Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean

David Alston’s Slaves and Highlanders: Silenced Histories of Scotland and the Caribbean (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) is now shortlisted for Scotland’s 2022 National Book Award for History. This book “explores the prominent role of Highland Scots in the exploitation of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the cotton, sugar and coffee plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Description (EUP): Shortlisted for the 2021 Highland Book Prize

  • Pays special attention to the new colonies of the southern Caribbean, including Grenada and Guyana, and to Suriname in the years to 1863.
  • Contributes to the debate on reparation by reappraising the idea of Scots complicity in the slave trade.
  • Includes a short foreword by Rod Westmaas and Juanita Cox-Westmaas, co-founders of Guyana Speaks, an organisation for the Guyanese diaspora in London.

Scots were involved in every stage of the slave trade: from captaining slaving ships to auctioning captured Africans in the colonies and hunting down those who escaped from bondage. This book focuses on the Scottish Highlanders who engaged in or benefitted from these crimes against humanity in the Caribbean Islands and Guyana, some reluctantly but many with enthusiasm and without remorse. Their voices are clearly heard in the archives, while in the same sources their victims’ stories are silenced – reduced to numbers and listed as property.

David Alston gives voice not only to these Scots but to enslaved Africans and their descendants – to those who reclaimed their freedom, to free women of colour, to the Black Caribs of St Vincent, to house servants, and to children of mixed race who found themselves in the increasingly racist society of Britain in the mid-1800s.

As Scots recover and grapple with their past, this vital history lays bare the enormous wealth generated in the Highlands by slavery and emancipation compensation schemes. This legacy, entwined with so many of our contemporary institutions, must be reckoned with.

David Alston is a Historian and Independent Researcher. He is the author of Ross & Cromarty: A Historical Guide (1997) and My Little Town of Cromarty: The History of a Northern Scottish Town (2006). He was a Highland Councillor and from 1991-2003 was curator/manager of Cromarty Courthouse Museum. He has published articles on the Highlands and Slavery including ‘Very Rapid and Splendid Fortunes: Highland Scots in Berbice (Guyana) in the early nineteenth century’, in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, (2007) and wrote a chapter in the T.D. Devine edited collection ‘Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past’ (EUP, 2015).

For more information, see see https://publishingperspectives.com/2022/11/scotlands-national-book-awards.

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Also see previous posts https://repeatingislands.com/2013/10/07/pride-and-prejudice-scotlands-complicated-black-history and https://repeatingislands.com/2019/04/16/how-scotland-erased-guyana-from-its-past, in which the author’s work is quoted.

See more on the book at https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-slaves-and-highlanders.html

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