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David Alston

Sharing my research on Highland Scots, enslaved Africans, and the plantations of GUYANA


I spoke at The Sandbach Tinné Conference – Digitising and Decolonising Collections at the MShed, Bristol on Tuesday 24 October 2023. My presentation 'The Robertsons of Kiltearn: a middling, complicit, 'baggy' family' explored the family network which linked the Robertson, Sandbach, Parker and Rainy men, who (with others) formed what became Sandbach Tinné. This mercantile partnership was one of the largest beneficiaries of the £20m of compensation paid by the British Government to slave-holders at the end of British colonial slavery.

My research into this family is the subject of my most recent publication:

'Christian Robertson (1780–1842) and a Highland network in the Caribbean: a study of complicity'


Scottish Highlands and the Atlantic World: Social Networks and Identities (Edited by Chris Dalglish, Karly Kehoe, Annie Tindley), EUP 2023.


Review by David Parish in Scottish Historical Review (103:1):

'The third section . . . contains two excellent chapters examining Scottish Highland engagement in the plantation economies of the Caribbean and the ways in which Highlanders were active participants in oppressive systems of enslavement. David Alston uses Christy Robertson (1780–1842) and her family as a case study to demonstrate the extent to which middle-class families in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were involved in the enslavement of Black Africans and the extent to which this involvement was accepted as part of everyday life on the north of Scotland (9. 146). Alston’s essay is especially effective in the ways that it highlights the co-existence of enlightenment and oppression; Robertson’s family was deeply invested in the plantation economies even as she and her husband hosted numerous leading thinkers including John James Audubon.'


For links to my transcripts of parts of the extensive correspondence of the Robertson family (part of the Traill Papers in the National Library of Scotland) follow these links:

Traill papers transcripts NLS MS 19331 ff 1-51 Letters of Rev Harry Robertson

Traill papers transcripts NLS MS 19331 ff 55-152 Letters of Mrs Robertson

Traill papers transcripts NLS GB233 MS19332 Letters from the Robertson brothers

Traill papers transcripts NLS GB233 MS19334 Letters from the Watson boys

Memoir of Mrs Traill (Christian Robertson) Part I (to second marriage in 1811)

Memoir of Mrs Trail (Christian Robertson) Part II (Liverpool years)

Cromarty: Built on Slavery

An online tour of buildings and sites in Cromarty linked to the slave trade and the plantations of the Caribbean and South America, presented by David Alston and Nicole Bontemps.

Available online on the Smartify Website




Download the Smartify App to your mobile phone and search for Cromarty Courthouse.






A ‘menagerie of young heathen’: Enslaved children in a Scottish household and the legacy of the childhood trauma of enslavement

David Alston gave a presentation on this topic, based on the portrait below, at:

Encountering Children of Empire symposium (The National Trust for Scotland and Beniba Centre for Slavery Studies, University of Glasgow) at Culzean Castle (14 and 15 September 2023). Click on the picture of Salvador to read a full version of David's research.

Salvador: An Enslaved African Boy (c.1719–c.1733?)

Salvador was an enslaved African boy in the household of George Keith (1692/3?–1778), tenth and last of the Earls Marischal of Scotland.

Click on the picture to download an account of Salvador and the other enslaved children in the Earl's 'ménagerie of young heathen’: Ibrahim (a Turk, who trained as an artist in Venice), Stepan (a Kalmyk Buddhist), Mocho (an African who travelled Europe) and Emet Ullah (a Turk who met Voltaire, Rousseau, James Boswell and Adam Ferguson –and was known to David Hume).

Click below to link to the original painting in the National Portrait Gallery:


George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal attributed to Placido Costanzi
oil on copper, circa 1733


David Alston’s Slaves and Highlanders:  Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean, which won the Saltire Society History Book of the Year before going on to claim the overall Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year prize, was described by the judges as:

'The best book to date on Scottish involvement in chattel slavery and the impact of the gains from this on Highland Scotland. From his local, Cromarty, base the author engages forcefully with major historiographical debates relating to Scottish participation in the slave economy and challenges presentations of this in tourist literature and major heritage institutions. An informative book based solidly in research but immensely accessible.'


'David Alston's book adds substantially to out understanindg in a number of different and imaginative ways . . . [It is] timely and forms a revisionary contribution not only to Scottish history, but to our wider understanding of the centrality of slavery in the shaping of the West on the back of enslaved Africans.'

James Walvin, Family and Community History Journal (October 2022)


Listen on YouTube here


New article (18 January 2023)

'The Guyana Maroons, 1796–1834: Persistent and Resilient until the End of Slavery' in Slavery & Abolition (2023) at this link.

Time to send back the money? North-east ‘slave’ fund interview special. Listen to David Alston discuss the Dick Bequest on The Stooshie: the politics podcast from DC Thomson Media

Recent events

My talk to the Scottish Church History Society autumn conference (2022) on All Saints Presbyterian Church, New Amsterdam, Berbice – built in 1820 for the white planter class and now a thriving Afro-Guyanese church.

Watch on You Tube at 1 hour 16 minutes into the recording.

There are about 400 pages of information on this site so it can be difficult to find your way around. If you know what you are looking for, try using the FIND box at the top of the right-hand column on this page which will search within this site.

For my other writings on slavery (and other topics) click in the image.
















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