Were there any people of color in Scotland?

By theurb03

There’s a lot of talk recently about racial diversity in the media landscape. Whether it’s the Oscar Race with #Oscarssowhite or depicting historical ethnic accuracies in our favorite film and shows. It got me thinkin: How racially diverse was Scotland and (tip of the hat to Season 2) France in the 18th century?

Really, I wanna know if there were any black people in Scotland. Any people of color! Remember in the ’90s when Friends was criticized for taking place in NYC and they never showed people of color…anywhere? They were criticized so much that eventually they cast a black person…getting coffee at Central Perk or something. Then they cast Aisha Tyler as Ross’ love interest.

There isn’t any racial diversity in Season 1 of Outlander. This is not meant to be a criticism but is it historically accurate? Although I can imagine that there weren’t many people of color getting a dram at the local pub while Dougal and his men gather the rent throughout the Mackenzie lands. BUT…What exactly was going on in the racial landscape at that time and place in history?

Don’t worry. I did the research so you didn’t have to.

First, this post is by no means a thorough academic treatise and some broad strokes may be painted. This is really just a general exploration to offer more discussion and a platform for all of my Season 2 wonderings.  I welcome any other nuggets of information others may like to share.

Let’s take a look at Scotland first, shall we? It begins with the slave trade. Funnily enough only in the past few years has Scotland begun to acknowledge its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. I say ‘funnily’ because research shows that “slaves would be found virtually everywhere in Scotland…” and “were a significant presence…particularly from the 1740s onwards…” according to Professor John Cairns at the University of Edinburgh. Yes 1740s! And this includes the Highlands! Who knew?! Most of these slaves came from sub Saharan Africa and India. Typically they were domestic servants or laborers that might’ve been ‘gifted’ or bought. Their presence always denoted to the slave owner a sign of  wealth and status .


ELIZABETH MURRAY, LADY TOLLEMACHE, LATER COUNTESS OF DYSART AND DUCHESS OF LAUDERDALE WITH A BLACK SERVANT by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), c.1651, painting in the Long Gallery at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames.

ELIZABETH MURRAY, LADY TOLLEMACHE, LATER COUNTESS OF DYSART AND DUCHESS OF LAUDERDALE WITH A BLACK SERVANT by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), c.1651, painting in the Long Gallery at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames.

Professor Cairns could identify at least 90 individual slaves but believed there were many more. Due to poor documentation, it is difficult to discern the exact number of slaves but apparently the number doubled each decade for about thirty years. By contrast, London still had the largest slave population of approximately 10,000 by the mid 18th century (source).

Scotland also had a major presence in Jamaica. By 1800, Scots owned 30 percent of estates and were involved in all aspects of life from plantation owners, investors, and slaving crews. Though I haven’t been to Jamaica, I understand that many towns still retain Scottish names and many residents have familiar Scottish surnames. If this part of the history intrigues you further, check out this NY Times blog/article.

To be clear, in the grand scheme of the slave trade, Scotland was not a prominent player in the direct trading of human chattel. Although, there are documented ships that sailed from Port Glasgow that were directly involved in the slave trade. Actually Scotland benefited far more from the slave produced products of sugar and tobacco. Because Port Glasgow was such a buzzing hub of trade, much of the city’s well known buildings and architecture were funded by this frenetic economic boom (source). In fact, it appears by the time our Claire stumbles (though did she really stumble?) into 1743, Scotland was still one of the poorest countries in Europe but give it another 100 years and it would become “one of the leading industrialized nations in the world”.

During the 18th century, the concept of the ‘other’ began to form British identity. Anyone who wasn’t Protestant, white, and ‘English’ was considered inferior. We see this played out most clearly in “The Garrison Commander” episode in Season 1. Dougal is the exotic ‘creature’ at the table of British soldiers wherein his accent (“somebody really ought to teach these people the King’s English”), dress, and demeanor are all fair game for ridicule.




On the flip side, particularly in the mid 19th century, the Irish were ‘the other’ in Scotland; often discriminated as lazy, drunk, and disease-ridden (source).

Overall, in mid 18th century Scotland, there were people of color albeit you were more likely to see them as slave laborers and servants in wealthy homes.


Bienvenue en France! Bienvenue en Season Deux!

(Most of this section is taken from this source.)


Jean Etienne Liotard, Portrait of a Young Woman

Jean Etienne Liotard, Portrait of a Young Woman

France’s participation in the slave trade may have been less than Britain but it was by no means a small operation. Certainly there was more of an African presence in Paris rather than Scotland and they lived in diverse positions. People of African descent living in Europe could be enslaved, working as ‘bounded servants’, or living freely depending on where they lived. For those free people, some say they were treated no less than ‘whites’ but discrimination still existed.  How Africans were treated in the colonies was a different matter altogether.

In the late 17th century, France decreed that African slaves brought into the country would be free but in 1716 this was adjusted so that slave owners could retain their slaves when they brought them into the country for a spell before heading back out to the colonies. Many African males slaves were brought to France as apprentices, cooks, painters, and carpenters. Women tended to be groomed for tailoring and wardrobe keeping.

By the mid 18th century,  it was common for wealthy African rulers to send their sons to Paris for a très bon education. Of course with all of these ‘black Africans’ around the city, they were ultimately deemed to be too numerous and a danger to society. Eventually, France enforced racist ordinances requiring them to be registered and forbidden to come into the country from the colonies. This didn’t happen until 1762 though.

Up until then it seemed that those of African descent living in Europe experienced a mixed bag of ambivalence or racist attitudes towards them. Louis XIV attempted to pass laws that restricted the movements of Africans residing in the country. Over twenty years, Paris refused to enforce two royal edicts that ranged from outlawing these ‘dangerous’ Africans to marry and limit their stay to no longer than 3 years.  If they committed an infraction they’d be sent to the colonies as forced labor.

I don’t mean to overgeneralize. This is a very broad overview of the experiences of Africans across the spectrum in 18th century Europe. There are a lot of layers and gray area in terms of the social, racial, and even economic politics of the time. Also, I focus on the African diaspora because it seems most of the other immigrants in Paris at the time were coming from a 200 mile radius.

Let’s not forget that this was the age of The Enlightenment which ushered in a new age of thought that was against slavery.

All of my musings leave me wondering how might any of this play out in Season 2? Will we see a reflection of the African diaspora (or the Arab or Asian) amidst the faces of les Parisiens? Who knows! I won’t be mad if I don’t see a face but I’ll be happy if I do. All of the hard work of accuracy that goes into things like the set design, costume, language…It’ll be interesting to see how far the show will contrast Paris and Scotland. Of course, if I’m missing the memo that there’s some character in DIA that happens to answer my questions…great! But I’m still not reading the book although it’s ago..ni..zing.

In the mean time, I’ll wonder and look forward to our Outlander(s) in Paris during a very interesting time in history. Just think! This was before the French Revolution, the world was becoming smaller with globalization, and Paris was the intellectual and fashion hub of the world among so many other events that were swarming in that time. Ooh la la!

Bises! #diavirginsunite



Here’s a list of sources I used and other related topics that may be interesting:

‘Slaves and Slaveowners in Eighteenth-Century Scotland’

John Cairns – University of Edinburgh – Slavery in 18th Century Scotland

Abolitionism in Scotland

Scotland and Black Slavery to 1833

Slavery in the British Isles

A brief history of emigration & immigration in Scotland: research guide 2

Africa in Scotland, Scotland in Africa

NY Times Blog “A Sweet Forgetting…” (Explores relationship between Scotland and Jamaica)

Understanding ‘Race’ and Ethnicity: Theory, History, Policy, Practice By Gary Craig

The Forgotten Diaspora

Africa in Europe: Interdependencies, relocations, and globalization By Stefan Goodwin

Scots and Caribbean Slavery

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  1. V

    Thank you for doing the research on the people of color in Scotland, Paris, the colonies, etc.. It was interestingly eye opening since I was under the impression that blacks were not discriminated in Paris during the age of enlightenment.

    1. Jordyn

      Thank you for reading! Yes it appears that Paris was a little more open but still had attempts to institute policies throughout the 18th century to restrict the flow of immigration based on race. The Enlightenment philosophy was generally opposed to slavery but the reality on the ground was that countries still held racist views with varying degrees.

  2. Reply

    European peoples—often with the notion that there is political solidarity among them—and “are virtually always considered terms of pride and respect”.

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