Rewriting history

Sir Geoff Palmer, OBE might be justified in wanting the slave trade more studiously dealt with in Scotland’s schools’ curricula (Letters, 13 January).

But in indicating a disproportionate emphasis on Scotland’s part in abolishing the trade, the professor fails to recognise that some would argue that Scotland’s role in this has instead been neglected.

Fraserburgh-born James Ramsay is thus described by Wikipedia: “Hugely influential in the growing anti-slavery movement, Ramsay did not live to see the fruition of the campaign. He died in July 1789 and was buried at Teston.

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It has been said that the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807 probably owed more to James Ramsay’s ­arguments, proposals and personal integrity than to any other influence.”

History textbooks extol William Wilberforce and many, including most Scots, would find the name of Ramsay unfamiliar in this context.

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Similarly, precious little is in the textbooks about the poor Scots and Irish who were the guinea pigs of slave labour on the early plantations of the Americas.

Their sun-sensitive skins, however, made them uneconomic toilers and attention turned to more sun-resistant people, ie, on the continent of Africa.

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Regarding over-emphasis, maybe this has been towards the relatively small number of Scots who amassed great wealth from the Atlantic slave trade.

Their grand merchant abodes, particularly in Glasgow, financed by the nefarious trade, seem to have turned the heads of too many historians.

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We can agree with reports of Sir Geoff – which label him Scotland’s only black professor – wanting a more comprehensive treatment of the subject.

But in broadening the study, more has to be made of abolition campaigners such as James Ramsay, and the Scottish and Irish poor who preceded the many from Africa who were unceremoniously compelled on to the plantations in replacement.

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For the poor Scots and Irish, more of the same lay far across the seas (again) in the torrid spaces of Australia.

Ian Johnstone

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Forman Drive

Peterhead