to ask for:
"...a golden slavery instead of an iron one. But that golden chain would soon be turned to iron again, for if you still allow the system of wages slavery to exist, labour must be still subject to capital, and if so, capital being its master, will possess the power and never lack the will to reduce the slave from his fat diet down to fast-day fare!"

The law grants us personal liberties, and we therefore have the right to make our own decisions: where to live; who to work for; or whether to work at all. But underlying this veil of freedom are the real, material, physical facts, and they run as such: you can only live where you can afford to live; you can only work for someone who will willingly employ you; and while you are under no legal obligation to work for anyone at all, you will find it a struggle to live while not doing so.

Noam Chomsky has explained that “the effort to overcome ‘wage-slavery’ has been going on since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, and we haven’t advanced an inch. In fact, we’re worse off than we were a hundred years ago in terms of understanding the issues.”

The Socialist Party appears to be the only political organisation in this country to take this task at all seriously. The Socialist Party do not just want to win a better deal for wage-slaves. We want to abolish slavery. We are the wage-slavery abolitionists! The influence of the capitalist system has ensured that many do not yet understand the necessity for the working class to free itself from slavery. It is a slavery not only of the body but of the mind too and that must be the worst enslavement of all.

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