Slavery

Anti - Slavery 1807 / 2007
The legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade reverberate today in terms of racism and discrimination, as well as the long term impact it has had in both the development and underdevelopment of communities and countries affected by the trade. There is much to be learned from this period of our history, which can benefit society today, not least of which is how we can effectively combat contemporary forms of slavery. The breakthrough in 1807 was not achieved by an individual but by a mass movement which brought together many different sections of society, including Africans who, through rebellions, personal acts of resistance and as anti-slavery campaigners in their own right, were pivotal in bringing an end to the Transatlantic Slave Trade itself. Many people think that slavery no longer exists. Yet at least 12 million people live and work in contemporary forms of slavery which have been defined and prohibited in international conventions. Join Anti-Slavery’s campaign to revitalise the abolitionist spirit which created the momentum to end the slave trade in 1807 and harness it to make the abolition of all forms of slavery, in law and in practice, a priority for each and every government in the world.

www.antislavery.org

www.downriver.org.uk
slavery.indd 1

Keep Your Heritage Alive

Port Glasgow’s Forgotten History
13/03/2007 21:05:56

The Voyage of The Hannover

Britains most obvious involvement in the Slave trade was through the so-called “Triangle Trade”, slaves from Africa, traded in the Americas. From an early date, ships from Liverpool, London and Bristol had traded with the colonies in this way, though Scottish merchants had prefered to deal directly with the Americas directly. But by the 1720’s the potential economic rewards from dabbling in the such trade were often too much too ignore. As a result numerous Glasgow merchants embarked on a triangular slave shipping process, which was explicitly linked with both the tobacco and sugar trades. British goods such as weapons and cloth, were taken from Scotland to the coast of Africa where they were exchanged with African traders for slaves. From there these slaves would be transported to the Americas and traded for sugar or tobacco that was taken home and processed before being sold in the export market. The best documented example of this type of trade taking place in Scotland is that of the ship Hannover and her sister vessel the Loyalty. Glasgow had for some

time harboured the notion of becoming involved in the triangle trade, envious of the profits made by ports such as Liverpool. Yet, it was not until 1719 that these two Port Glasgow built ships were sent to trade in slaves on the coast of West Africa. The ships had been paid for by merchants from Glasgow, most notable among them being the Bogle family, who were active merchants in both Greenock and Port Glasgow. For their initial investment of almost £1,000, the investors expected to make a sixfold profit when selling their sugar to the Glasgow refineries. It was a lucrative business and, if successful, would have shaped the industrial future of the Clyde, seeing it playing a major role in the slave trade. Yet the venture was to prove an unmitigated disaster, which had the beneficial effect of steering Clyde based merchants away from slaving and towards direct trade with the colonies. The Loyalty was first to leave, and its voyage was to prove a disaster. After a few months at sea, the ship limped home after being attacked by three

pirate vessels of the coast of Guinea, losing most of her crew and cargo in the process. In late December 1719 The Hannover of Port Glasgow set sail from Greenock for its destination of the Guinea Coast of Africa. In her hold were 60 tons of goods to be used in exchange for enslaved Africans. This trip was to follow the tested principles of triangular trade. Goods that were of interest to African tribal leaders were transferred from London to Port Glasgow before being taken to Africa to be exchanged for human cargo. Once “fully slaved” the vessel was to cross the Atlantic and swap slaves for sugar with plantation owners who were hungry for fresh blood to work on their land. However, the voyage was to be continually dogged by difficulties, while a mutiny staged off the coast of Africa almost put an end to the whole venture. After a series of delays and incidents, the Hanover acquired 134 enslaved Africans, mainly at Old Calabar, now in eastern Nigeria. On 31 October 1720, the ship finally arrived at Barbados with 87 ‘sheep’ on board. Almost 50 had lost their lives as a result of being entombed in horrific

conditions for up to nine months. The problems were to continue in Barbados. The condition of the slaves was poor and a severe drought meant that labour was not in demand. after selling only three slaves for a low price of £21 each, the Hannover set sail for St. Kitts. The market was no better there and the drought meant that many planters required a reduction in price and were forced to delay payment until the next harvest which had been postponed until the new year. Realising the abject failure of the venture, the ‘supercargo’ Alexander Horsburgh ordered Captain Garrets to return to the Clyde with the Hannover and its tiny cargo of sugar while he remained on the island to secure the next crop. Eventually, in October 1721, Horsburgh returned to Port Glasgow and was immediately arrested and charged. The venture had proved an economic disaster and was to act as a deterrent to future projects. This was an ill-fated journey that ultimately ended in disaster but it shows clearly that those who spearheaded Greenock and Port Glasgow’s main industries did not shy away from the murky world of slavery, and had things ended in a profit, it may have been the first of many such journeys.

slavery.indd 2

13/03/2007 21:05:19

The Clyde has always been famous for ships. But it is less famous for what travelled in them. In the case of Port Glasgow, a port established by the wealthy merchants from Glasgow in the 1600’s, the early ships were built for trade with the new world, and most notably for the transportation of tobacco. With the Union of 1707 and the development of colonial trade, Scotland was to embark on a period of economic boom. Central to this was the role played by the Clyde

Over the next 50 years, Glasgow merchants operating ships out of Port Glasgow financed trading missions to the area, and by 1740, they were dominating the trade, responsible for much of the tobacco being imported into Britain. Surprisingly, only a small proportion of Glasgow’s merchants were regularly involved in the tobacco trade with the big three syndicates headed by William Cunninghame, Alexander Speirs and John Glassford. These merchants owned shares in the sugar houses, ropeworks and other industries which

Both Greenock and Port Glasgow’s colonial trade was inescapably linked with the growing demand for slaves in the developing world. But although slaves were never auctioned in either of the two towns or in Glasgow for that matter, many merchants with local connections owned slaves or traded directly in them. One notable example is that of James Watt senior, the father of the famous James Watt. It is shown in his own surviving papers that he actively bought and sold slaves in 1740-41 and 1762. In most of his papers the slaves appear mainly as commodities like the wood and the sugar that were also traded.

Port Glasgow’s Tobacco Trade
and its exploitation for Atlantic trade by the so-called Tobacco Lords of Glasgow. Glasgow’s successful exploits in the tobacco trade in particular relied heavily on the development of Port Glasgow. Access to the Clyde estuary was a major problem for the city’s merchants. Time and money was continually lost through the need to load and unload down river. Several attempts to deepen the navigable channel proved fruitless and harbour dues at other ports often ate into profits. The solution, when it came, was a masterstroke. In 1668, the town council purchased land on the south bank of the Clyde estuary and there built the Port of Glasgow. From this point on the existence of Port Glasgow was absolutely vital to the economic growth of Glasgow. dominated Port Glasgow and Greenock. On a less triumphant note, they also had their hand in the murky slave trade that stood side by side with colonial enterprise. In particular, they all had large stakes in plantation in Virginia, all of which were fuelled by slave labour. Other Port merchants traded with the West Indies and many owned sugar and rum plantations which relied on slave labour. Occasionally slaves from the Americas were brought back to Scotland to work as servants. It is hard to say how regular an occurrence this was. What we do know is that while slaves may not have been directly traded in Port Glasgow, they played an important, and often conveniently forgotten part in the towns history, with almost every merchant and business being inextricably linked with the trade at some point.

Another similarly uncomfortable connection relates to Jamie Montgomery, a slave from Beith in Ayrshire, who in 1756 escaped from his master. Such escapes were not uncommon, and many of the large estates on the west of Scotland played home to slaves who acted as household servants. However, on this occasion, Jamie’s master was so enraged, that he dragged the slave behind horses for over 25 miles, all the way back to Port Glasgow to have him shackled aboard a ship and sent back to Grenada. Jamie attempted to use the legal system to escape his captivity, appealing to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Sadly he was to die in the tollbooth in Edinburgh before the case was ever heard.
13/03/2007 21:06:16

slavery.indd 3

Abolition
By the late 1700’s, a growing number of people were calling for Britain to end its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. Politicians and merchants and the working classes were all becoming uncomfortable with the harsh realities of slaving, an industry which sat so at odds with Britain’s largely christian values, and the nations move towards becoming a shining light of civilisation in Europe. All over the country, abolitionist movements lobbied for an end to the trade, and called upon people to boycott sugar and tobacco produced by slaves. Finally on the 25th March 1807, after a valiant campaign by the MP William Wilberforce, the government finally passed legislation ending Britain’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. British captains who were caught continuing the trade were fined £100 for every slave found on board. However, this law did not stop the British slave trade. If slaveships were in danger of being captured by the British navy, captains often reduced the fines they had to pay by ordering the slaves to be thrown into the sea. Furthermore, while the trade in slaves was outlawed, the use of slave labour was not. Thus many of the sugar and tobacco plantations in the Americas and West Indies continued to be driven by the work of slaves. Thus there continued to be a strong Abolition movement in Britain. In the 1840’s, former slave Frederick Douglas, visited Greenock and Port Glasgow, giving a number of lectures to locals on the need for the equal freedom of all men. In Glasgow, Jane Smeal, daughter of a wealthy Quaker tea merchant with shares in Port Glasgow ships, established the Glasgow Ladies Emancipation society. This organisation became a cornerstone of the abolitionist cause during the 1840’s and she is regarded by many as one of the key figures in the female antislavery movement Others looked for a more natural evolution of trade through more subtle tactics. An excellent example of the more humane methods of trade is that of the Greenock–born Laird Macgregor. Macgregor devoted himself largely to the development of legitimate trade with West Africa and especially to the opening up of the countries now forming the British protectorates of Nigeria. One of his principal reasons for so doing was his belief that this method was the best means of stopping the slave trade and raising the social condition of the Africans. Clearly then not all merchants were out to make money from slavery. Inverclyde’s early Industrial rising by no means depended on slavery but like in every other emerging commercial centre, it is undeniably linked to it, and we should never forget this.

Send Back The Money (an abolitionists song)
Send back the Money! send it back! ‘Tis dark polluted gold; ‘Twas wrung from human flesh and bones, By agonies untold: There’s not a mite in all the sum But what is stained with blood; There’s not a mite in all the sum But what is cursed of God. Send back the Money! send it back! Partake not in their sin Who buy and sell, and trade in Men, Accursed gains to win: There’s not a mite in all the sum An honest man may claim; There’s not a mite but what can tell Of fraud, deceit, and shame. Send back the money! send it back! ‘Twill strike the fatal blow, That soon or late must yet be struck Unto the Negro’s wo: There’s not a mite in all the sum But what will prove to be As iron in the soul of him Who has enslaved the free. Send back the money! send it back! Tempt not the Negro’s God To blast and wither Scotland’s Church With his avenging rod: There’s not a mite in all the sum But cries to Heav’n aloud For wrath on all who shield the men That trade in Negro’s blood.

Then send the money back again! And send without delay; It may not, must not, cannot bear The light of British day.

slavery.indd 4

13/03/2007 21:06:43