The story of John Wedderburn of Ballindean and Joseph Knight is wonderfully intriguing and was begging to be shared here.
In 1745 Johns father joined the Jacobite army to fight with Prince Charles Edward Stuart. He served as a colonel but after the Battle of Culloden was captured and held prisoner. Eventually he was taken south to London where he awaited trial. On 4th November 1746 he was tried for treason and found guilty. John followed his father south and is said to have pled for his fathers life amongst his fathers friends. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful and his father was hung, drawn and quartered on 28th November.
Following his fathers death John made his way back north to Scotland where he found himself with little inheritance and no prospects in his home country. Whilst in Glasgow he managed to convince the captain of a ship to let him work for passage to the Caribbean where hopefully he would find better chances for himself.
Eventually John landed in Jamaica and it was here he based himself for the next few years. The island, which had previously been seized by the Spanish, was quickly emerging as a centre for exportation and sugar production. John apparently tried his hand at a number of jobs including working as a doctor despite having no qualification for this. Finally though he managed to get some land and entered the profitable world of sugar production.
Over time his business prospered and he acquired more land becoming, at one time, Jamaicas largest landowner, owning some 10% of the island. He soon had other members of his family joining him and owned vast estates on the island as Britain became one of the largest consumers of sugar.
In 1762 John purchased a young African boy called Joseph Knight. John decided that rather than working the fields like many slaves Joseph would be a house boy and saw that he was taught to read and write. Some years later in 1769 John returned to Scotland and brought Joseph with him.
For a while everything went well. John met and married Margaret Ogilvy and Joseph met a servant girl from Dundee named Annie Thompson and John gave the pair permission to marry as well. However, in 1778 Joseph became aware of a ruling that had occurred in England which held that slavery did not exist under English law. Assuming this would be the same in Scotland Joseph demanded his freedom and asked for backdated wages from John who refused his claim.
John felt he had treated Joseph well, he had given him an education and taken care of him, and was apparently not impressed at Josephs actions against him. When Annie fell pregnant John dismissed her and refused to allow Joseph to go with her. Joseph packed his bags to leave but John had him arrested and thrown in jail. Joseph then brought a claim before the Justice of Peace court against John. Initially things moved in Johns favour and the Justice of the Peace found against Joseph but he appealed to the Sherriff Court who found in Josephs favour. It was then taken to the Court of Session in Edinburgh who again found in Josephs favours. Finally Joseph succeeded in arguing that he should be allowed to leave domestic service and provide a home for his wife and child.
John Wedderburn was the first time a man was taken to court by another to claim their freedom. We hope you enjoyed reading the story of John and Joseph. As always please keep sharing, tweet, commenting and joining us for more intriguing stories.
All the best, K & D