Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scotland built on slavery

When the British Government passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 – 26 years after the trade itself had been done away with. it paid  the equivalent to £2 billion today which  was said to be equal to 40% of the government's entire budget in compensation to slave-owners.

Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, who in 1851 forced some 3000 of his tenants on the Outer Hebrides to emigrate to Canada. Cluny died in 185 received a total of £24,964 in compensation, relating to 1383 slaves across six plantations in Tobago, in the southern Caribbean.

Other Scots include James Cheyne, who cleared tenants from the Isle of Lismore in the 1840s and 1850s; the Malcolms of Poltalloch, who were involved in clearances in Argyll; Sir Archibald Alison, a noted social commentator; James McCall and Patrick Maxwell Stewart, who both had substantial holdings in railways; the Marquis of Breadalbane, and Sir William Forbes.

The figure was £6 for a child, an average of £50 for an able fieldworker, or between £18 and £20 if the fieldworker didn't have any specific skills to offer. For the top craftsmen within the slave population, like the sugar-boilers, who had a dangerous job and were particularly well sought-after, the figure might be £100. Slave-owners were allowed to claim compensation according to the composition of their workforce. A white artisan worker in Scotland would have been paid 25 shillings, of £1.25, a week, which is an instructive comparison.

 Scottish historian Professor Tom Devine "The list is mainly, perhaps even exclusively, concerned with the Caribbean. The great Tobacco Trade of the 18th century in Glasgow could not have existed without un-free labour.These are people on the list who were compensated for owning slaves but it does not include professional people, such as physicians, overseers, merchants and military people, who all gained from the plantation economies. Glasgow is usually the place that is cited as having a colonial connection, but if you look at the range of names and locations on the database, it is everywhere in Scotland, particularly in rural areas. This is why some people have argued that these monies were very important in terms of such things as agricultural improvement and the like."

Prof Devine said: “The myth has always been that Glasgow, for example, didn’t dirty its hands with the great transatlantic trade in blacks. Scotland was deeply involved in this but we are still in a degree of denial.”

Historians believe that much of Glasgow was built on slavery. Merchants earned huge fortunes from trading and so-called ‘Tobacco Lords’ — including John Glassford, Andrew Buchanan, James Dunlop and Archibald Ingram — all had streets named after them.

Professor Catherine Hall said it was "very striking" how many slave-owners there were in Scotland. She said: "The empire offered opportunities to the Scots on a very significant scale and working on the plantations was a favoured choice for Scots seeking their fortunes in the late 18th and early 19th century."

Nor should it be forgotten that during the American Civil War much of Scottish business – including the owners of the Glasgow Herald newspaper – was firmly pro-South. Scottish shipyards, then at the cutting edge of marine technology, built the only fast steamers capable of evading the Union blockade of Confederate harbours and supplying the rebellion. Vast fortunes were being made by Clydeside shipbuilders and brokers building ships to beat the blockade. At the height of this boom in 1864, Warner Underwood, the US consul in Glasgow, complained that 27 Clyde yards were building no fewer than 42 large blockade runners. Early 1860s Scotland was the scene of a cat-and-mouse game between Confederate agents and Federal spies, the latter operating from a safe house in the sedate dormitory village of Bridge of Allan.  The cash rewards for the Scots involved in this illicit trade were phenomenal. The sum total spent on building and refitting runners up to 1864 was £1.4 million (about £140m in today's money) – one-third of which was pure profit. These blockade-runners made up no less than one-third of the vessels that ran the Union blockade – more than half the British-built tonnage. The South had few of the industries needed to equip and support armies of half a million men and acquiring modern (mainly British-made) weaponry was vital to the war effort.

Nor was it exclusively an elite preference. Scots coal miners, unlike Lancashire cotton workers, were working-class supporters of the slave-owning South. The South's morale was sustained by romantic 19th-century nationalist mythology partly derived from the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Many Victorian Scots made the link between the Confederate armies with those other glamorised underdogs of Scott's novels, the Jacobites, while the daring victories of Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson were won by quasi-guerrilla tactics overpowering stronger armies, offering Scots parallels with the victories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. For the American South, romantic nationalism and chivalry were, of course, no more than sugar coatings on an economic system based on slavery, but they played a big part in causing the rebellion and keeping it going

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