Highlander Henry Mackintosh: Sugar, Suriname & Slaves

In 1674 Henry Mackintosh in partnership with William Pringle purchased a 1600 acre sugar plantation in Suriname.

Suriname is located on the northern coast of South America. What Henry Mackintosh was doing there was engaging in the very lucrative sugar trade on plantations worked by slaves.

Suriname credit: TUBS / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

This fascinating unfolding story was retold by David Worthington of the Centre for History, Dornoch, in an online talk hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

The 17th Century was a time when Scotland and England were independent nations.

In the 1620s Suriname was an English colony and by the 1650s it had developed substantial sugar plantations. In 1667 it became a Dutch colony.

David Worthington’s talk went on to describe how successful Henry Mackintosh became trading in sugar and slaves. By 1684 he owned 73 slaves – 70 Africans and 3 indigenous people.

Discovering the conditions of the slaves is difficult to establish as few records exist but a long running court case between Mackintosh and an English planter Jeronimy Clifford over the sale of a negro slave ‘Caesar’ reveals some details. Mackintosh had agreed to pay 6,000lbs of sugar for the slave but he was not delivered as Clifford was able to get a better price for him.

As a result of the campaign Black Lives Matters more about Scotland’s links with the slave trade is being researched and discussed.

Mackintosh was a Highlander. David Worthington explained that the Highlands of Scotland were ‘intertwined’ with the commerce of the sugar trade. Objects of the time reflect this – various pieces connected with tea and sugar. This was a trans national trade with imports arriving from the Netherlands into the Highlands.

David Worthington highlighted 3 main evidence trails he followed: estate records, burgh records and customs accounts.

The estate records give an indication how the wealthy elite were using sugar. David Worthington listed 4 families at the time all linked with frequent and sizable imports of sugar.

  • The Balnagown Ross’s
  • The Lovat Fraser’s of the Beauly Firth
  • The Grants of Strathspey
  • The Gordons of Dunrobin, Sutherland

The burgh records can indicate how ordinary people regarded sugar which was a highly prized product. David Worthington went on to describe the incidents which he termed ‘candy crime’ and the penalties for those caught stealing such a valuable commodity.

The customs accounts show the route the sugar took to get to the Highlands. In Scotland there were 4 places refining the raw sugar: 3 in Glasgow and 1 in Leith. In the Highlands, however, it was being imported from the Netherlands into Inverness.

Exploring the trade between the Highlands, the Netherlands and Suriname illustrates how successful and lucrative this commerce was. Many fortunes were built on the backs of a brutal slavery regime and it wasn’t until 1863 that it was abolished in Suriname. The slave owners were well recompensed for their loss and for 10 years those who had been enslaved were expected to continue to work on the plantations for low wages, although many were not paid.

There were of course many Welsh, Scots, Irish and English who went to Suriname and did not make their fortunes but for those that did, like Henry Mackintosh, the wealth he established continued on in his family for generations.

David Worthington’s talk ‘Sugar, Slave Owning and the Scottish Highlands Before 1707’ was a fascinating dip into an area of history which we know so little about. It was part of The Edge UHI series of talks.

For further articles about Scotland and its links with slavery published in The Orkney News click on the links:

See also this website by David Alston with extensive information : Slaves and Highlanders

And to watch David Worthington’s talk click on the video and view it on YouTube

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

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

3 replies »

  1. Morning Fiona, I think you’ll find that the sugar was refined at Greenock as ocean going ships were not able to reach into Glasgow until at least the 1880’s. When I was a lad growing-up in Gourock there were two fully operational sugar refineries in Greenock. I can’t remember any refining taking place in Glasgow, it was mainly tobacco that was processed in Glasgow.

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