iStock and Special Collections/ The Mitchell Library/Museums and Collections/Glasgow Life
“Runaway on the 7th from Dr Gustavus Brown’s lodgings in Glasgow, a Negro woman named Ann.”
Researchers at the University of Glasgow discovered hundreds of such adverts posted in British newspapers in the early and mid-eighteenth century, dispelling the myth that slaves didn’t exist in Britain.
The extensive project is spearheaded by history Professor Simon Newman, who sought to prove that “there were a significant number of people of colour in eighteenth-century Britain.”
Most were African or of African descent, while a smaller number were South Asian and a few were indigenous Americans. Many had been brought by their masters from Africa, the Caribbean, North America and India, usually to work as domestic servants, but sometimes as craftsmen or as sailors. A few were free, others were legally bound to work for their masters for set periods, and some were enslaved.
Dozens of Scottish and English newspapers were scoured, often by hand (the deteriorating quality of such texts meant that scanned microfilms were often of low quality) in order to locate over 800 hundred adverts of runaway slaves. The findings were put into a searchable database of newspaper advertisements.
The research is significant because it demonstrates the existence of slaves in the UK – a buried fact in the country’s history. The slave trade, according to Dr Newman, is taught in British schools according to a specific context – plantation slaves in the Caribbean and Americas.
However the project demonstrates that slaves did exist, in a relatively sizeable capacity in the UK between 1700 and 1780.
This elicits yet more questions – if slaves existed in England, how did the abolition of slavery on British soil in 1772 play out? And later in 1833, when the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, making slavery illegal in the British Empire?
Perhaps a more damning indication of the prevalence of slavery in Britain comes from the existence of "For Sale" ads for slaves posted in newspapers. One read "To be sold. A negroe servant about seventeen years of age…" and another read "To be sold, a health negro slave named Prince".
Here's a selection of three slaves who were reported to have run away from their masters in Britain:
1. Ann Mitchell
(Picture: Special Collections/ The Mitchell Library/Museums and Collections/Glasgow Life)
The advert, from the Edinburgh Evening Courant dated 13 February 1727, from The Mitchell Library, Glasgow, stated:
Run away on the 7th instant from Dr Gustavus Brown's Lodgings in Glasgow, a Negro Woman, named Ann, being about 18 Years of Age, with a green Gown and a Brass Collar about her Neck, on which are engraved these words ["Gustavus Brown in Dalkieth his Negro, 1726."] Whoever apprehends her, so as she may be recovered, shall have two Guineas Reward, and necessary Charges allowed by Laurence Dinwiddie Junior Merchant in Glasgow, or by James Mitchelson Jeweller in Edinburgh.