Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Britannia's Slaves

Most of us in Scotland watched yesterday's inauguration of the 44th President with a degree of excitement. The BBC commentators made the point several times that whilst President Obama's roots are in Kenya, his wife Michelle's ancestors were slaves.

The talk of slavery set me thinking for some reason about that great English anthem, 'Rule Britannia', (sung with great gusto each year at the Last Night of the Proms in London):
When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."
Leaving aside the question of The Almighty's role in creating this island, it is interesting that these words, (by Lowland Scot James Thomson) were first heard in London in 1745. It was in the following year, after the Battle of Culloden, that thousands of clansmen (each one a British citizen) were sold into slavery in America. More would follow.

Mind you, this had already been going on for a hundred years or more:

On 28 July 1651, John Cotton, a Puritan Minister in Boston, wrote to Oliver Cromwell, "The Scots whom God delivered into your hands at Dunbarre and whereof sundry were sent hither, we have been desirous (as we could) to make their yoke easy. Such as were sick of the scurvey or other diseases have not wanted Physick and chyrugery. They have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude. But for 6 or 7 or 8 yeares as we do our own."

Note: The reference is to the Battle of Dunbar, September 1650.

1 comment:

Pierce said...

Your writing and photography are fabulous. I can not wait to visit Scotland one day. For now, I will content myself to travel through books and wonderfuls sites such as yours. But one day.......

Cheers!
Tina