I’m digging deep this week, going back two-to-three hundred years to take a look at Scotland and Edinburgh’s proud (and not so proud) history, and the stories that are emerging are proof of the steely determination of Scotland’s ancestors in fighting for a better way.
Given that I’m an immigrant into this lovely land, and that I’m a fairly well-travelled individual who love finding links between nations, my focus for this story is the slave trade and Scotland’s part in it.
I want to celebrate the women who paved the way for change, and who continue to demand recognition for their Scottish ancestors who fought to end slavery.
There’s plenty of information out there on Scotland’s slave-owning history and the wealth that was acquired on the back of Scotland’s presence in the Caribbean in the 18th century; the sugar and tobacco trade that was made possible because of the Scottish exploitation of slaves but I want to focus on the women of Scotland in the early 19th century and what they did to end the slave trading ways of Scotland.
Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Jane Smeal and Eliza Wigham are not names that many people recognise, but these four powerful Scottish women set about ending Scotland’s slave days and bringing freedom to the men, women and children in the Caribbean who had for so long been the ‘property’ of their Scottish masters.
These four amazing Scottish women were the first suffragettes, because they were actively seeking emancipation for slaves and by association, women. In an era where women had almost no rights, and were the ‘property’ of their husbands, these women broke plenty of rules to get noticed. The Edinburgh Damned Rebel Bitches history group takes its name from Duke of Cumberland’s 18th century description of female Jacobites. The DRB group wants Edinburgh to recognise the strategic efforts of these amazing women by honouring their memory in the 21st century. Edinburgh is a beautiful city filled with momuments to famous men from history, but where are the statues of Edinburgh’s important women from history?
The happy ending to the slavery story – if it’s possible for there to be a happy ending – is that Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Jane Smeal and Eliza Wigham got the law changed and in 1807, slavery was abolished in Britain, meaning that no Scottish, English or Welsh ship could carry slaves to any parts of the British empire. Slaves weren’t fully freed until the 1830s though.
Whenever I take a walk around Edinburgh’s New Town and walk down Dundas Street, I spare a bitter thought for Scottish lawyer and London Parliamentarian Henry Dundas and the countless others who profited from the skills and despair of Caribbean slaves. Dundas’s statue rises up above St. Andrew’s Square at the East End of George Street. It’s hard to see his face, he’s too high up; maybe that’s a good thing.
Source: Damned Rebel Bitches group – https://drbgroup1.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/drb_booklet.pdf