Susan Beckford, Duchess of Hamilton (1786-1859)
NTS photo

Beckfordiana – silver-encrusted goose dish. William Beckford never visited his West Indian plantations.
NTS photo

The auction
The enslaved people were treated like cattle or horses. Their condition was checked by the potential buyers and prices varied according to people’s health and strength. Some buyers preferred people from certain parts of West Africa – they believed some were better workers than others, for instance. Families were often split during an auction. There are accounts of women losing all their children, and couples being sold to separate owners. They might never see each other again.

The cost of a human
The price of an enslaved person varied. William Allason (1760s-70s) talked of buying slaves from the ships (when they were not in a healthy condition), keeping them for a while and then selling them on for a good profit, for £25 - £50 (18th century prices). Good workers were sold for a great deal more – strong and ‘able’ men, working on a Jamaican plantation, were valued at over £100. (see A List of Slaves) Young women were valued because they could produce more slaves.

Some planters in America and the West Indies grew very rich – they usually aimed to make enough money to ‘return home’ to Scotland, and build themselves a fine house.

The Beckfords
The Beckford family was among the first to obtain plantations in Jamaica. They owned hundreds of enslaved people and, over three generations, grew extremely rich – but William Beckford spent much of the fortune on art treasures and a grand house. His daughter and heir, Susan, married the10th Duke of Hamilton, and part of the Beckford collection is now on display at Brodick Castle (cared for by the NTS).

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