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The Plantations: Something in the air

During the 1700s, many Scots went to the plantations in the West Indies and eastern America, including:

- Younger sons of the gentry who were unlikely to inherit
- Those who had supported the Jacobite rebellion and were out of favour
- People escaping from poverty and the class system

Some become plantations owners, others were book-keepers, overseers, doctors, ministers and tradespeople. The plantations produced raw materials suitable for a warm climate, particularly sugar, tobacco and cotton.

A Peculiar Quality

The new arrivals may have had the best intentions – to seek their fortune or improve their lives - but they soon became part of a barbaric system. On reaching the plantations, they encountered the enslaved people.

When Zachary Macaulay became an assistant manager on a Jamaican plantation, he was shocked by the plight of the slaves but then became 'callous and indifferent'. A leading abolitionist in later years, young Macaulay joined the slave trade system because, on the plantations, this was the normal way of life.

He wrote home: 'The air of this island has some peculiar quality in it, for no sooner does a person set foot on it than his former ways of thinking are entirely changed… You would hardly know (me)… were you to view me in a field of canes…cursing and bawling (and hear) ...the noise of the whip resounding on their shoulders, and the cries of the poor wretches…'

Robert Burns

In 1787, Burns intended to escape the daily grind of his life by going to Jamaica. In a letter to Dr. John Moore, he pictured himself as 'a poor Negro driver'. Soon after this, his newly published book of poems turned him into a celebrity. Burns stayed in Scotland and married Jean Armour.

Click here to find out more about Scotland and the slave trade