Tobacco ships at Port Glasgow.
Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections

African craftwork. Bronze leopard. Benin, Nigeria.
© British Museum

The Scottish Connection
The Scots and English began to own land in the West Indies and the east coast of America in the 1600s. The land was cleared for tobacco and sugar plantations, and native people and indentured servants (with few rights) worked on them. Some Scots owned tobacco plantations. Following the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England, Scottish merchants joined the English trade routes including ‘the triangular trade’. In the 1700s, the sugar and tobacco industries grew, along with the slave trade.

The triangular trade turned people into commodities. This is how it worked:

Goods such as cloth, copper and guns were shipped from Britain to West Africa to be sold or exchanged.
There, captive Africans were bought …

… and taken to the West Indies or America and sold as slaves.

The enslaved people worked on the plantations, producing raw materials such as sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton, which were shipped to Britain. Two major trading ports were Port Glasgow and Greenock.

The Plantations
By the late 1700s, one third of Jamaican plantations were owned by Scots. Some Scots liked to dress their slaves in their clan tartan. In 1790, the combined worth of exports and imports between the West Indies and Scotland totalled at least £50 million in today’s currency.

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