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Historian sheds light on brave slaves who fought for freedom in the Highlands


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Historian and author David Alston has been carrying out research into the Highlands' links with slavery for two decades.
Historian and author David Alston has been carrying out research into the Highlands' links with slavery for two decades.

David Alston has devoted the last 20 years to researching the facts of Scotland’s (particularly the Highlands') involvement in the enslavement of African people.

The talk he presented gave us a different viewpoint - seeking to capture the resistance, aspirations and voices of the enslaved.

He did this by focusing on the lives of three enslaved Africans he had researched. Each was part of a plantation owned and run by Highlanders,especially from Easter Ross, who had invested heavily in the areas of Guyana and Suriname.

David had visited these areas in 2020 and showed photos from his travels with some familiar place names – in fact 30 settlements in Berbice (an area of Guyana) come from Easter Ross or nearby. The plantation owners included

Lord Seaforth, owner of the Brahan plantation, George Munro, owner of the Alness plantation and James Fraser of Belladrum, who was in partnership with a group of other Highland landowners.

Inverness was the name given to an enslaved African in 1803, when he was bought as part of a group of 20 and set to work on the Brahan plantation. Here they were creating new cotton grounds by cutting drainage channels to reclaim the low-lying coastal lands. It was a feat of immense engineering, all carried out with enslaved labour. Inverness escaped, running away with a man called Dingwall, another of the original group of 20. ‘Maroons’ is the term used to describe runaways – there were large numbers of them who created their own settlements or camps with their own agricultural and industrial activities.

Quamina
Quamina

These camps succeeded in binding people together from diverse backgrounds.

David reminded us that these enslaved people were from the huge diversity of cultures which exist in Africa and they had essentially been thrown together in a melting pot. They were forced to create their own identities with shared cultures and perhaps related languages. The Maroon camps were attacked by many of the Highland managers who also recruited and armed ‘trusty’ enslaved men to assist them in their endeavours. Inverness was captured and brought back to Brahan and forced to divulge information about Maroon settlements.However, he escaped again and was said to be assisting others in their efforts to escape.His fate is unknown.

Archy was James Fraser’s enslaved personal servant. As part of the household he was trusted and would have been party to the conversations about expeditions to capture and kill the Maroons. However, he would also have known people who had escaped to these camps. In 1810, Archy left for Britain with his master, staying at various places including Belladrum until 1812. While there, under English and Scots law, he was no longer a slave and couldn’t be forced to return to the colonies. But Archy did go back and became involved in planning a rebellion – which was foiled at the last moment when other enslaved workers betrayed these plans. Archy was sentenced to flogging and sold out of the colony, despite his ‘master’ suggesting he be exiled to Scotland.

CHS map
CHS map

Susannah (c.1779-c.1853) was born into slavery and was a domestic servant at the Alness plantation, owned by George Munro. She had 3 sons with George Munro – the first born when she was about 12 years old. Susannah herself was the child of an unknown white man and a ‘mulatto’ woman. Under colony laws her children were also born into a state of slavery – but their names were not entered in the Register of Slaves which plantations were obliged to keep. Her sons, George, John and William were educated at Marischal College in Aberdeen. When their father died, he left his estate to be divided between these 3 sons and 3 nephews in Scotland. Interestingly, when Susannah made her own will in 1850, she instructed her executors to recover the inheritance which should have been paid to her deceased sons George and John. David sees this as yet another form of ‘resistance’ to the system.

Through his talk to our society, David certainly gave voice to the enslaved seeking the potential of freedom, whether by escape, uprising or the use of law.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 19 April at 7.30pm in the Old Brewery.

We will hold a short AGM and then show some films about Cromarty from the Courthouse archives. This will be the last meeting of this shortened 2021/22 season.


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