Building on our Jamaican ties

When Scots think of Jamaica it’s unlikely to be in terms of our shameful historical links.

Jamaica was a focal point of Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade and a campaign group, launched last year, are determined to bring that issue to the fore.

Scotland Jamaica appeared before the Holyrood petition committee on Tuesday, to call for Scotland to acknowledge its heritage of slavery and begin building new economic and development bonds with the island.

Visiting in September, Prime Minister David Cameron put to bed any suggestion of the UK paying reparations for its role in the enslavement and exploitation of Jamaica.

Flag Up isn’t asking for reparations however, it wants the Scottish Government to make Jamaica a priority in terms of trade and development – similar to the bonds that exist between Scotland and Malawi.


While textbooks in Scotland focus on the role of Scottish abolitionists such as William Dickson, Scotland’s own involvement in the slave trade has been largely forgotten.

Professor Tom Devine, right, who edited a 2015 collection of essays entitled Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection, argues that it is a huge area of Scottish history that has been marginalised.

“There has been a collective national amnesia about slavery,” he said.

According to the professor, Scotland’s disproportionate role in the slave trade has only started coming to light in the last 10-15 years.

In their petition, Flag Up Scotland Jamaica have detailed the complex historical links between the two countries.

The first Scots to appear on the island were not seeking fortune, they were exiles.

Scottish prisoners of war arrived in Jamaica in 1656 to begin new lives as indentured servants on sugar plantations.

In 1655 Jamaica had been captured from the Spanish and the new colony was seen by Cromwell as a convenient place to ship Scottish prisoners seized during the battles at Dunbar in 1650 and Worcester in 1651.

They were followed by further exiles including petty criminals, Covenanters and Jacobite rebels.

However, this Scottish connection was soon eclipsed by those who came willingly to Jamaica to seek their fortunes in sugar plantations.


Scotland’s role in Jamaica’s slave-driven economy is well documented.

Among the statements submitted to the Parliament was a quote from a planter-historian in the colony, Edward Long, who said: “Jamaica, indeed is greatly indebted to North Britain (Scotland), as very nearly one third of the inhabitants are either natives of that country or descendants from those who were.

“Many have come from the same quarter every year, less in quest of fame than of fortunes.”

It was between 1760 and 1830 that the Scottish economy went from one of the weakest in Europe to one of the most powerful.

The slave trade was an important part of that and its legacy can still be seen today, even in seemingly innocuous street names such as Glasgow’s Jamaica Street.

Glasgow was a major importer of slave produced sugar and the sheds where it was stored still exist in Greenock.

The slave trade also had other indirect benefits on the Scottish economy. Between 1765 and 1795, for instance, there was a tenfold increase in the import of Scottish linen to Jamaica – to clothe slaves.


While Scotland has tried its hardest to forget its legacy in Jamaica, the island’s Scottish links are clear for all to see.

Jamaica is said to have more Campbells per square acre than Scotland, it is the island’s most common surname.

This is the result of a legacy that can be traced back to the 18th century and the arrival of Colonel John Campbell of Inverary on the island. Having left the failed Scottish colony attempt in Panama he arrived in Jamaica in 1701.

He set up a sugar plantation at Black River and encouraged his nephews to join him, helping the Campbell name to become widespread.

Among his possible descendants are fashion model Naomi Campbell and sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown, according to the Flag Up campaign.


The Campbells aren’t the only Scottish name connected to Jamaica – the island has the highest percentage of Scottish surnames outside of Scotland.

The 30 most common surnames in Jamaica include: Anderson, Campbell, Gordon, Graham, Grant and Malcolm.

There are two Cullodens on the island, as well as an Aberdeen, Dundee, Elgin Town, Glasgow, Inverness, Kilmarnoch and Perth Town.

Many of the slave plantations on Jamaica also sported Scottish names, such as Hampden, Argyle, Glen Islay, Fort William, Montrose and Dumbarton.

Famous Jamaicans with a Scottish connection include the leaders of the 1895 Morant Bay Rebellion, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon.

As well as the radicals with Scottish fathers, Robert Wedderburn and William Davidson, there was Mary Seacole (Grant), who became famous as a nurse during Crimean War.


Jamaica’s national flag is the only flag bar Scotland’s that includes the St. Andrew ’s cross. It came about through the friendship of a Presbyterian minister, Rev William McGhie and the Jamaican Prime Minster Alexander Bustamante.

With Jamaican’s independence in 1962 approaching the reverend suggested to Bustamante that it should have a flag with a cross to represent its status as a Christian country.

The result was a flag similar to the Saltire with the black, green and gold of Jamaica.

Jamaican national dress also has links to Scotland. Known as the bandana costume, it is a mix of African kente and Scottish tartan.


The campaigners are asking for a “change in focus” in the relationship between Scotland and Jamaica.

What they want is for is Scotland “to recognise our responsibility to do all we can to improve the lives of ordinary Jamaicans”.

They argue that as Scotland’s prosperity was founded in part on its exploitation of Jamaica, the country has a responsibility towards aiding its economic growth.

Jamaica is the second poorest Caribbean island, after Haiti.

Flag Up is calling on the Scottish Government to make formal bilateral ties, and place Jamaica on its priority country list for trade and development.

This profile was first published by The National (17/12/15).

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