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Scotland, Africa and Slavery in the Caribbean

Between 1500 and 1860 Europeans shipped over 12 million Africans as slaves to the Americas. Britain was the biggest slaving nation after Portugal, selling three million Africans into slavery.

After the Union of Scotland and England in 1707, North East Scots eagerly claimed a share of the riches generated by slavery, especially in the Caribbean.

Today, however, the North East’s early links with the Caribbean have largely been forgotten. This exhibition reminds us of their importance. It introduces people who prospered from slave ownership, as well as the local campaigners who fought to persuade Britain that slavery was wrong.

The Alantic Slave Trade

The three-part journey undertaken  by British slaving ships in the Triangular Trade.

The three-part journey undertaken by British slaving ships in the ‘Triangular Trade’.

Note: Click images to enlarge

Slaving ships made a three-part voyage, which
is often called the ‘Triangular Trade’. First, they left European ports laden with goods for sale in West and Central Africa. In Africa the slavers exchanged the goods for African war captives, whom they loaded onto their ships like cargo.

Second, they sailed across the Atlantic to the
Americas. This ‘Middle Passage’ was a terrifying
experience for the people crammed below decks. Thousands perished in rebellions or from disease and despair.

In the Americas, the slavers sold their surviving captives to European planters as slave labourers. Then they loaded up with plantation produce - sugar, rum, tobacco, coffee and cotton - and sailed back to Europe on the final leg of their voyage.

The Africans they left behind became the legal property of their new owners, with the status of an ox or a mule. Like a work animal, they had to labour for their owners, unpaid, until they died.

Restraining leg irons used on slaving ships

Restraining leg irons used on slaving ships
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Newly arrived Africans are sent for  sale in Suriname, a scene witnessed  by a Scottish-Dutch soldier, John  Gabriel Stedman.

Newly arrived Africans are sent for sale in Suriname, a scene witnessed by a Scottish-Dutch soldier, John Gabriel Stedman.
(Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)


Africans rebel against their captivity on board a British slave ship. © The British Library Board