The thesis explores the contribution of Scotland to the abolition of the slave
trade and Caribbean slavery during the long eighteenth century. The starting
date marks the first case before the Court of Session of a black slave in
Scotland seeking freedom; that of Jamie Montgomery, who ran away from his
master in Beith in 1756. The period concludes with the abolition in 1838 of
the apprenticeship scheme that replaced slavery in the West Indies in 1834.
The first chapter is a survey of historians' assessment of the factors which
contributed to the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century. The thesis
moves to an analysis of Scottish involvement in the slave trade and slavery in
contrast to the ideas of the Scottish enlightenment. It then considers the
presence of black slaves in Scotland, their treatment, and the court cases
surrounding three of them. The issue of baptism and its influence on the
ideas of freedom is central to this chapter. Two chapters, four and six, deal
with the Scottish petitions to Parliament against the slave trade in 1788 and
1792 and against slavery itself from 1823 to 1831. The contribution of the
Churches, of theological ideas, and of churchmen active in anti-slavery
campaigns and committees are particularly discussed, as is the theological
controversy over the ethics of slavery and opposition to abolition from some
churchmen, from merchants and from the West Indian interests in Scotland.
The controversy between calls for gradual and immediate abolition forms a
substantial part of chapter six. The poisonous Upas tree was compared to
slavery in 1830 by the leading evangelical churchman and proponent for
immediatism, the Edinburgh minister Andrew Thomson.
Chapter five considers the central contribution of five Scots to the abolition
cause - James Ramsay, William Dickson, James Stephen, Zachary
Macaulay, and Henry Brougham, and assesses the influence of background
and education on their anti-slavery activity. In chapter seven the position of
the Scottish missionaries in Jamaica is analysed along with the final stages
of the campaign in 1833 and the resurgence of campaigning activity against
the apprenticeship scheme.
The conclusion of the thesis argues that the contribution of Scotland to the
anti-slavery movement was much stronger than has often been recognised,
despite many factors militating against it and other issues which might have
eclipsed it. Secondly the thesis takes issue with the contention that antislavery
in the churches originated with the evangelical revival, and that the
issue of slavery became a convenient tool for the working out of other
theological and philosophical concerns. It argues that the reverse was true,
that a combination of Moderate theology, influenced by the ideals of the
Scottish enlightenment and the impetus of evangelical theology, combined in
the service of human rights and made a unique contribution to the wider
movement to abolish slavery.