Posts Tagged ‘Whyday’

History Debunked on the White Slaves of Early Modern Scotland

June 21, 2021

This is another video from History Debunked’s Simon Webb. I’ve put up a number of his videos because they seem to contradict and refute some of the falsehoods deliberately being told about slavery and the maltreatment of Blacks in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. I’ve made it very clear that I despise Black Lives Matter, but I fully recognise the reasons behind their anger. As a community, Blacks do suffer from poor educational achievement, poverty, a lack of career opportunities, drug abuse and the violent criminality that goes with it. I know from talking to Black and Asian friends and relatives that there is real racial discrimination out there, including the threat of genuine Nazi violence. What I object to is some of the glib assertions and false history that has been added to genuine fact and the one-sided presentation of these problems. It’s simply an historical fact that slavery has existed in very many societies right across the world. It existed in Africa, and the Black slaves we acquired during the days of the transatlantic slave trade were purchased from powerful African slaving states like Dahomey, Whydah and a number of others. Black Africans were also enslaved by Muslim Arabs, Turks, as well as Indians and were exported from east Africa as far as modern Sumatra and Java. One historian of slavery has remarked that it has been so prevalent across the world, that what is remarkable is not that White Europeans practised it, but that White Europeans and Americans abolished it. But slavery is increasingly being presented as something that only White Europeans and their colonies did to Blacks.

In this video Webb talks about a form of slavery practised in Britain from the late 17th century to the end of the 18th century, which I doubt few people know about. It was the enslavement of White Scots people to work in their country’s mines and salt pans. The law, Anent Colliers and Salters, was passed in 1660 and was designed to stop shortages of labour in the coal mining and salt-making industries. The salt was produced through boiling seawater in vast pans. These were large parts of the Scots economy at the time, and the law was intended to stop workers in those industries going off and seeking gainful employment elsewhere. The law bound the miners and salters to their masters, who were given the power to beat them, whipping those who refused to work, as well as the right to sell them to other owners. They could not look for other jobs or even leave the area. In 1661 the law was extended so that the masters could forcibly conscript into their employment tramps and vagabonds. And there were harsh punishments for runaway miners. When one owner put up a mine for sale, as occasionally happened, the men were listed alongside equipment and livestock like the pit ponies. In 1701 Scotland passed what was dubbed ‘the Scots Habeas Corpus Act’, which prevented Scots from being imprisoned without cause. But it specifically excluded the workers in the above industries. In 1775 legislation was passed emancipating colliers and salters, but it applied only to new workers. It contained a ‘grandfather clause’, specifically excluding previous workers. It was only in 1799 that a law was passed freeing all miners and salt workers north of the border. He explicitly states at the end that the moral of all this was that slavery was not something that was done solely to Blacks. It was also done to Whites and continued until a few decades before the emancipation of all slaves.

As with all of his videos, I think you have to be aware of his personal bias. He seems to be a Telegraph-reading Tory, and some of what he says is incorrect. He has said that Britain never advertised for Caribbean workers, but this has been contradicted by several of the great commenters here, who remember just such appeals. In my understanding, he is wrong in what he says about the Mansfield judgement banning slavery in Britain. The judgement was issued by Lord Mansfield on a case brought before him by the Abolitionists on behalf of a slave, James Somerset. Somerset had been sold to another master, who wanted to take him abroad, which Somerset didn’t want to do. It’s like the later Dredd Scott in America. Webb claims that the judgement did not rule against slavery, only that slaves couldn’t be taken out of the country, because Mansfield had no power to pass judgement outlawing existing forms of British slavery such as that of the miners and salters.

This is wrong. In every book I read it is stated that Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist under English law. This is correct. Slavery had died out in England by the end of the 12th century as the Normans banned it. The former slaves instead became villeins, serfs. The mass of English peasants were unfree. By law they could not leave the manors on which they were settled, their property was technically that of their lords, and they had to pay a fine compensating the lord for his loss when their daughters married. In addition to working on their own plots of land, they were also required to do labour service on their lords’ demesnes. Their property reverted to their masters on their deaths, so that their widows and children had to appeal to the lord to get it back. Meanwhile, the parish priest had the rest to take the deceased peasant’s best beast, meaning his best cow, ox or bull. It’s not as severe as chattel slavery, and serfs have certain rights, which slaves don’t. But sometimes, especially in the Russia as the tsars, the distinction between serfdom and chattel slaves is a fine one. Serfdom was abolished in France during the French Revolution. Other states, like Denmark and the German states, abolished it in the decades following and during the 19th century, as did Russia under tsar Alexander II.

In school we’re taught, or given the impression, that serfdom died out because of an acute labour shortage following the death of between a third and half of the European population during the Black Death in the 14th century. In fact what happened is that the Black Death commenced a long period in which serfdom began withering away as landlords began to compete amongst each other to persuade peasants to settle on their estates and commute labour services into money rents. But the process was a long one. The last serf died in 1645, I believe. In one of her programmes in which she visits various historic towns, Dr Alice Roberts, a former female star of Time Team, medical doctor, anthropologist and Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham university visited one of the great cities of Norfolk. She learned there about a battle in the 16th century when the local peasants revolted against attempts to turn them back into bondsmen – serfs.

Furthermore, even if slavery was formally abolished in England and serfdom had withered away, it was still customary to purchase certain types of human being. Time Team’s Tony Robinson, also known as Blackadder’s Baldrick, described the appalling conditions suffered by 18th and 19th century mill workers in his series, The Worst Jobs in History. He trembled with raw, justified outrage when he told how millowners would to workhouses and orphanages to buy the children left there to use as their workers. Wives were also seen as the property of their husbands, and the traditional form of divorce amongst British peasant and working class communities was to take them to market to sell. It happened up and down the country, including Bristol, where you could get a reproduction of an advertisement for such a sale down at the Central Library. The transportation of certain criminals also acted as a form of slavery. The Monmouth rebels in the West Country, who supported the illegitimate Duke of Monmouth against James II, if they escaped hanging by Judge Jefferies were transported to Barbados, where they were sold to the planters for sacks of sugar. Irish rebels were also treated the same way. A friend of mine at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, who was a staunch anti-slavery activist with a mixed-race African wife, told me how you could still see the former cabins occupied by the White Irish amongst those of the Black plantation labourers in Barbados and the Caribbean. The Irish cabins were patriotically decorated with shamrocks.

I think the Mansfield judgement only applied to English law. Scots law is different, because until the Act of Union in the early 18th century England and Scotland were different countries with separate parliaments and different legal systems. Since the 12th century, English law includes custom and precedent. A judgement passed on one case acts as the model for others in similar cases. Scots law is based on Roman law. As I understand, a judgement passed in one case is not automatically binding for similar cases. It can be used as the basis for a similar decision, but the judge is also free to disregard it and make his own judgement. Lord Mansfield’s judgement probably only affected English, and not Scots law. Nevertheless, it was highly influential in that during the 1820s and ’30s before the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Black slaves in the Caribbean used it as the basis for their own efforts to gain their freedom. There were a series of slaves, like Grace James of Antigua, who had been brought to Britain, or English overseas territories like Gibraltar, by their masters. On their return home, they presented themselves to the Guardian and Protector of Slaves, the official charged with protecting the slaves from brutality and maltreatment, as free people of colour illegally held in slavery. Their owners naturally objected, claiming they were being robbed of their property. The colonial authorities appealed to the home government for guidance, and the diplomatic correspondence, as printed in the government’s blue books, included copies of the Mansfield judgement.

I also believe that the conditions for miners in the north of England was similar to those in Scotland. I think it may have been on Bargain Hunt, one of the Beeb’s early evening antique shows, or perhaps Great Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo, that they were in County Durham. The presenter was shown around the miner’s hall, the grand headquarters of the local trade union. He was told about the horrendous, oppressive conditions contained in the contract that traditionally had to be signed by every miner binding him to his master. These were only successfully fought and finally overturned thanks to union opposition in the 19th century. Which is another demonstration why we need strong, effective unions.

There was considerable sympathy for enslaved Blacks amongst working people, and particularly in Scotland. It’s been claimed that one reason for this was because of the enslavement of White, Scottish mineworkers. Thus the authorities and slave masters complained that there was too much sympathy for runaways among ordinary Scots, who were hiding and protesting them.

I think that possibly too little is known about serfdom and the traditional enslavement of Whites in Britain and Europe. Some of this might simply be due to the fact that most history is ‘history from above’, the actions of monarchs and great statesmen and politicians, rather than social history, or ‘history from below’. Another factor may well be the myth most Brits have grown up with – that Britain is the country from which freedom and good government flows. What isn’t appreciated is that every one of the freedoms we enjoy, and which are being stripped from us by the Tories, were hard won through the blood, sweat, toil and tears of ordinary folk and their champions.

It has led to a distorted view of history, the myth of ‘merrie England’ in which everything was somehow better in the old days, when lords ruled and the hoi polloi knew their place. It’s a view that the right do want to bring back. But a lack of understanding of traditional forms of British forced labour, that applied to Whites, has also contributed to the equally distorted view that slavery and forced labour is very much something that Whites inflicted on Blacks or other people of colour.

Both are wrong, and need to be fought.