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Slavery in America

Let me make this clear before I start on this topic.  I do not in any way shape or form agree with slavery,  Slavery should not exist anywhere in the world. Now having said that let me tell you what I am trying to discover.

Scotland and especially the Highlanders and Borderers were brought up in a clan and family group environment. While they were by no means slaves they did recognise the chief as their head.  In many ways the power of the chief was based on how many people he could bring to arms.

In 1746 we had the final battle on British soil which was the Battle of Culloden and that battle effectively ended the power of the clans.  In turn that meant that the clan chiefs no longer saw their clans people as assets and so we hear of the Highland Clearances where they essentially replaced their people with sheep.

That in turn led to major emigration to places like America and a lot of these Highlanders settled in the Southern States of America.

When I first heard of slavery it did make me wonder if this was another attempt at building on a kind of clan society.  Trying to understand more about this I have from time to time looked for books on slavery so I could better understand the way things were back then.  What I was particularly interested in was the living conditions of the slaves and how they were treated to compare this with the situation the Highlanders found themselves at the same period in Scotland.

I have found a text: "Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves Kentucky Narratives. Author: Work Projects Administration.

I will be making this text available for you to read however I noted quite a lot of these narratives describe living conditions which in many ways were actually better conditions that many Highlanders found themselves in the same period.

There was much starvation in the Highlands at this period and of course especially for those that were kicked off their land that they'd held for generations. Many accounts show that the land they had was not sufficient to feed them and hence many of the men took themselves to the fishing grounds to earn a living and they would send money home.  In part that is why the product called black pudding came into being as it was simply oats mixed with a little blood from their cattle.  The English at this period commented that while they fed oats to their horses they noted it fed the people of Scotland.

Living conditions were often very basic with two room homes with the people in one room and the livestock in the other. So life was hard for the Highlanders.  Of course in the Borders the constant raids between England and Scotland meant the people were always having their livestock driven off and their crops burnt. Again not conducive to a good standard of living.

So what I find interesting is that many slaves actually had better living conditions than many Scots of that same period. They certainly seem to have been reasonably well fed. And just like the chiefs of old in Scotland the slaves were a valuable asset.

And so in many respects I feel the slave in America was actually better treated than many Scots who subsequently became the slave owners. This made me think that they were merely continuing the clan system they had come from albeit by being slave owners but in their own way chiefs of their "clan".

Being rather mercenary about it the slave was an asset as they had a value both in monetary terms but also as labour. In Scotland the people were in effect free labour for the chief but once the chief no longer saw value in looking after them they were quick to discard them. And so the only difference was that the Scots were not a monetary asset as they could not be sold but they had been a monetary asset when they could be used to bear arms for the chief.

And so this is the background of many Scots who later emigrated to America and became slave owners.  What I have been trying to find, but still haven't, is a factual account of a Scot that was a slave owner. And so my efforts have been to try and find accounts of slaves that tell something of their living and working conditions so I could compare them with how the Scots lived in Scotland.

The two books I make available here will give you a flavour about how the slaves were treated and how they lived and worked.  I am suggesting that you compare these accounts with how the Scots lived and worked in Scotland prior to emigration.

Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves Kentucky Narratives. Author: Work Projects Administration.

Slavery in Kentucky 1792 to 1865 by Ivan E. McDougle Ph.d.

Buckingham's Tour of the Slave States of America (pdf)
This is from an article from Tait's Edinburgh Magazine c1840.

Perault, or Slaves and their Masters
This is a multi-part article taken from Tait's Edinburgh Magazine c1843.

For a bit of history on the Highland Clearances see Gloomy Memrories and for information on a typical home see Hebridean Home.

Return to Scottish American History Index Page


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