Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 15:46 UK

Scots urged to face 'slave past'

Slaves worked on plantations run by Scots

A leading historian has said Scotland must face up to "darker sides" of its history as well as celebrating its achievements.

Prof Tom Devine will deliver a talk in Inverness on Saturday entitled Did Slavery Make Scotland Great?

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Highland Cafe that the use of slaves by Scots plantation owners may have aided the country's economic growth in the past.

Prof Devine's lecture is a feature of Scotland's Global Impact Conference.

Speaking to the Highland Cafe, he said it was his duty as a scholar to deal with all evidence from the past and what Scotland did for both good and bad.

He said the title of his talk was provocative, but asked the question about slavery's role in accelerating a poor country to better fortunes during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

I think a more confident and mature democracy has to look at its past warts and all
Prof Tom Devine

Prof Devine, of the University of Edinburgh and one of Scotland's most prominent historians, said: "By great, I essentially mean not in a political, or cultural, or religious sense, I mean great in material development."

While Scots did not have a major role in the slave trade, the historian said they were used to work on cotton, rum and sugar plantations in the Caribbean and in the harvesting of tobacco.

He added: "I detect a much greater confidence in Scotland in the last 10-15 years and I think a more confident and mature democracy has to look at its past warts and all."

"The extraordinary way this small country did punch above its weight is now starting to be well recorded, but we do also need to look at the thing as a totality and remember some of the darker sides."

Evidence of Scotland's connections with slavery can be found in a collection of letters available online by Highlands culture website Am Baile.

The papers include a Scottish soldier's request to take his daughter's black slave called Doll with him to war.

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

Married slaves

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

Dr Alston said that 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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