You see a lot of people still banging on about slavery in the UK, despite the fact that in 1838, enslaved men, women, and children in the British Empire finally became fully free after a period of forced apprenticeship following the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.
But they never seem to talk much about the slavery that existed in Scotland. Half of my ancestors were miners working in shale and coal mines where legally sanctioned slavery operated. This was a time when at the baptism of a child of a miner, the mine owners could buy them into slavery for life by a system called the payment of “arles”. MIners were the property of the mine owners until death.
Even when they died, miners were segregated from free folk. In parts of Fife in the 18th century, miners could not be buried in church graveyards or other consecrated ground and barriers were erected in church so that the decent worshippers wouldn’t have to mix with the miners and their families. Some churches even had a separate door!
And this isn’t ancient history. The 1606 Act “Anent Coalyers and Salters” had placed Scottish “coalyers, coal-bearers and salters” in a condition of permanent bondage to their employer. This wasn’t reversed until the Colliers and Salters (Scotland) Act 1775 which noted that the Scottish coal workers existed in “a state of slavery or bondage”.
Even then it took a subsequent 1824 Act of Parliament, the purpose of which was to “explain and amend the Laws relating to colliers in that part of Great Britain called Scotland.” Finally, all Scottish colliers were to be free from servitude and were now subject to the same legislation that governed other workers in the country.
So what about a nice apology from the Prime Minister for the institutionalised slavery that bound my ancesters for over 200 years. I’m sure Robert, my 4x Great Grandfather and Archibald, my 3x Great Grandfather, slaves both, would appreciate it.
Pictured below – a Scots slave collar. Featured image at the top is my coal miner Grandad, scion of Robert and Archibald, Scottish slaves.