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Community Land Scotland

Plantation Slavery and Landownership the West Highlands and Islands: Legacies and Lessons

Scores of estates in the West Highlands and Islands were acquired by people using the equivalent of well over £100m worth of riches connected to slavery in the Caribbean and North America. Many would go on to be leading figures in the Highland Clearances, evicting thousands of people whose families had lived on their newly procured land for generations.

These are amongst the conclusions of a research paper titled ‘Plantation slavery and landownership in the west Highlands and Islands: legacies and lessons’ published today, by two university academics – both from Hebridean backgrounds. It has been written by Coventry University-based Dr Iain MacKinnon from Skye, and Dr Andrew Mackillop, a senior lecturer in Scottish History at Glasgow University, who is originally from Harris.

It shows how 63 estates were bought by significant beneficiaries of “slavery derived wealth”. The majority (37) changed hands between 1790 and 1855, the main period of the eviction of thousands of people. Almost 1.2m acres were involved covering 33.5 % of the West Highlands and Islands.

It is an independent study, but is being published by Community Land Scotland, the representative body of Scotland’s community landowners such as West Harris, Knoydart and South Uist as part of its discussion paper series on ‘Land and the Common Good’. It comes at a time when Scotland and the rest of Britain struggle with past involvement in the slavery economy. The new paper builds on the work already done by Professor Sir Tom Devine.

It provides the first systematic analysis of the location, size and monetary value of estate purchases financed by directly or indirectly acquired slavery money. This came either from a highly profitable involvement in the slave trade and/or the plantations themselves; through marriage into families of such wealth; or from the compensation paid by the British Government when slavery was abolished in most of the British Empire

In addition to the report, summary discussion paper and Annex linked below, there is a webinar featuring Dr Iain MacKinnon of Coventry University and Dr Andrew Mackillop of the University of Glasgow discuss their research. The webinar is chaired by Peter Peacock and also includes contributions from Dr Jennifer Melville, leader of the National Trust for Scotland’s ‘Facing Our Past’ project and Dr Calum MacLeod, Community Land Scotland’s policy director. Following the contributions from our speakers there is a Question and Answer session to discuss the implications of the research and its wider contemporary relevance.