Today, when our eyes light on the term "the slave trade" our minds immediately conjure up pictures of old sailing ships bound for the plantations of America, their holds crammed with suffering humanity dragged from their tribal homes in Africa.
This nefarious and highly profitable business was in no way confined to the Dark Continent. In the middle years of the 18th century it also flourished in Scotland with the unwilling exports being OUR OWN PEOPLE, sold cold-bloodedly into slavery with the active conivance of those in authority.
I illustrate this with the fact that in the year 1739, Alexander McDonald of Sleat and Norman McLeod of Dunvegan, the same pernicious pair who had been involved in the kidnapping and imprisonment of Lady Grange a few years earlier, now set the minds and hands to a much more sinister purpose.
Employing Captain Thomas Davidson, a man every bit as unscrupulous as themselves, they chartered a ship, the "William" which put in a Bracadale in Skye, Finsbay in Harris and Loch Portan in Uist. At each of these ports the people were lured aboard with the promise of cheap goods for sale, made captive, then battened below decks and transported to the other side of the world.
With no means or hope of ever returning to their native land, most lived, worked and died far from home, but one at least refused to accept his fate which brings me to the fascinating story of young Peter Williamson.
Born at Hirnley in the Parish of Aboyne in 1730, he was the son of a crofter named James Williamson who, finding the greatest of difficulty in wresting a bare living from the soil sent peter to live with an aunt in Aberdeen, and to what he hoped would be a better life for the boy. The poor crofter had no way of knowing that Aberdeen as a seaport was an ideal center for the barbarous slave trade nor that ships regularly left the port laden with captives, the bulk of which comprised of young people of either sex.
The archives of the city record that throughout these shameful years syndicates were formed for the furtherance of this oathsome business - syndicates unbelievably headed by prominent men of substance such as Baillie William Fordyce of Aquhorthies, Alexander Mitchell of Colpna and Walter Cochran, Deputy Town Clerk.
These evilly disposed individuals were employing parties of men as press gangs who roamed the streets of the city seeking to snatch the unwary and who even raided villages and clachans miles inland for their prey. The books of these syndicates reveal a further and if possible, even more despicable aspect of this traffic - the selling into slavery (by parents) their children and other kin. There are entries such as "To Robert Ross for listing his son, one shilling, - To Malcolm for listing his brother Donald, one shilling and sixpence."
Blissfully unaware of all this, young Peter found life in a big city a facinating and delightful transformation. The sea, which he was seeing for the first time was a constant source of wonder and the bustle of the docks ide act d like a magnet on his boyish mind. Fatefully, this was to be his undoing.
One day, as ten year old Peter was staring with wide eyed admiration at one of the tall ships making ready to get under way he was approached by two men, and after a few words was seen eargerly skipping up the gangplank. One can easily imagine what a phrase carrying the invitation "Wad ye like tae gang on deck, ma bonnie wee lad?" (Would you like to go on deck, my bonnie small boy?) would be all that was required, but once aboard he rapidly found himself secured in the hold in company with other bewildered captives. A few weeks later they were in Norfolk, Virginia and from there driven inland to the plantations.
When the lad failed to return home his distraught aunt went at once to the authorities pleading for their help in his location. All she heard were to comfortless words."
Continued..... Scottish Slaves in the Colonies!!
Original article by Scone...N.MacCorkill.
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