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A Chattel Slave narrative: Freedom Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the British Slave Trade
Dedicated to the memory of Robert Wedderburn one of the first black Jamaican activist...(1762 - 1835)


Robert was born into British slavery in Jamaica in 1762.  He was the son of the Scottish slave master, James Wedderburn and his slave Rosanna. 
Robert WedderburnJames Wedderburn bought Inveresk Lodge, near Musselburgh, when he returned to Scotland in 1773. His wealth came from 27 years of plantation slavery. When his son visited him and his well placed white family in 1795, he gave him a "cracked sixpence" and turned him away. Robert Wedderburn returned to London and became one of the first, slave born, black activists in Britain. He stated that British chattel slavery in the West Indies was an evil crime against humanity. For saying this and for defending the oppressed poor he was jailed for two years. He has been less popular than Equiano because he was more direct in his quest for justice and freedom for all.

A commemorative Scottish Walk, from Musselburgh to Inveresk Lodge, took place on the 25th March 2007. About three hundred people attended.  Lord Wedderburn QC and his wife travelled from London to Edinburgh to take part in the walk. Lord Wedderburn and Geoff PalmerLord Wedderburn is the distinguished employment law academic. He is a direct and proud descendant of the black slave activist, Robert Wedderburn.

In order to highlight "modern slavery" various organisations have decided to link criminal activities such as trafficking with the commemoration of the abolition of slave trade. This linking of evils, damages the case for "modern slavery" because it attempts to dilute the legal brutality of chattel slavery. Each evil deserves separate attention. If a trafficked person has any rights in law that person cannot be compared with a chattel slave. In the British legal code of 1661, black chattel slaves "had no right to life" and could be mutilated by their owners. Trafficking is an unacceptable injustice, but it is a far greater injustice to try and make the public believe that a trafficked person or a person cleared from the Highlands was no better off than a chattel slave. To kill trafficked or cleared persons would be illegal; to kill a British chattel slave in New World Slavery was legal. No slave master was executed for killing or raping his slave. Although both English and Scottish courts ruled that slavery was illegal in England and Scotland; the same courts accepted that slavery was legal in the British West Indies. A cruel contradiction glorified in the National song, "Rule Britannia", which was written during slavery.

The slaves of British slavery worked and died like animals to support the British economy for nearly two hundred and fifty years before it was decided that the trade should be abolished in 1807. Full slavery was abolished in 1838. The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 was a political concession to abolitionists such as Wilberforce for a "delayed" abolition of slavery. The main political force behind this outrageous concession was one of the most powerful politicians at the time, the Scot, Henry Dundas. He was rewarded later with the title of Lord Melville. Despite the petitions and the slave rebellions, Parliament continued its slavery for another 31 years.  The descendants of this slavery now bear the consequences of this long period of greed and evil...so why begrudge these people one year of separate and respectful commemoration?

As human beings we all have histories to tell and West Indian history is linked to hundreds of years of British (Scottish) history. There are many black people in the West Indies with Scottish surnames. For example, in Jamaica, there are more Scottish surnames such as Campbell, Grant, Graham, MacFarlane and Reid per square mile in Jamaica than they are in Scotland. Four of the National heroes of West Indian rebellions, who were hanged by the British, were: Sharpe, Gladstone, Bogle and Gordon. The name of the present Colonel of the famous Maroons warriors that won their freedom from the British in Jamaica during slavery is, Wallace Stirling...a very Scottish name. We are a part of the fabric of this country in many ways and no one can tell us to leave.

I do not expect any sympathy with regard to the slave condition which produced me.  However, I am part of the many battles fought by the slaves. I am also part of the many battles fought by Europeans in the Caribbean and I understand the sadness of the Culloden war between the Scots and the English because many of the defeated Scots went to the West Indies (especially Jamaica), as slave masters, to seek fortunes from the forced, unpaid labour, of chattel slaves. If I can understand the importance of your past to you, you can understand the importance of my past to me. Evil or good deeds of the past should not be forgotten because they remind us of what we are capable of doing...good or bad.

By Geoff Palmer

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