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From the Caribbean to the Scottish Highlands: Charitable Enterprise in the Age of Improvement, c.1750 to c.1820

  • S. KARLY KEHOE (a1)

The growing Scottish Highland presence in the Caribbean after 1750 was indicative of two things. On the one hand there was a British imperial agenda intent on promoting economic development and security in the Caribbean. On the other there was a domestic agenda, with a focus on introducing the sweeping changes to Highland society that would complete the process of Highland pacification. There was also, however, a deep concern for the socio-economic and cultural survival of the Highlands which encouraged countless Highlanders to engage in myriad imperial pursuits. This article links the global with the local by considering the rise of charitable enterprise in the Scottish Highlands, one of Britain's most vulnerable regions. In considering the establishment of the region's first hospital, the Northern Infirmary at Inverness, and three academies at Fortrose, Tain and Inverness, it establishes the Scottish Highlands’ intrinsic link with the Caribbean's plantation economy.

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1. Highland Archive Centre, Inverness (HAC). D238/D/1/17/6. Letter from Thomas Fraser, St Vincent, to Simon Fraser, his cousin, a baker in Inverness, 29th June 1798. He and his wife had a fourth boy in c.1800. This was to be, as his wife informed him, their last. D238/D/1/17/6. Letter from Thomas Fraser to his cousin, Simon Fraser, Esquire of Boblany Inverness, North Britain, 24th April 1801.

2. Mackillop Andrew, ‘More Fruitful than the Soil’: Army, Empire and the Scottish Highlands, 1715-1815 (East Linton, 2000), pp. 84–6; Wills Virginia, ed., Reports on the Annexed Estates 1755-1769 (Edinburgh, 1973), p. xv. In 1784 the Disannexing Act passed these estates back to the heirs of the original owners provided they were able to pay off any debts.

3. Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project, University College London: [viewed 3rd July 2015].

4. Macinnes Allan I., ‘Union, Empire and Global Adventuring with a Jacobite Twist, 1707-53’, in Hamilton D. J. and Macinnes A. I., eds, Jacobitism, Enlightenment and Empire, 1680-1820 (London, 2014), pp. 123–40.

5. Hamilton Douglas, Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World, 1750-1820 (Manchester, 2005); Macinnes Allan I., ‘Commercial Landlordism and Clearance in the Scottish Highlands: The case of Arichonan’ in Pan-Montojo J. and Pendersen K., eds, Communities in European History (Pisa, 2007), pp. 4764 .

6. Cooke Anthony, ‘An Elite Revisited: Glasgow West India Merchants, 1783-1877’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 32 (2012), 147 . This is roughly £34.1 million based on Retail Price Index and £263 million using average earnings in today's money []; Macinnes, ‘Commercial Landlordism’, p. 50.

7. Schafer Daniel L., ‘Family Ties that Bind: Anglo-African Slave Traders in Africa and Florida, John Fraser and his Descendants’, Slavery and Abolition, 20 (1999), 121 . Fraser was a slave trader and plantation owner from Inverness who ended up in East Florida.

8. Legacies of British Slave-ownership, project context. [viewed 7/1/14]; Hall Catherine et. al., Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain (Cambridge, 2014); Draper Nicholas, The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery (Cambridge, 2009).

9. Mackillop, ‘More Fruitful’; Robertson James Irvine, The First Highlander: Major General David Stewart of Garth CB, 1768-1829 (East Linton, 1998).

10. Slade H. Gordon, “Craigston and Meldrum Estates, Carriacou, 1769-1841”, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland, 114 (1984), 481537 ; Quintanilla Mark, ‘The World of Alexander Campbell: An Eighteenth-Century Grenadian Planter’, Albion, 35 (2003), 229–56; Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean; Hamilton Douglas, ‘Transatlantic Ties: Scottish Migrant Networks in the Caribbean, 1750-1800’, in McCarthy A., ed., A Global Clan (London, 2006), pp. 4866 ; Douglas Hamilton, ‘“Defending the Colonies against Malicious Attacks of Philanthropy”: Scottish Campaigns against the Abolitions of the Slave Trade’, in Hamilton and Macinnes, Jacobitism, pp. 193-208.

11. Cooke, ‘An Elite Revisited’, 127-65; Mullen Stephen, ‘A Glasgow-West India Merchant House and the Imperial Dividend, 1779-1867’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 33 (2013), 196233 .

12. Macinnes, ‘Commercial Landlordism’; Alston David, ‘“Very rapid and splendid fortunes”? Highland Scots in Berbice (Guyana) in the Early Nineteenth Century’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 63 (2002-2004), 208–36; McKichan Finlay, ‘Lord Seaforth: Highland Proprietor, Caribbean Governor and Slave Owner’, Scottish Historical Review, 90 (2011), 204–35.

13. Kidd Sheila M., ‘Gaelic Books as Cultural Icons: The Maintenance of Cultural Links between the Highlands and the West Indies’, in Sassi Carla and van Heijnsbergen Theo, eds, Within and Without Empire: Scotland across the (Post)Colonial Borderline (Newcastle, 2013), pp. 4660 .

14. Mackillop, ‘More Fruitful’, pp. 80-1.

15. Ibid.; Macinnes, ‘Commercial Landlordism’.

16. Details on individuals will be provided where possible and two resources have proven invaluable: David Alston's website, Slavery and Highlanders ( and the Legacies of Slave-ownership database (, although given my focus on the period before 1820, many of the people mentioned below ceased to have Caribbean interests by the 1830s when the compensation process began.

17. A start was made by Douglas Hamilton with his final chapter, ‘Repatriation from the West Indies’, but his discussion of the Highlands is limited and refers only to Inverness Royal Academy. See Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean, pp. 195-220.

18. Treaty of Paris (1763), article IX. [viewed 6th January 2013]

19. TNA. CO 106/9. The National Archives (TNA). CO 106/9. Letter to the Lords of the Treasury from the Commissioners for the sale and disposal of lands in the islands of Grenada, the Grenadines, Tobago, St Vincent and Dominica in Record of the Sales of the lands in the Ceded Islands, 1764-1768. Entry for 12th May 1765, Tobago. The commissioners explained that ‘such are the difficulties, dangers and expense which attend the clearing of land in this climate, that until persons of fortune and enterprise shall have made some progress in this colony, we are apprehensive the settlement thereof will go on but slowly’.

20. TNA. CO 106/9. Entry for 9th April 1765, St Vincent.

21. TNA. CO 106/9. Entry for 13th August 1765, St Vincent. For more on the Highlands, see Fenyo Kristina, Contempt, Sympathy and Romance: Lowland Perspectives of the Highlands and the Clearances during the Famine Years, 1845-1855 (East Linton, 2001).

22. Treaty of Paris (1763), articles IV and IX. The laws passed for Grenada also applied to its dependencies, at least officially. Edwina Ashie-Nikoi, an expert on Carriacou, notes that those islands which formed part of the Grenadian colony were subject to the laws passed for Grenada itself. Email correspondence with the author, August 2014. See also Willis Aaron, ‘The Standing of New Subjects: Grenada and the Protestant Constitution after the Treaty of Paris (1763)’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 42:1 (2014), 121 .

23. TNA. CO 106/9. Entry for 12th May 1765. Not all of the French were permitted to take advantage of these concessions or to stay. Religious orders like the Jesuits, whose lands in Dominica amounted to some 145 acres of uncleared and 547 acres of cleared land, left. Having arrived on the island in 1747, the Jesuits had bought some 200 slaves in 1749 for the purposes of clearing and growing crops. Honychurch Lennox, The Dominica Story: A History of the Island (London, 1995), pp. 56–8.

24. Mackillop, ‘More Fruitful’, pp. 84-5.

25. TNA. CO 106/9. Entry for 12th May 1765.

26. TNA. CO 106/9. Entry for 22nd May 1767, Dominica; Honychurch, The Dominica Story, p. 54. This also happened in Carriacou, see Ryden David Beck, ‘“One of the finest and most fruitful spots in America”: An Analysis of Eighteenth-Century Carriacou’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 43 (2013), 552 .

27. For an overview see Parliamentary Papers, Report of the commissioners appointed for the purposes of an Act, entitled “An act for granting His Majesty the sum of twenty thousand pounds, to be issued and applied towards making roads and building bridges in the Highlands of Scotland (1804).

28. Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean, pp. 84-111; Hamilton, ‘Transatlantic Ties’, pp. 48-66.

29. Quintanilla, ‘World of Alexander’, 236; Duffy Michael, ‘War, Revolution and the Crisis of the British Empire’, in Philp Mark, ed., The French Revolution and British Popular Politics (Cambridge, 1991), p. 127 ; Hancock David, ‘Scots in the Slave Trade’, in Landsman Ned C., ed., Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas, 1600-1800 (Lewisburg, 2001), p. 64.

30. Slade, ‘Craigston and Meldrum’, 483, 486-7 and 491. For an overview of African culture on Carriacou, see Edwina Ashie-Nikio, ‘Beating the Pen on the Drum: A Socio-Cultural History of Carriacou, Grenada, 1750-1920’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York, 2007).

31. Ryden, ‘One of the finest’, 546-7 and 555. His study suggests that in 1776 the Heads of farming households were broken down in the following terms: ‘Of-colour’, 11%; white – French, 44%; white - British, 43% (26% Scottish, 17% English); unknown, 2%. In 1790 there was a slight change: ‘Of-colour’, 19%; white – French, 33%; white British, 48% (23% Scottish, 25% English); unknown, 0%. By 1790, the majority of the absentee owners were either Scottish or English; the French absentees had all but disappeared. TNA. CO101/31 f.103-4. Minutes of the Evidence, 173 and 178. Correspondence of the Secretary of State includes a population list for Carriacou in the early 1790s which reveals a significant Scottish slave owning presence across the social spectrum

32. Slade, ‘Craigston and Meldrum’. The Legacy of British Slave-ownership database shows that the great grandson of William Urquhart, who began the Carriacou ventures, received £5,693 11 s. 6 d. for slaves on the Craigston plantation and £2,648 19 s. 5 d. for those on the Meldrum estate. [viewed 10th August 2014]HAC. D238/D/1/17/6. Letter from Thomas Fraser, St Vincent, to Simon Fraser, Inverness, 28th July 1784.

33. HAC. D238/D/1/17/6. Letter from Fraser to Fraser, 13th September 1786.

34. HAC. D238/D/1/17/6. Letter from Fraser to Fraser, 20th June 1798.

35. Quintanilla, ‘World of Alexander’, 234-5. Before going to Grenada, Campbell had been to Barbados, St Kitts, Antigua, St Eustatius and Martinique. Parliamentary Papers, Minutes of the Evidence take before the Select Committee, appointed for the Examination of Witnesses on the Slave Trade, reported 19th February 1790. Witness Examined, Mr. Campbell, 135.

36. Devas Raymond, Conception Island or the Troubled Story of the Catholic Church in Grenada, British West Indies (Edinburgh, 1932), 51-2; Duffy, ‘War, Revolution’, p. 127. For additional support, see TNA. CO101/126 f. 131-5, 277-9 and 423-4, Correspondence of the Secretary of State. Minutes of the Evidence, pp. 138-9.

37. Hancock, ‘Scots in the Slave’, 64; Quintanilla, ‘World of Alexander’, 239-40. He notes the unwillingness of the British planting elite to permit the political participation of the French Catholics. See Minutes of the Evidence, 134-80 for an overview of Campbell's practices and thoughts.

38. Quintanilla, ‘World of Alexander’, pp. 231, 253; Cox Edward L., ‘Fedon's Rebellion 1795-96: Causes and Consequences’, The Journal of Negro History, 67 (1982), 719 .

39. Quintanilla, ‘World of Alexander’, pp. 229-56; Alston, ‘Very rapid and splendid fortunes’, 210.

40. Dunlop Jean, The British Fisheries Society, 1786-1893 (Edinburgh, 1978), pp. 23–4. See some of the links available via the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project's searchable database ( and its report, Scotland and Glasgow in the Records of Slave Compensation (2010) as well and on David Alston's Slaves and Highlanders webpage (

41. The Highland Society of London, and Branch Societies; with a List of the Members (London, 1873), p. 8.

42. Cochran L. E., Scottish Trade with Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 43 , 74, 80-2.

43. Dunlop, British Fisheries, p. 27.

44. An account of the Highland Society of London, from its establishment in May 1778 to the Commencement of the year 1813 (London, 1813), pp. 6-8. The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 56 George III, 1816 (London, 1816), pp. 726-32 gives a list of its members in 1816 and their locations; colonial representation was high.

45. Kidd, ‘Gaelic Books’, p. 60.

46. Proposed Regulations to be submitted to a General Meeting of the Highland Society of Edinburgh to be held on Friday the 5th of March, 1784 (Edinburgh, 1784).

47. Fortrose Academy Archive (FAA). Register; Inverness Royal Academy Archive (IRAA). Minute Book; HAC. HHB/1/1/1. Minute Book of the Northern Infirmary.

48. Risse Guenter B., Hospital Life in Enlightenment Scotland: Care and Teaching at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 724 .

49. FAA. Register; IRAA. Minute Book; HAC. HHB/1/1/1. Minute Book of the Northern Infirmary; National Library of Scotland (NLS), Appeal in Behalf of the Royal Tain Academy, and Report of its Funds to the 31st of December 1818 (London, 1819).

50. Withrington Donald J., ‘Education and Society in the Eighteenth Century’, in Phillipson N. T. and Mitchison R., eds, Scotland in the Age of Improvement: Essays in Scottish History in the Eighteenth Century (Edinburgh, 1970), pp. 169–99.

51. Ibid., p. 178.

52. New Statistical Account of Scotland, Volume XIV, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty (Edinburgh, 1845), p. 298.

53. Old Statistical Account of Scotland, Volume XI, Rosemarkie, County of Ross and Cromarty (Edinburgh, 1791-99), p. 346.

54. FAA. Register of Fortrose Academy, Volume I. June 1810-June 1838, p. 117.

55. FAA. Register, 82. Inverness Royal Academy Archive (IRAA). Minute Book, p. 27.

56. FAA. Register. IRAA. Minute Book. Withrington, ‘Education and Society’, pp. 176-9.

57. Iain H. Adams, ed., Papers on Peter May, Land Surveyor, 1749-1793 (Edinburgh, 1997), xiii-xxii.

58. IRAA. Minute Book, p. 229; School Register, 1804-1810. David Alston has done some research on this, see “A Forgotten Diaspora: The Children of Enslaved and ‘free coloured’ Women and Highland Scots in Guyana before Emancipation”, Northern Scotland, 6 (2015), 49-69.

59. IRAA. Minute Book, p. 57.

60. The old Northern Infirmary building is now the executive office of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

61. IRAA. Minute Book. FAA. Register, p. 25 and NLS, Appeal in Behalf, pp. 15-30. Gordon gave one hundred pounds to IRA in 1788; Seaforth gave fifty pounds each to FA and IRA in 1787 and c.1790 and fifty-seven pounds to Tain in 1811; Munro also gave to both - £105 to IRA and £100 to FA in 1787; Ross and Stirling gave fifty pounds and fifty-two pounds to Tain in 1801 and 1812 respectively.

62. IRAA. Minute Book, p. 18. The Committee of Subscribers was founded in 1787 to establish the institution. MacLeod endorsed Catholic relief for Scotland in 1793 and voted to abolish the slave trade in 1796. For more biographical information, see [viewed 13th November 2013] William Mackintosh's sons, Phineas and William, became slave owners on Demerara. [viewed 13th November 2013]

63. Biography for Norman MacLeod (1754-1801). [viewed 7 July 2015]

64. IRAA. Minute Book, pp. 96 and 137. This was the second single largest donation and it was on top of an earlier thirty pound donation he had made in 1790. In total MacLeod gave the equivalent of £7,300. The only other subscription larger than this was £200 given by Colonel John McGillvray in 1790. It is possible that this is the same John McGillvray whose family went to the American colonies after Culloden. McKichan, ‘Lord Seaforth’.

65. NLS. Address to the Public in behalf of the Northern Infirmary, 30th August 1809.

66. IRAA. Minute Book, p. 18.

67. Risse, Hospital Life; Jenkinson Jacqueline, Moss Michael and Russell Iain, The Royal: The History of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, 1794-1994 (Glasgow, 1994).

68. Biographical Information from Miller James, Inverness (Edinburgh, 2004), pp. 164-5; Jenkinson, et. al., The Royal, p. 23.

69. Ibid., pp. 21-2; Risse, Hospital Life, pp. 35-6; Levack Iain and Dudley Hugh, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary: The People's Hospital of the North-East (London, 1992), p. 19 .

70. Levack and Dudley, Aberdeen, p. 23.

71. HAC. HHB/1/1/1. Minute Book of the Northern Infirmary.

72. IRAA. Minute Book, pp. 36-7. MacBoan might be MacBean.

73. IRAA. Minute Book, pp. 49 and 329. George and William were business partners; HAC. Inverness Family Tree created by Anne Fraser, genealogist. William's half-brother received significant compensation for slaves the family held in Jamaica and St Vincent. The Legacy of British Slave-ownership database,; see also Slaves and Highlanders

74. Miller, Inverness, p. 165.

75. For a very useful biographical overview, please see: [viewed 23rd January 2014]; Hamilton, Scotland, the Carribean, pp. 205-6.

76. IRAA. Minute Book, pp. 86 and 132. For more information on the Northern Meeting, which still exists, please see this link: [viewed 14th January 2014]

77. IRAA. Minute Book, p. 329. Kidd, ‘Gaelic Books’, pp. 56-7.

78. FAA. Register, pp. 30-48, 123. Legacies of British Slave-ownership, and [viewed 15th August 2014].

79. The Statutes, p. 731.

80. FAA. Register, p. 75.

81. This figure compares with statistics for Inverness. Robert Preece estimates that 25% of donations received were from the Caribbean: Preece Robert, Song School, Town School, Comprehensive: A History of Inverness Royal Academy (Inverness, 2011), pp. 4961 .

82. NLS, Appeal in Behalf, pp. 15-30; for information of the Sutherland clearances see Richards Eric, The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil (Edinburgh, 2002).

83. NLS, Appeal in Behalf.

84. The New Statistical, p. 291.

85. The New Statistical, p. 298.

86. NLS, Appeal in Behalf, pp. 5-6.

87. NLS. Digital Collections. Letter VI of Donald Macleod's Gloomy Memories of the Highlands (Toronto, 1857). [viewed 4th January 2014].

88. Mackillop also emphasises this in ‘More Fruitful’.

89. NLS. An Account of the Highland Society of London from its earliest establishment in May 1778 to the Commencement of the Year 1813 (London, 1813), pp. 35 and 37.

90. See for instance Mackillop's chapters 5 and 6 in ‘More Fruitful’.

91. NLS, Appeal in Behalf of the Royal Tain Academy, p. 7.

92. Pittock Murray, Celtic Identity and the British Image (Manchester, 1999), pp. 5660 .

93. IRAA. Minute Book. Copy of letter from Committee to James MacPherson, 10th April 1787, and letter to Highland Society of London, 20th May 1791, pp. 29 and 128-9.

94. HAC. HHB/1/1/1. This dispute is discussed in the Minutes of the Committee of the Northern Infirmary with copies of letters from the Highland Society of London to the Committee. Entry for 8th November 1802.

95. New Statistical, p. 300.

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