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The Douglases and Slavery








This page forms part of a section covering aspects of slavery, white and black, and the Douglases involved. Perhaps I should devote equal space to the Douglases and the Enlightenment, or Douglases and the Covenanters, and other subjects, and one day maybe I will, but this topic fascinates me.



The Act of Union in 1707 gave Scottish merchants access to the slave trade. Scots travelled out to the colonies and generated great wealth for Scotland based on slave labour. In 1817 Scots owned almost a third of all the slaves in Jamaica. The 'Tobacco Lords' made their fortunes in the colonies before returning to Scotland, many building large mansions.

During his tour of Scotland in 1846 Frederick Douglass, the former slave and anti-slavery campaigner, demanded that the Free Church 'send back the money'.

The Free Church was founded in 1843 and was deprived of public money. It raised some funds from slave-owning Presbyterian churches in the United States.

Many people felt that the Free Church was therefore sympathetic to the slave-owners and opposed to the emancipation of the slaves. 'Send back the money' became a popular rallying cry at Douglass's meetings in Scotland.

We tend to be very proud of Scotland’s role in abolishing the slave trade, with parliament passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, but Scotland also played an integral role in the development of slavery in the 250 years leading up to this.

Standing as testament to the wealth generated by that association, rows of opulent Georgian townhouses that were once owned by the wealthy plantation merchants, tobacco lords and slave-traders can still be seen in Scotland’s major cities. Street names such as Jamaica Street (Glasgow) also nod to our associated heritage. The stained glass windows of Glasgow Cathedral were paid for with Douglas wealth generated in the West Indies.

There were an extraordinarily high proportion of Scottish plantation owners in St Kitts and Jamaica, as well as Virginia in the American colonies. Scottish merchants and investors fuelled the trade in slavery. Scottish slave traders such as Richard Oswald organised large scale ventures to capture, transport and sell slaves, with voyages leaving from all the main UK ports.

Voyages such as these transported 3.4 million (of the 10 million) African slaves to slavery in the colonies in America and the Caribbean. Shocking as this is, these statistics are a reasonably well-known and documented part of our history.

What is perhaps less well known are the large numbers of Scottish people, perhaps as many as 100,000, that were rounded up and transported to the colonies to be sold into slavery.

According to the Egerton manuscript (held by the British Museum):

“It may be lawful for two or more justices of the peace within any county, citty or towne, corporate belonging to the commonwealth to from tyme to tyme by warrant cause to be apprehended, seized on and detained all and every person or persons that shall be found begging and vagrant. in any towne, parish or place to be conveyed into the Port of London, or unto any other port from where such person or persons may be shipped into a forraign collonie or plantation.”

Affluent and powerful local government officials, who likely had a stake in the plantations, slave trade and the associated benefits, were happy to oblige. The poor, homeless and irksome Scottish people were rounded up – or simply kidnapped – to be sold for a great profit on arrival at their destination. Children were no exception:

Political prisoners were routinely sold into slavery, and The Act of Proscription (1746) stated that anyone wearing tartan or Highland dress was subject to transportation. Conditions on the ships were appalling, and many would not survive the long, gruelling sea crossing and the cruel treatment meted out.

Merchants were known to put in special requests to the city council to fulfil specific wants and requirements for the procurement of slaves. Young women were often on the wish list, and it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to guess at the awful indecencies and treatment that these women endured to amuse the sailors during the long voyages.

As early as the 1600’s, ships from Leith and Port Glasgow in Scotland sailed off to the colonies laden with Scottish people that had been rounded up to be sold at the block to line the pocket of their compatriots. The numbers taken as slaves must have been huge as, according to the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies of 1701, we read of there being there being an estimated 25,000 slaves in Barbados, of whom 21,700 were white. The fair-skinned slaves were known as Redlegs or Redshanks by the locals because of their sunburned flesh.

It was upon the sweat and tears of these unfortunate people that the British economy was driven forward and thrived.

Descendants of the Scots forced into slavery are now beginning to realise that it a part of our history that has been quietly swept under the carpet, and are understandably feeling very angry. Pressure groups are looking for an official apology, and there is even a Scottish Slave Facebook page that is an “open group to all who believe they are descendents of the Scottish slaves, and all who support the recognition that this happened and demand an apology from the government”.

It is certain that a good few Scottish individuals were appalled by the slave trade and were ultimately integral in the abolition of the slave trade. Scotland, however, was not an innocent bystander and did play a very active role in the procurement, transportation and selling of slaves.


Frederick Douglass (1817 - 1985)

"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States."

American orator and journalist, Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Talbot county, Maryland, probably in February 1817. His mother was a negro slave of exceptional intelligence, and his father was a white man.

In 1871 he was assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo commission, appointed by President Grant. He was marshal of the District of Columbia from 1877 to 1881, was recorder of deeds for the district from 1881 to 1886, and from 1889 to 1891 was the American minister resident and consul-general in the Republic of Haiti.


 Read more of this remarkable story..

Stephen Arnold Douglas,(1813-1861)


U.S. Representative/Senator, Stephen Arnold Douglas, in the bitter debates concerning the keenly disputed question of the permission of slavery in the territories, was particularly prominent. Against slavery itself he, seems never to have had any moral antipathy; he married (1847) the daughter of a slaveholder, Colonel Robert Martin of North Carolina, and a cousin of Douglas’s colleague in Congress, D. S. Reid; and his wife and children were by inheritance the owners of slaves, though he himself never was.


Read more about Stephen Arnold Douglas>>>



maid Frederick Stephen

Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser (Nicolson),
Richmond, January 11, 1787.
Ten Guineas Reward. RUNAWAY from Providence Forge in New Kent county JIM or JAMES, a light coloured mulatto, a blacksmith by trade, about 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, bow legged, a likely well made fellow, has lost most of his teeth, and has something of a frown on his countenance, sensible and fond of liquor. As he has a great variety of good cloaths it is altogether uncertain what may be his dress, there is some reason to believe he may be gone towards Fredericksburg where he formerly lived, and I think will endeavour to pass for a freeman. The above reward will be paid if taken up at the distance of 50 miles and delivered to the subscriber, or 5 l. for apprehending and committing to prison, or in proportion for a smaller distance. WILLIAM DOUGLASS. Providence Forge, November 14, 1786.

Further reading

The White Slave Trade

Slavery in the Carolinas

Sample slave sale records

Research by Allen Omega
England's Irish slaves

Letter from Commodore Sholto Douglas

Douglas Letters relating to the Slave trade

The case of  Margaret Douglas

The case of Betto Douglas

Robert Burns poet

The Scottish Caribbean connection

Douglases in the West Indies

Merchants and others who received compensation when slavery was abolished (pdf)

John, Thomas and Archibald Douglas & Co.

The Maria Douglas (Fiji)

Jamaican slave owners

Jamaican slaves

Indentured servants

Sample slave sale records

Prisoners from Battles of Dunbar and Worcester

Sugar & Slavery

The Crown
Slave ships

Douglas Estate, St. Kitts

Douglases who received compensation

Map of Jamaica in 1763
Jamaican runaway slaves [pdf]

  Allen Omega Douglas
Captain Andrew Douglas of Mains
Catherine Bean Douglas
Charles Douglas
Charles James Sholto Douglas
Gilbert & Cecilia Douglas
James Douglas of Cavers
James Henry Douglas
James Stuart Douglass
, of Tensas, Louisiana
George Henry Douglas
Henderson Douglas family tree
Lt  Henry How Douglas RN
Sir James Douglas
Robert Douglas of Fyrish
Sarah Perkins, daughter of Mary Douglas
Admiral Sholto Douglas
Steve Douglas
Thomas Douglas, ship owner
William Archibald Douglas
Lord William Robert Keith Douglas
Col. Walter Douglas
John St. Ledger Douglas
Sholto Douglas, of Spring Hall Plantation

runaway slave notice



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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024