Abolition of the Slave Trade

Black servants in Scotland

Extract from a old newspaper advertising slaves for sale

During the 18th century some slaves were brought to Scotland as servants. Many were children when they arrived.

When these slave children grew up, they wanted their freedom and lives of their own. Many ran away from their masters. The penalties for helping them were harsh. 

Portrait painting of the Glassford family

Men, women and children were offered for sale in newspaper advertisements:

'To be disposed of

A Negro Woman, named Peggy, about nineteen years of age, born and brought up in Charleston, in the Province of South Carolina. Speaks good English, an exceedingly good house-wench, and washer and dresser, and is very tender and careful of children.

She has a young child, a Negro boy, about a year old, which will be disposed of with the mother. For particulars enquire at the publisher of this paper.'

At first it was very fashionable for the very wealthy to have a young black boy or girl, dressed in rich clothes, attending on them. After the Abolitionist campaign began, this became less so. John Glassford was a Glasgow 'Tobacco Lord'. When he had a family portrait painted, his young black servant was included in the painting. The black servant was later painted out.

Image of a manumission document


Some of the Scottish slave owners agreed to give them their freedom. This had to be done by signing a legal document called a 'Manumission'.

This was to protect them from being kidnapped and enslaved again.

At the time many Scottish workers such as miners and salters were 'indentured' to their employers and were little better than slaves.

Picture credits

John Glassford and his family by Archibald McLaughlan (18th century). Courtesy Glasgow City Council (Museums). All rights reserved.

 Manumission document granted by William Stirling of Keir to a Mulatto boy named Charles. Courtesy Glasgow City Council (Museums). All rights reserved.