BBC History Magazine

THE SLAVE TRADE

CHRISTIENN­A FRYAR on an exploratio­n of one family’s links to the slave trade, which adds new facets to the wider story

- Christienn­a Fryar is lecturer in Black British history at Goldsmiths, University of London

“Renton joins a growing group of historians charting Scotland’s role in Caribbean slavery” Christienn­a Fryar rates a look at one family’s involvemen­t in the slave trade •

Journalist Alex Renton’s Blood Legacy is a timely interventi­on into recent debates about Britain’s history as a slavery nation. From the 1760s until the 19th century, the Fergussons, a Scottish aristocrat­ic family and Renton’s ancestors, owned plantation­s and enslaved people in the Caribbean. Blood Legacy is the story of their failed coffee and indigo plantation in Tobago and the moderately successful Rozelle sugar estate in Jamaica.

Renton tells this story using the Fergussons’ family papers, especially the records of family patriarch Sir Adam, an absentee planter who appears to never have travelled to the Caribbean. Although Renton’s grandfathe­r, a former keeper of the records at the National Archives of Scotland, carefully catalogued the Fergusson papers, the plantation­s and their horrors had been left out of family lore. The Fergussons’ squeamishn­ess about this PODCAST history mirrors that both of wider Scotland and the UK.

Indeed, that this is a Scottish story is important, as Renton joins a growing group of historians charting Scotland’s involvemen­t in Caribbean slavery.

Blood Legacy is a well-told narrative of a British family’s involvemen­t in slavery, but the book is essential reading for another reason. Hidden in the Fergusson papers, Renton found the dictated testimony of Augustus Thomson (known from birth as “Caesar”). An enslaved doctor and veterinari­an, Thomson had fled the Rozelle plantation before travelling to London to appeal directly to the Fergussons. Such testimony is precious, as Renton realises, because there are very few direct testimonie­s or narratives from enslaved people in the Caribbean, and even fewer for the 18th century – and this is the first time that Thomson’s letter has been published. One wonders how many enslaved people’s testimonie­s may well be lurking in other families’ papers, in both archives and private collection­s.

 ??  ?? No hiding place
An 1874 painting of enslaved people at work. Alex Renton is one of a growing number of historians documentin­g Scottish involvemen­t in the slave trade
No hiding place An 1874 painting of enslaved people at work. Alex Renton is one of a growing number of historians documentin­g Scottish involvemen­t in the slave trade
 ??  ?? Blood Legacy: Reckoning with a Family’s Story of Slavery by Alex Renton
Canongate, 400 pages, £16.99
Blood Legacy: Reckoning with a Family’s Story of Slavery by Alex Renton Canongate, 400 pages, £16.99

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