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HOW I SEE IT: Plenty of evidence for Ross-shire's links to slavery – and uncomfortable lessons still to be learned

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The former Tain Royal Academy. Picture: Tain & District Museum & Clan Ross Centre
The former Tain Royal Academy. Picture: Tain & District Museum & Clan Ross Centre

Watching Black Lives Matter protests spread around the world after the death of George Floyd, folk in Tain and Easter Ross rested easy, writes Derek Louden.

Mistreatment of black people was nothing to do with us.

Thinking of slavery Scots knew that we didn’t have entirely clean hands. We knew that city streets in Glasgow, like Jamaica Street, reflected our involvement in the slave trade. But not in the Highlands, surely?

Evidence can’t exist that people in Tain and Easter Ross profited from the immense cruelty and brutality of slavery.

In fact, it can. David Alston in recent years has spent time researching the activities of the gentry of the Highlands and their involvement in slavery. They made his task a bit easier by often naming their slave plantations after their farms half a world away in Easter Ross. Alston joined the dots and the facts he uncovered can be found here: https://www.spanglefish.com/SlavesandHighlanders/

We should all take a look and learn how deep our involvement was.

Och, maybe the landowners profited from slavery – but we didn’t! Well, sadly not. We profited in an extraordinary way. Plantation owners built Tain Royal Academy. One of Tain’s biggest buildings went up directly due to slavery. Everyone educated there from 1807 to 1969 had their education provided mostly by the efforts of slaves working on West Indian and South American sugar plantations.

We need to accept this.

Tain and District Museum holds a “thank you” coffee morning for volunteers at the end of the season.

One year David Alston did the talk. It was an uncomfortable listen as he explained how close to

home plantation owners were. From somewhere over the years I’d acquired a copy of a petition

beseeching King George III to establish an Academy in Tain serving the Northern Counties.

The list of subscribers, most but not all slave owners, committing £50 and upwards comprised the following:

Francis, Earl of Seaforth; Eric, Lord Reay; George Baillie, formerly of the Island of Saint Vincent; Charles Banks, of Charleston, South Carolina; David Bethune, of New York; John Campbell, of Tobago; Alexander Cockburn, of Grenada; Henry Davidson, of Tulloch; Jacob Fraser, of Berbice; Maj-Gen Alexander McKenzie Fraser; Robert Home Gordon, of Embo; Matthew Higgins, of Benorron, Ireland; Kenneth McLeay of Newmore; Donald McLeod of Geanies; James Crawford McLeod of Geanies; Thomas McKnight of Tobago; George Munro of Berbice; William Munro of Demerara; John Munro of New York; James Murphy of the Island of Saint Thomas; Andrew Reid of Fitzroy Square; John Reid of Bedford Square; David Reid of Fermoy, Ireland; Ebenezer Robertson of Beverley; Francis Robertson of Balham Hill; Gilbert Robertson of New York; Robert Robertson of Grenada; Hugh Rose of Glastulloch; William Baillie Rose of Rhynie; Sir Charles Ross of Balnagown, Baronet Alexander Ross of London; Alexander Ross of West Ham;Malcolm Ross of Red Lyon Square;Charles Ross of Invercarron; Sir Gilbert Sterling of Uppat; Baronet A W White of Surinam.

I’ve given the document to University College London who have compiled a database of all those involved in the slave trade and who also list those compensated for the loss of their slaves at the time of abolition. You can check out local beneficiaries here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-ucl/stories/legacies-british-slavery

We should be honest about our involvement. However late, we should start now.


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Is there a subject relating to Ross-shire you would like to write about? Get in touch with some details to hector.mackenzie@hnmedia.co.uk

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