Joseph Knight, the 'slave' who abolished slavery in Scotland, deserves a statue – Scotsman comment

Joseph Knight is a hugely important figure in the history of Scotland, its laws and the abolition of slavery. And yet his extraordinary story remains largely unknown.

Captured as a child in West Africa, he was taken to the Caribbean where he was sold as a slave to a Scottish plantation owner, John Wedderburn, before being brought to Scotland in 1769.

At the time, it was not clear if slavery was actually legal in Scotland or not. However, after a series of legal battles with his supposed ‘owner’, Knight won a ruling by the Court of Session that slavery was not recognised in Scots law, three years after a similar decision in England.

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In the language of the time, the Court of Session declared: “… the defender had no right to the Negro's service for any space of time, nor to send him out of the country against his consent.”

Interestingly, Henry Dundas, the Viscount Melville, whose statue dominates St Andrew Square in Edinburgh, acted as Knight’s lawyer – the same Dundas who later earned the condemnation of many for his role in delaying the abolition of the slave trade for years.

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While Knight is to be the subject of a new work of art commissioned for Perth's City Hall redevelopment, it would be fitting if he was honoured in a more permanent way, like his lawyer, with a statue.

Indeed, given how important this ruling was and the difficulty of achieving it in what was for Knight a foreign land, perhaps he should be reunited with Dundas in St Andrew Square.

Joseph Knight's historic role in abolishing slavery in Scotland should be recognised and celebrated (Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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