Black anti-slavery campaigners in Edinburgh traced

A map which charts some of the hundreds of black campaigners, many of them former slaves, who came to Edinburgh to campaign for the abolitionist movement has been released.

Some of the black activitsts -including many former slaves - who visited Edinburgh to campaign for abolition. They include Sarah Parker Redmon (middle row, left); William Wells Brown (middle row, right) and Samuel Ringgold Brown (bottom row, left).

The map has been produced by National Library of Scotland and Celeste-Marie Bernier, professor of Black Studies at Edinburgh University.

It highlights key locations where the abolitionists from the United States met, gave speeches and stayed during their time in Edinburgh to campaign against the transatlantic slave trade.

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The escaped American slave who felt an equal man in Edinburgh
The 19th Century abolitionists map of Edinburgh highlights key locations where campaigners met, gave speeches and stayed in the capital. PIC: NLS.

The document also reflects the extent of the abolitionist movement that took hold in Edinburgh during the 19th Century with the campaign finding its home among the Quaker meeting houses, the temperance societies and the city’s radical intellectuals of the day.

Frederick Douglass, a former chattel slave who escaped his masters in Maryland aged 20, came to Edinburgh in 1846 to embark on a powerful anti-slavery campaign and act as an agent to co-ordinate appearances from both black and white abolitionists.

While Douglass is the most prominent black anti-slavery campaigner to travel to Scotland from the United States, many more came before and after him.

Frederick Douglass, the most prominent black abolitionist campaigner to visit Edinburgh, escaped chattel slavery and became a powerful orator and author. He also co-ordinated visiting anti-slavery campaignerson their visits to Scotland. PIC: Creative Commons.

Prof Bernier said she wanted to illustrate the extent of black radicalism in the city at the time.

Prof Bernier said: “When he came to Edinburgh in the 1840s, Douglass is standing on the shoulders of other activists.

“Other black campaigners had been coming since the late 18th and early 19th Centuries and Douglass’s visit was made possible due to the relationships built up between black and white abolitionists.”

The interactive map illustrates locations such as Albany Street Chapel in Broughton Street, where Samuel Ringgold Ward spoke in the early 1850s.

Ringgold Ward, who was born into slavery in Maryland, went on to become a world-renowned author, activist, antislavery radical and social justice campaigner.

Ringgold Ward named and shamed Scottish slave traders as “severely exacting and oppressive” in his Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro, according to research by Prof Bernier.

He said the “names of their perpetrators, would be the largest, blackest roll and record of infamy that ever disgraced the Scottish name or blighted Scottish character.”

Ringgold Ward later recalled an unpleasant tour of the Palace of Holyroodhouse during his anti-slavery lecturing tour of the capital.

He wrote: “Our guide... made some stupid blunder about the lock of the door, so that he could not unfasten it to let us out...I took an old battle-axe, affirmed to be 600 years old… and broke the door open, effecting deliverance from durance for myself and party.”

Sarah Park Remond is also included in the new map. Born into a free black community in Salem, Massachusetts, she was invited to Scotland by the Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society.

A leading light in the organisation was Eliza Wigham, who was also prominent in the temperance, suffrage and peace movements in the late 19th century.

Ms Remond spoke at Brighton Street Chruch on October 5, 1860.

According to research by Prof Bernier, the lecture was “crowded to the door by a most respectable audience, numbering upwards of 2000” with Ms Remond commended for deepening “our abhorrence of the sin of Slavery.”

Accounts from the activist offer a fascinating insight into Edinburgh society of the day with Douglass writing of feeling “no distinction” to those of a “paler hue” in the city where “no one seemed alarmed to his presence”.

William Wells Brown, an enslaved man turned dramatist and historian, also described a racial egalitarianism found in Edinburgh

Brown, who stayed at the York Hotel during one visit to the capital, said: “I met a large number of the students on their way to the college, and here again were seen coloured men arm in arm with whites.

“The proud American who finds himself in the splendid streets of Edinburgh, and witnesses such scenes as these, can but behold in them the degradation of his own country, whose laws would make slaves of these same young men.”

In 1833, a Bill to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire was passed by parliament.

It wasn’t until 1865 that the US abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Edinburgh became a key rallying point on the transatlantic antislavery circuit with a major abolition campaign also forged in Glasgow.

Staying with William Wells Brown during a trip to Edinburgh was Ellen and William Craft, a couple who made history by escaping plantation slavery in Georgia.

Ellen Craft dressed up as a man and passed as a white slaveholder travelling with her enslaved servant, her disguised husband, William Craft, according to Prof Bernier.

The couple were in popular demand on the after they published their life story, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.

The couple stayed at Cannon’s Hotel in St Andrew Square with William Wells Brown while they delivered a series of antislavery lectures to packed audiences.

The maps comes amid growing awareness of the role of Scotland in the slave trade. Glasgow has been at the frontline of examining its role in the trade with ongoing work in Edinburgh, particularly around the plantation wealth that was used to purchase and enhance large portions of the New Town.

By 1796, Scots owned nearly 30 per cent of the estates in Jamaica and by 1817, just under a third of the slaves.

But Scots too played a huge role in winning the slaves their freedom. In 1792, the year that produced the most petitions for abolition, there were 561 from Britain – a third of which came from Scotland with the campaign drawing support from cities and towns across the country.

The full interactive map can be seen at