Culture

Orkney and Slavery–‘I have at present 36 negroes, besides stock…’

By Virginia Schroder

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society (1795)

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society (1795)

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations have focussed attention on the history of black oppression and the legacy of slavery.  In Britain, attention has centred on well-known figures associated with the big cities but the slave trade and slavery permeated all parts of the country, Orkney included. Hossack states that there were a number of ‘enterprising Orcadian planters, and, of course, slave-holders in the West Indies.’[1] The following outlines just a few of the Orcadians or Orkney-connected people who were involved.  They include Lawrence Dundas, owner of a large part of Orkney, who, on his death in 1781,left a fortune of £900,000 and a couple of plantations in the West Indies,[2]  and Sir James Douglas (1703-1787),MP for Orkney and Shetland, who owned Weilburg plantation in Demerara.[3]

The eldest son of Robert Graham, of Skaill House, sought his fortune in the West Indies.[4]Thomas Baikie of Burness, Sanday, lived on the Dallas Castle Estate in Jamaica. [5]James Blaw of Kirkwall was appointed, in 1766, to the Blue Mountain plantation in charge of the plantation’s slaves. He is also referred to in the 1770s as an overseer. [6] He eventually returned to Orkney.[7]

Ed’s note: I have removed from here an image of Skaill House at the request of the current owners of the property who reject any inference that the past occupants of the house were involved in slavery. The line in the article objected to is this one, The eldest son of Robert Graham, of Skaill House, sought his fortune in the West Indies.[4] ‘:

“The house is no doubt full of past indiscretions as was common for estates but there is no proof that John Graham was involved in slavery, so the inclusion of Skaill House in any form is not applicable to the article.

“Our records have John Graham being almost destitute and going to the West Indies in search of his fortune. He was incapable of purchasing land or slaves. He was based in Kingston where he served as a privateer and later captained the private ship of war The Arrow in 1781. He is presumed dead in 1782 whilst still serving as a privateer. Many of these accounts are available from the Orkney Archives.

“There is no evidence to suggest we played a part in slavery, we would ask that our image is removed along with the line referring to Robert Graham or the article is retracted altogether as it amounts to defamation of character. We have already had bad press as a result of this article from readers and friends who have contacted us directly

Malcolm Laing (1718-1781), born in Eday, went to Jamaica. As attorney of the Blue Mountain estate from 1759-78, he was the first to develop it for sugar production.[8] Laing had estates at Pindar’s River, Seven’s and St Toolie’s and ‘acquired there an immense fortune.’[9] He became one of the largest moneylenders on the island, extending credit for the purchase of slaves, equipment or to fund the planters’ lavish lifestyle. When he died, he left £88,600.[10] James Laing[11] (1766 – 1827) went to Jamaica to look after the plantation of his uncle Malcolm.[12] He became the owner of multiple plantations and one of the most important attorneys (overseer for absentee landowners) on the island.[13] His income was reckoned to be in the region of £20,000 a year. [14]. Samuel Laing wrote of his brother, after visiting him in London:

‘He was there living in splendour like all West Indians. He suggested the supplying of his estate in Jamaica with herrings.’[15]

The intention behind this was to feed slaves as cheaply as possible. Samuel Laing set about implementing this in Stronsay and this was the origin of the herring fishery in Orkney.

John Watt ‘went to Jamaica and acquired wealth.’[16] In a letter, written in 1764 to his cousin, Kirkwall merchant, William Watt, he wrote:

… a great bargain threw up, which will detain me some years in Jamaica.  I sold my property in Westmoreland, which amounted to about £2000 sterling, which I had in good Bills of Exchange. With that I purchased a pleasant seat in this parish, called Dongarvon, 300 acres of good sugar Land, 2 miles from the sea: has a beautiful prospect of the neighbouring Windmill Estate, a good house ready furnished, 16 mares, 10 head of cattle, 29 seasoned Working Negroes, 10 of which are carpenters and sawyers, wch. Cost me £3500 currency and 20 negroes wch. Cost me £1100 Currency – in all, £4,600 currency. I am working a Gang of 40 of them out in falling and clearing Land for the planters, and 5 carpenters I hire out at £3 per month each, which will bring me in £1000.[17]

Sons of ministers seem to feature prominently, with at least eleven such individuals identified. Two sons of the Rev. Hugh Mowat and Elizabeth Baikie of Evie, were involved. Hugh Mowat worked on the Beaulieu estate in Grenada while John Mowat had a plantation in Jamaica:

I shall, according to your desire, give you as plain a description of my Plantation [Orkney Hall] as I can. It is most pleasantly situated upon a River named Thomas River – good land, Black mould on clay, and with proper strength would make a good sugar Work: it’s well timbered with variety of timber, the principal is Mahogenie and Cedar; I have 1380 acres in the new purchase and 350 acres by my wife adjoining to said land, beside 80 acres in Witherwood, the most fertile part of the Island; each acre is valued at £40, which is the property of my children, and I am guardian for them. I have at present 36 negroes, besides stock, but in order to improve the land in possession, I would require 70 negroes and 70 head of cattle.’[18]

Thomas Ruddach, son of Kirkwall minister Alex Ruddach, went to Virginia, in 1771, to learn the tobacco business, and then to Tobago, where he bought the Harmony Hall and Adelphia estates.[19] His will is in the Orkney Archive:

…pay unto Elizabeth Campbell free mulato a sum of 30 pounds and immediately purchase such negroes as she may point out to the value of 150 pounds sterling which negroes are to belong to her during her life and after they are to be the property of my daughter Eliza …

… my negro man Tom Coof having been a faithful slave to me, I wish him to have the choice of a new master or if he wish for it and request my executors will give his freedom. I also desire that my negro girl Quinie have the choice of a master it is my wish that all my negro men have two suit cloaths [sic] annually and to be well treated. I desire my executors to give Pauline and Rose two of my negro girls five florins or guineas cash and I wish all my old cloathes to be divided between my negroes.[20]

Edward Clouston,[21](1787-1866) son of Rev William Clouston of Sandwick and Stromness, and Isabella Traill, went to Jamaica. He worked as an attorney or factor for absentee landowners of sugar estates and cattle pens. Edward owned a property known as Orkneys in the Blue Mountains, with 12 slaves.[22] He filled in a return, in 1829, recording his ownership of eight males and eight females – from George, alias Gift, and Priscilla, both aged forty-two, to two-year-old John and Mary, aged four and a half. [23]  Under the slave compensation scheme Clouston claimed and was awarded £448.3s.5d [24] for 21 slaves.[25]

Slavery brought wealth to individuals and families. After abolition and compensation, it was ‘laundered’ into new enterprises. It enabled houses to be built or refurbished, estates and land to be improved. It enabled charitable donations and endowments to be made, thereby gaining respectability and public approval. The fruits of slavery fed into British culture, commerce, industry, agriculture and buildings. The same must have applied to Orkney. It would be interesting to know what Orkney gained directly from this legacy.

Related article: An Orcadian Abroad –

“The Museum of Slavery and Emancipation presented the line of succeeding inhabitants of the Bahamas, beginning with the series of indigenous peoples…”

 


References

[1] Hossack, B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W.Peace p175

[2]Legacies of British Slave-ownership database at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146656113

[3] Hamilton, D ((2005)Scots, Caribbean and the Atlantic World 1750-1820, Manchester, Manchester University Press p70 also  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146653093

[4]www.usscots.com/article/details/Skaill-house

[5] Orkney Archive (Sutherland Graeme of Graemshall papers D5/12/9/39 Memorial on the affairs of Thomas Baikie of Burness presently in Jamaica) and Hossack p239

[6] Turner, M. (Ed)(1995) From Chattel to Wage Slaves, London, James Currey Ltd p47

[7]Orkney Archive D1/34

[8] Turner, M. (Ed)(1995) From Chattel to Wage Slaves, London, James Currey Ltd. p36

[9] Fereday.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p20

[10] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146649411

[11]https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146641331

[12] Fereday, R.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p42

[13] Turner, M. (1998) Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society 1787-1834, Jamaica, The university of the West Indies p21

[14] Fereday.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p 42 and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146641331

[15] Fereday.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p140

[16]  Hossack, B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W. Peace p175

[17] Hossack,B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W. Peace p175

[18] Hossack, B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W. Peace p175

[19] Kerras, A.L., (1992) Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica, Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press s p161

[20] Orkney Archive D1/96/1Will of Thomas Ruddach, Tobago

[21]https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/18797

[22] Jamaica Almanac 1820 http://www.jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Members/a/a1825_08.htm

[23] T71/2 9in The National Archives accessed via Ancestry.co.uk

[24]https://www.measuringworth.comWorth about £500,000 now

[25]https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/18797 [1] Hossack, B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W.Peace p175

[25]Legacies of British Slave-ownership database at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146656113

[25] Hamilton, D ((2005)Scots, Caribbean and the Atlantic World 1750-1820, Manchester, Manchester University Press p70 also  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146653093

[25]www.usscots.com/article/details/Skaill-house

[25] Orkney Archive (Sutherland Graeme of Graemshall papers D5/12/9/39 Memorial on the affairs of Thomas Baikie of Burness presently in Jamaica) and Hossack p239

[25] Turner, M. (Ed)(1995) From Chattel to Wage Slaves, London, James Currey Ltd p47

[25]Orkney Archive D1/34

[25] Turner, M. (Ed)(1995) From Chattel to Wage Slaves, London, James Currey Ltd. p36

[25] Fereday.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p20

[25] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146649411

[25]https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146641331

[25] Fereday, R.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p42

[25] Turner, M. (1998) Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society 1787-1834, Jamaica, The university of the West Indies p21

[25] Fereday.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p 42 and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146641331

[25] Fereday.P. (2000) The autobiography of Samuel Laing of Papdale 1780-1866, Kirkwall, Bellavista p140

[25]  Hossack, B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W. Peace p175

[25] Hossack,B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W. Peace p175

[25] Hossack, B.H. (1900) Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Kirkwall, W. Peace p175

[25] Kerras, A.L., (1992) Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica, Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press s p161

[25] Orkney Archive D1/96/1Will of Thomas Ruddach, Tobago

[25]https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/18797

[25] Jamaica Almanac 1820 http://www.jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Members/a/a1825_08.htm

[25] T71/2 9in The National Archives accessed via Ancestry.co.uk

[25]https://www.measuringworth.comWorth about £500,000 now

Cane cutters in Jamaica 1880

Cane cutters in Jamaica 1880

6 replies »

  1. This is a great piece of research. John Watt is one of my ancestors. It makes for uncomfortable, reflective reading. And so it should. That’s how change happens.

  2. Need to recall all the history books and rewrite them or we accept what happened a long time ago like a lot of other terrible things that happened like killing witches.

Leave a Reply