Get your free website from Spanglefish

David Alston's Slaves & Highlanders

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

October 2018: read my Guest Blog 'Museums of Forgetting and Remembering' on the Antislavery Usable Past Project.


May 2018 - New publication: 'Scottish Slave-owners in Suriname: 1651–1863' in Northern Scotland, Volume 9.


This is an account of Scots in the Dutch colony of Suriname from 1651 until the emancipation of slaves in the Dutch Empire in 1863, when Scottish owners of slaves received nine per cent of the compensation paid to slave-owners in the colony by the Dutch Government. Before 1790 the small Scots presence in Suriname was a product of the outward looking nature of the Dutch Atlantic and the willingness of some Scots, most with with family, religious or military ties to the Netherlands, to seize the opportunities this offered. After 1790 the British presence in Suriname expanded, with a significant involvement of Highland Scots who came to work new plantations in the colony from the neighbouring British controlled colonies of Berbice and Demerara.


After the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834, a number of these Scottish slave-owners campaigned against emancipation in the Dutch Empire. Despite buying and selling slaves in breach of British law, and despite public criticism, none of these British-based slave-owners were prosecuted. The article concludes with an examination of the legacies of this Scottish slave-ownership, both in Scotland and in Suriname.


Illustrations accompanying John Stedman's account of his service in Suriname as part of the Scots Brigade in the Dutch Army.



Annetta Watson (1849-89)

Andrew Watson (1856–1921), born in Demerara, is now recognised as the first black person to play association football at international level, representing Scotland three times between 1881 and 1882. He also attended Glasgow University and later qualified as a marine engineer.

However, his older sister Annetta (1849–89) was less fortunate and her life story highlights the vulnerability of a young, black woman in Scotland in the nineteenth century.


Read an account of her life here




Simple but subversive

Cait Gillespie's master's thesis The end of amnesia? Scotland's response to the 2007 bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and the quest for social justice can be read online at Leiden University Repository. Cait considers Scotland's response to the 2007 bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, in the context of memory and museum studies, and includes a detailed study of Cromarty Courthouse Museum's 'Slaves & Highlanders' exhibition of 2007/08.

From Cait's conclusions: 'The impact and originality of Alston's seemingly simple but subversive exhibition, [Stephen] Mullen's commitment to furthering public knowledge of Glasgow's slavery-funded cityscape through walks and talks, and the success of the website created by [Katherine] Prior for Aberdeen City Council . . . reveal high quality pieces of work that engage with public audiences in diverse and important ways . . . The onus now lies on Scotland's major national institutions to follow suit and bring forth new creative responses.'

For the Cromarty Courthouse Museum exhibition follow this link. And for an archive of UK-wide projects marking the bicentenary in 2007 see Antislavery Useable Past: Remembering 1807

Ullapool Book Festival 2017: The Highlands and Slavery

Listen to David in conversation with Louise Welsh:

'Essential listening for those in the Highlands . . . and Scotland in general.'











David Robinson reviewing the Ullapool Book Festival (Scotsman, 9 May 2017):

I’ll end, though, with an event featuring a historian – and a history – who and which are far less well known. Before going in to David Alston’s talk about the involvement of Scots in the slave trade, I had thought that it was all so long ago that the question of reparations no longer arises. Quietly, dispassionately, and concentrating on Highlanders’ involvement in the slave plantations in Guyana, Alston picked apart that certainty. Tracing the reparations paid to compensate slave owners in 1834 – proportionately a bigger sum even than the 2008 banks’ bail out – he showed how Scots at all levels benefited from slavery, but how we still collectively ignore this, perhaps even more so than in England, “because it doesn’t fit with the narrative of our own victimhood”.


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

Index of 620 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.








site map | cookie policy | privacy policy