Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 07:18 UK

Letter reveals slave called Doll

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

George Washinton and slaves
George Washington, who led the fight against the loyalists, kept slaves on his Virginia plantations

A Scottish soldier's request to take his daughter's black slave called Doll with him to war has been highlighted by a Highland Council-run history website.

Lt Soirle MacDonald, from Skye, was a loyalist fighting for the British Army in the American War of Independence.

A letter granting him permission regarding the slave is among a collection of papers given prominence in the favourites section of Am Baile.

The website on Highlands culture is available in Gaelic and English.

The collection of correspondence sent to MacDonald forms part of the JLM Mitchell Archive of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.

The Bearer Lieut Soirle McDonald of the British Legion has permission to take with him a negro woman named Doll
Message from Brigade headquarters, New York

MacDonald moved to North Carolina from Skye in 1771 at a time of large-scale emigration from Scotland and the clearance of tenants from Highlands and Islands estates.

He settled with his family in Anson County, an area named in honour of British admiral Lord George Anson.

The Scot was not alone in leaving Scotland for the North American colony.

By 1773, about 4,000 Highland Scots arrived to settle along the Cape Fear River, bringing the total Scottish population in the colony to 20,000, according to the North Carolina Museum of History.

Among its later residents was Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie in his escape following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden.

The colony would also prove to be a hotbed for revolution.

In October 1774, 50 women gathered in the home of Elizabeth King to declare their support for American independence, in what became known as the Edenton Tea Party.

When war broke out in 1775, MacDonald led a company in the British Legion to combat French-backed revolutionary colonists, or Patriots.

The following February, Patriots defeated North Carolina Highland Scots Loyalists at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge.

A letter dated 16 March, 1782, gives MacDonald permission from high command at the Brigade, New York, for the officer to take the female slave.

The MacDonalds later returned to Skye

According to Am Baile, the sepia-tinged hand-written note reads: "The Bearer Lieut Soirle McDonald of the British Legion has permission to take with him a negro woman named Doll being the property of his Daughter Mary and brought from Nth Carolina with his family."

It is possible Doll was tasked with domestic duties, while MacDonald and his company were on campaigns against the revolutionaries.

Many of her male counterparts had been recruited to units by the opposing forces.

Six years before MacDonald's request, the British formed the Black Pioneers and Guides.

The regiment of enslaved and free African Americans from along the North Carolina coast served as guides and labourers for the duration of the war.

Other correspondence published on Am Baile records instructions for MacDonald to enlist new recruits to his company and, after the war, the paying of his pension.

After the war, he and his family moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, a sanctuary for many other loyalist Scots who fled the fighting in North Carolina in 1777.

The MacDonalds left behind a country forming its own identity.

In 1789 George Washington, the man who led the revolutionaries against the British and himself ran slaves on his Virginia plantations, was elected first president of USA.

The MacDonalds later returned to Skye.

Black pupils

The Highlands connection with slavery has been described by one historian as the region's "forgotten past".

Dr David Alston, a Highland councillor, researched the region's links with slavery for a series of lectures in Inverness in 2007.

He found Inverness's old infirmary and academy, along with Fortrose Academy received money from the trade.

Dr Alston said, during the 1700s and 1800s, Highlanders sought their fortunes in the colonies.

His investigations grew from researching the historic village of Cromarty on the Black Isle.

Dr Alston was intrigued when he read how Hugh Miller, a geologist and fossil collector who was born and brought up in Cromarty in the 1800s, had sat next to a black pupil in school.

It led him to find there were three black pupils at Inverness Royal Academy around the same time.

They were the children of men who had married slaves, or women known at the time as free coloured, while working on or running sugar plantations in the West and East Indies.

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