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David Alston's Slaves & Highlanders

Sharing my research on Highland Scots and the slave plantations of Guyana

Great new fortunes might not have been possible in Jamaica or Barbados in the first decades of the nineteenth century, but they were certainly being made in Berbice and Demerara–Essequibo . . .  British Guiana was . . . the nineteenth-century sugar frontier . . . New people were making new money on new land.

Trevor Burnard, Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2015)

Tom M Devine (ed), Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection (EUP, 2015).

'One of the most important books to be published in Scotland this century.' Kevin McKenna, Observer (22 Nov 2015)

'Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past is an illuminating marvel. But the very fact that it illuminates is a measure of the darkness that prevailed until recently.' Ian Bell, Herald, 10 Oct 2015.

'The paramount truth to emerge from the essays in Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past is that this little country was a big player in a hellish business.' Rosemary Goring, review article in the Herald (10 Oct 2015)

My essay in this book ‘The habits of these creatures in clinging one to the other': Enslaved Africans, Scots and the plantations of Guyana' was described as 'excellent' by Dr Nuala Zahedieh (Director, Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies) speaking at the launch of the book on 22 October 2015.

This pioneering volume also has a resonance far beyond slavery, underlining the impact of slavery on Scotland itself. Here is a book which ultimately demands a broader reappraisal of modern Scottish history.

James Walvin, author of Crossings: Africa, the Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade



Forthcoming (May 2016)

David Alston, Behavioural economics and the paradox of Scottish emigration: ‘You have only seen the fortunate few and drawn your conclusion accordingly’

in Angela McCarthy & John Mackenzie (eds), Global Migrations: The Scottish Diaspora since 1600 (EUP, 2016): A tribute to Professor Sir Tom Devine, FBA, the leading historian of modern Scotland and its diaspora.



Published May 2015:

David Alston, 'A Forgotten Diaspora: The Children of Enslaved and ‘Free Coloured’ Women and Highland Scots in Guyana Before Emancipation' in Northern Scotland, Volume 6, Issue 1, Page 49-69 available online from Edinburgh University Press.


First Scots in Guyana: For a summary of the first Scots to become involved with plantations in Guyana see the notes which can be downloaded here.

Scots in Surinam: I am beginning to add information on Scots in the neighbouring Dutch colony of Surinam, many of whom moved there from Berbice. Slavery was not abolished in Surinam until 1863 and so these were some of Britain's last slave owners. See Scots in Surinam on this site.

Philip Dikland of KDV Architects, Paramaribo, Suriname has created a database of information on the history of 400 plantations in Surinam. This extraordinarily rich Heritage Database can be accessed through KDV's web site.

Right: Statue of Tata Colin, messianic leader of a slave rising on the Scottish-owned plantation Leasowes (Coronie, Surinam) in 1835.


Finding you way around the site? - this may help:

Index of 550 people with connections to the Highlands and plantations in Guyana.

Indexes also now available for Other Scots, English, Irish, North American, Other Caribbean and Other European

Or try using the FIND box at the top of the right-hand column on this page which will search within this site.


Joshua Bryant's idealised Rainbow over a Plantation (top) contrasts with the same artist's illustration of slaves executed after the Demerara slave uprising of 1823.