Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peter Williamson (1730–1799), or Indian Peter as he became known, was one of the more colourful personalities of 18th century Scotland. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery in America. He was captured by Indians, but eventually escaped and joined the British army, serving for three years. He was imprisoned by the French. He eventually returned to Scotland and successfully sued Aberdeen officials for slave trading.

At this time, kidnapping was a flourishing business in Aberdeen. Children were regularly kidnapped for sale in American plantations and a number of the Aberdeen City Bailies, who were in partnership with the kidnappers, amassed fortunes from this 'hideous traffic in human merchandise'. Kidnapping developed as a sideline of a State approved method of dealing with criminals and undesirables by granting warrants to merchants and ship owners for the transportation of vagrants and criminals to the Colonies. It was a lucrative business as each able-bodied person delivered to the plantations in Barbados, Antigua and America, which were in desperate need of workers, could be sold as indentured servants at a substantial profit.

In 1743, Peter was on the harbour at Aberdeen when he was 'taken notice of by two fellows employed by some worthy merchants of the town, in that villainous practice called kidnapping'. He was 'marked out by these monsters as their prey and taken forcibly on board a ship' where he was locked up below decks with around sixty other boys. Peter was then shipped across the Atlantic to America, where the ship ran aground on a sandbank in Delaware Bay, off Cape May and the crew abandoned ship, leaving Peter and his companions to a claustrophobic night with the constant fear of imminent drowning. However, next day, the ship was still intact and the crew returned for their live cargo.

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